What does Parks And Recreation look like when nothing really happens? Well, given the fact that it’s almost an inevitability that it’ll get renewed, it’s a valid question, because there are only so many weeks when things can be advanced to such a degree that the plot becomes central to the episode. “Swing Vote” is an example of an episode where its outcome isn’t contingent on the larger story, and its execution is enough to label it a Parks episode, but not enough to make it memorable.
Perhaps it’s because the stakes aren’t really that permanent. Introduced at the beginning of the episode, Leslie wants Jamm’s vote to save a miniature golf course—something Ron Swanson wants to defund. Tom is looking to break up with Mona Lisa and enlists Ann’s help in doing so. And Andy is surprised to learn that Mouse Rat has gone on without him and become a band where the back-up singer is the lead singer, mostly due to Andy’s inability to melt the cheese on his nachos. These are all problems introduced in this episode and resolved within the same 21-minute space. Parks is a show with a memory, and it doesn’t always work so well when things are confined to such a time limit.
The caricature versions of the Parks characters come out to play in "Swing Vote." Ron is anti-government, so he tries to stall Leslie at every turn, even when she takes Jamm out for an innocent night of mini-golf at the local Putt Putt. Andy, the put-upon artist of the group, is livid that his group would soldier on without him, and could even be so catchy as to capture the hearts and minds of those in attendance at a random show. And Tom seems to have forgotten how much he cared about Ann, and now is simply enlisting her as just some friend who can help him break up with one of the most controlling women he’s ever been with. I love Parks for the nuance of its characters, and sadly, “Swing Vote” is not an episode that plays with the subtlety of all that is involved.
There is a moment, though, in “Swing Vote” that speaks to a sitcom 2.0. Despite the fact that Leslie and Ron butt heads, she finds herself in Ron’s office at the end of the episode, upset that Ron would put himself out there of all times during her miniature golf tirade. They do not angrily disagree, no. She asks him for a drink, and the two hash things out over scotch. This is the memory that Parks is known for, the one where Leslie and Ron can argue all they want but come to a mutual understanding by the end of an episode.
It’s not realistic, but it’ll do. Life, as it stands, is complicated. People disagree, and the intentions of others are often misread and trying to figure out where other people stand can cause anxiety. Parks operates on a level that is a sort of anxiety-relief placebo—as in, they can settle things like normal people, so why not regular average Joes with nothing more than a loaded situation on their hands? Ron and Leslie are able to understand each other and at the very least concede points to one another. Andy can speak to his band like they are regular people, and come to an understanding. Tom, meanwhile, is able to inevitably end things with Mona Lisa while keeping things open for a threesome. Nothing in real life is this neat and clean, yet Parks presents it as such, a testament to its ability to cut through the bullshit and allow its characters to simply be. They are not weighed down by the pressure to conform to whatever it is they set out for themselves. They simply react to what’s in front of them. If only life were that simple.
“Swing Vote” is the kind of episode we’re going to get a lot of if Parks were to get renewed, which at this point feels like a foregone conclusion. This has never been a show about resolving big, lingering things that need a solution. Whenever that happens, it’s always a surprise, like the episode that could have subbed in for the series finale in which Leslie finally marries Ben. It was perfect and sweet, but completely unexpected. In order for Parks to keep going, its ability to introduce chaos is going to have to become streamlined. There are only so many crazy situations its characters will wind up in before they realize, hey, this is a pretty crazy situation, and I probably shouldn’t be a part of it, for the sake of my sanity. Chalk it up to Parks keeping an eye out from the beginning on its characters, and realize that this is the kind of thing a mature sitcom must deal with. Let the lines and the general vibe in and of themselves be enough, and Parks has some longevity it can look forward to.