“Smallest Park” took some major leaps forward quite simply because the characters said exactly what was on their minds, sparing no one’s hurt feelings. I’m not even just talking about the fact that Leslie and Ben finally professed their lingering feelings for one another, though that was definitely a highlight. (As I’ve said in previous reviews, it was making Leslie act a little nuts.) But Tom and Jerry—tee hee—worked together and admitted to each other’s faces what bothers them about each other. Andy tried to enroll himself in college and failed, only to have Ron, the most guarded person on television, do one of the nicest things he’s done in the show’s run. He even tells the camera that he actually kind of likes Andy, though he says it like, “He’s one of the people I don’t actively root against… there I go getting all sappy.” Parks & Rec benefited from being upfront; the episode boldly went for some resolution in the Leslie/Ben relationship, humbled the larger-than-life Tom, and gave Chris Pratt tons of opportunities to do some wonderful line readings. Excellent work, my friends.
The episode was written by stand-up comic Chelsea Peretti, whose on stage persona I’d liken to April more than anyone else. And she totally nails what April does best—standing off to the side and pushing for madness to happen, rather than being the agent that causes it. When Andy decides to try his hand at reattending college, she advises him to take the easiest classes possible. Ron, on the other hand, doesn’t want to see yet another young mind get squandered, so he starts rooting for Andy to actually challenge himself. There’s a nice devil/angel thing happening, with poor Andy in the tumultuous center. First he’s uprooted from his intro to guitar class, then he’s actively discouraged when his intro to laser class doesn’t turn into the laser-fun session he so clearly thought it was. If just April or Ron had been there, I could see Andy sticking with one class or the other, simply because he’s kind of incapable of making a decision for himself. Actually, the class he winds up wanting to take, “Intro To Women’s Studies,” isn’t just fascinating to him, but also to April and Ron. In the world of Andy, it has to be unanimous.
This storyline was satisfying on two levels. First, like I said before, Ron rarely comes out of his shell to help anybody, and he finds it in his heart to offer Andy the “Ron Swanson scholarship” to pay for his classes. We get to watch as Ron, looking like a proud parent, whisks Andy off to his first day of school. But also, man, Chris Pratt is just incredible at milking every pause of every line. When April offers to get her parents to pay for Andy’s classes he says, “No that’s embarrassing,” and there’s a long pause. Like, really long. It’s followed by, “…I’m gonna go beg for money on the street like a drug addict,” said so quickly I almost missed the line entirely—a perfect complement to the silence that preceded it. There were so many other great ones that sailed by effortlessly, including “Why take a class on something that already happened?” and the one that had me laughing loudly to myself, “Ready as I’ll ever be…[another great pause]. Crap I forgot my books and computer.” (Let’s not forget the other amazing line to come out of this plotline: “For what it’s worth, you’d make an incredible brunette. Ron Swanson.”)
There was a similar comic rhythm to the Tom and Jerry storyline as well, only much more antagonistic. At the beginning of the episode, Chris asks Tom to design a new logo for the parks department because you really gotta throw the guy a bone after his company goes belly-up. Tom gets all excited, but really, Chris is just asking for Tom to pick a new font, and more importantly, he’s asking that Tom work with Jerry on this one. He might even learn something from him. [Cue extended laugh from everyone, including Donna.] Tom’s eager to transform the rangers into reality show stars and an office into an Apple Store; Jerry’s eager for Comic Sans to once again get its turn in the spotlight. Clearly, they’re at an impasse, and before Tom can push any further, Jerry offers his perspective on the situation: “Tom, isn’t dreaming big what got you in trouble with your old company?” Suddenly Tom’s on the defensive, saying ridiculous things like about how he’s turning into Jerry and before he knows it he’ll be “going home, kissing my wife, and having a home cooked meal surrounded by my three beautiful daughters”—and shuddering. There wasn’t anything totally nuts that happened here; I just like whenever Jerry gets to be as much of himself as possible. And in this case he demonstrates his love of Comic Sans, eating his feelings, and his propensity for rolling his eyes every time Tom demotes him in numerical rank, even though there are only two people on the team.
But I thought the Leslie stuff was a breath of fresh air. I’ve mentioned that there are inconsistencies with her character sometimes, and this week, the other characters let her know about them without any sugarcoating. It starts when Ben and Leslie, aka the dream team, put together a proposal to build the state’s smallest park. (Not sure why they didn’t try to break the record for the nation’s smallest park, but it’s a start.) There’s really nothing else to be done except build the park; there’s no environmental impact report to do, no large approval process to undergo. The catch is that once this project is over, Ben has decided not to work so directly on parks department stuff anymore. He still has feelings for Leslie, and he doesn’t want them to come flaring up. That’s a really reasonable thing to want. But Leslie’s being very unreasonable lately and has decided that what’s best for her is to see Ben as long as possible. She starts stirring shit up, recruiting the town crazies to picket the park using the specific signs she’s made for them to use. Ben is rightfully pissed, and much like Ron never shares his positive feelings, Ben is not one to vent anger ever. This time, though, he snaps—in front of Chris, no less. He calls Leslie a steamroller and claims his feelings on the project are never truly heard. The best part? Ann totally corroborates the sentiment.
Leslie is truly hurt, and her apology takes the form of even more truth telling: She still likes Ben and is willing to upset the Jenga board that is Indiana politics if it means spending more time with him as a couple. They share a passionate, insanely sweet kiss that closes out the episode, under the light of the small park they built together. This is Parks at its finest, when the show’s unafraid to put everything out there before going, “Oh shit, what happens now?” And I, for one, can’t think of a better way to close out the already stellar November.
- Man, that woman sure goes out of her way to avoid saying she hates black people. Though we all know what she means.
- "Ooh, this one's a crash course!" "It isn't what you think."
- The end of Entertainment 720 hopefully won't mean the end of Jean-Ralphio.