As much as Parks & Rec is a show about its characters, it follows that it's a show about relationships. Leslie became a much more likable person when her coworkers began recognizing that she's good at her job and spending more time with her. The weird genius of Ron Swanson or the goofy, lovable schlubbiness of Andy Dwyer are both amplified when April's there as a silent enabler. The cast of Parks & Rec isn't that big, so every character has, at some point, had at least one substantial storyline that involves them interacting exclusively with each other character. Thus, we know Tom and Ben weirdly get along, and Ann plus April is a recipe for disaster and much name-calling. "Soulmates" was a perfect rehash of relationships we've seen work on the show countless times, and a celebration of new ones that are already working like gangbusters. It explores coupling by demonstrating how two minds on Parks & Rec are always better than one—and it does so flawlessly.
The friendship between Leslie and Ann is always a central part of the storytelling, but gone is Ann's naiveness, at least compared to what Leslie has for them this week, exploits-wise. This time, it's Ann who pushes Leslie to do something she's not comfortable with: online dating. Ann has been living it up, taking on multiple gentlemen suitors a day even; it's given her a new, positive perspective on herself as a dating prospect, and she wants the same for her friend. Up until this point, Leslie has attracted exclusively douchebags, so what's there to lose?
Of course, the episode also takes a large leap with Leslie and Ben. They have liked each other for a while, but right at the beginning of "Soulmates," it's made perfectly clear that they both know about the other person's interest and want to move forward. Leslie takes the direct approach and flat-out asks him on a date, which he sheepishly refuses. It's not so much will they-won't they, as much as it's "Why isn't this already happening?" Ben's reasons for not pursuing aren't immediately clear. His boss Chris doesn't like workplace entanglements (though Ann might as well have worked for the parks department), and the mystery serves to heighten Leslie's pursuit of Mr. Right. Tom Haverford. Apparently. The characters might all be lovable, but they're lovable within the contexts in which they know each other already. And Tom's romantic side is off-putting for just about anyone other than the women he has dated, and even then, it can be a sight best not to behold.
Part of the fun of "Soulmates" is watching the hyper-logical Leslie think, "Hey, if the computer says Tom and I should date, then it's worth playing it out despite what every instinct in my bones is telling me." She winds up in uncomfortable situations because she's never willing to let even the strangest of notions, when presented to her, get away. She has succeeded in government because she's a sponge for information and experiences, and her willingness to go out on a limb for parks projects is the same desire that drives her social life. "Soulmates" takes that Leslie Knope and dials it to 11: She openly swears for the first time on the show and constructs a dating profile that highlights her enjoyment of waffles, news, and the bench in front of the upstairs mural. There's no mystery to Leslie Knope. She wants to date the guy from Phantom Of The Opera, and part of her believes it'll happen.
What made "Soulmates" one of the best Parks & Rec episodes wasn't just that it introduced surprise into a bold scenario (Leslie finally goes online to date, and of all the people in the world she's paired up with the guy who sits three feet away from her who buys seaweed and almond under-eye cream and makes up his own language for cake and root beer), it's that it found tons of natural, free-flowing comedy in something incredibly mundane: a burger cook-off between Chris and Ron. Given Ron's distaste of vegetable loaf and Chris' gung-ho healthy attitude about eating and jogging backwards up the big hill behind the Wal-Mart, it was inevitable Ron and Chris would find themselves going head-to-head at some point. It starts with Chris introducing a healthy initiative throughout the government, which means no more burgers for Ron; Chris insists he can make a turkey burger better than anything Ron's ever had, and Ron is quick to take him up on that challenge. And no, Chris doesn't mean a fried turkey leg inside a grilled hamburger—because if so, delicious. Ron wants to prove the granola Chris wrong; Chris is after the rarest jewel of all: "Victory over me, Ron Swanson."
The competition doesn't mean much. In fact, it's over almost before it begins, when Ron's burger is victorious because, quite simply, "turkey can never beat cow." But the build to that moment is rife with comedy, as the Ron/April and Chris/Andy duos troll the health food store with very different outlooks. Ron and April antagonize the guy giving out vegan bacon, placing his abomination right into the trash so that no one has to eat it. Chris is so smitten with Andy's positive attitude that he lets the guy who eats "Andy's Mouth Surprises" ask him questions about every single fruit and vegetable they see, plus make ridiculously endearing statements like "Did you know that the food you eat becomes energy?" followed by some good-natured air-punching. It's mind-blowing to see the goofy optimistic Chris/Andy be countered by the dour, cynical (but loving every minute of it) Ron/April. One buys a pinwheel; the other two dead crows. I guess not much has changed now that Andy and April have married.
"Soulmates" brings it all together in the end, foretelling a coupling between Leslie and Ben that—computer data be damned—could be perfect, if only it would happen already. The two of them do spend a lot of time together, but I have a feeling the potential of their pairing has only just been teased.
- "Forp." "Did you take a number?" "No." "Good girl."
- "His favorite movie is books."
- "Talkin' bout sex with my boss."