Good evening, Knopealytes! Steve Heisler is off getting drunk somewhere, so it's up to me to recap tonight's episode of Parks And Recreation. Last week was an absolute killer, so "The Camel" has a lot to live up to; let's see if it can pull it off.
The plot of this episode revolves around the infamous murals at Pawnee City Hall, which are always a source of terribly inappropriate amusement. The biggest one, "Spirit of Pawnee" -- featuring horrible racist caricatures of Irishmen, Chinese and Indians -- has been defaced for the last time, so a competition is announced to replace it with something less controversial. Leslie's competitive streak is brought out by her rivalry with another department (not the library this time, but the Sewage Department, with its curiously supermodelish interns), and she orders the Parks & Rec gang to come up with an idea that will win. This sets up a pretty hilarious scene where everyone displays their efforts:
* Jerry, in a nearly character-defining moment, produces a gorgeous pointilistic image (made of micro-photos of the local citizens) of a cathedral, dedicated to his late grandmother, but is laughed out of the office when he accidentally refers to it as a "murinal".
* Ann's simple cut-and-paste of a park scene looks to Tom like the work of a serial killer doing art therapy, but even that's less disturbing than April's multimedia instillation involving a bleeding fat guy in a treadmill. Donna's celebrity Last Supper is merely incomprehensible.
* Tom pays an art student to paint an abstract expressionist work, which he initially dismisses (since he hates any kind of art that doesn't feature a naked lady). In the episode's most delightful character note, though, he has an emotional reaction to it, which shocks him. Watching him cope with his profound feelings for the "shapes that come alive" is an enjoyable bit that runs throughout the whole episode.
* Leslie goes for an appropriate shout-out to Pawnee history, but an inapproporiate example of it: she wants to feature the 1922 bread factory fire which killed several people and made the whole town smell like toast.
After lots of arguing back and forth over points both minor and major (like how Ann doesn't actually work there), Leslie makes the executive decision to make a collage of bits and pieces of all the murals. This works out as well as expected, so she turns to Mark Brendanowicz to bail them out; he obliges by drawing on his extensive experience with the banal nature of Pawnee's citizenry and drawing an utterly bland, inoffensive picture of an old man feeding pigeons.
The B plot is slight as silk, but it's so well played that it threatens to usurp the mural storyline: Ron Swanson, who's suffering from painful bunions, gets a buff from newly minted shoeshine boy Andy. (Andy also has a character-in-a-nutshell line when discussing his new business: "I have no idea what I'm doing, but I know I'm doing it really, well.") When he returns immediately for another shine, it becomes clear that he's getting a sexual charge out of it. The two spend some uncomfortable time avoiding each other in the hallways until finally agreeing not to discuss it -- which guileless Andy interprets as discussing it at great length.
This was a pretty slender episode in terms of getting anywhere, but it was packed full of great lines, everyone was in character (and we even got a little depth out of poor Tom), and it did that delicate dance of absurd humor and personality-driven comedy that the show has come to do so well this season. "The Camel" wasn't Parks And Recreation firing on all cylinders, but if this (rather than, say, "Sister City") is how it fills its downtime, we've got nothing to worry about.
- Does anyone ever get the idea that Leslie is harboring some lesbionic tendencies? Combine her awkward moments with Ann, her outfit at the Tellenson Awards, and now her weird dreams about Gina Gershon, and I kind of wonder if things are really gonna work out between her and Officer Dave.
- The increased focus on Ron Swanson's anti-government teabaggery was enjoyable; this is the second time we've seen that he has a major medical problem, and since, as a city employee, he probably has pretty good insurance, you have to assume he doesn't use it just to make a ridiculously self-harming 'statement' about government health care. Then there's this: "I got my start at age nine in a steel mill. Within two weeks, I was running the floor. Child labor laws are ruining this country."
- I liked the mural that the cops put together, as well as how enthusiastic they were about it. "And this is an attractive lady with a hamburger for a head! You know, it's just things we like."
- "It looks like a lizard puking up Skittles!"
- "We need better security here. We also need better, less offensive history."
- "A piece of art caused me to have an emotional reaction! Is that normal?"
- Mark's excuse for not wanting to help with the mural: he has plans for the evening. "I was gonna go to Arby's and watch Frontline."