Michael Schur told me in a recent interview that he envisioned Leslie and Ann's friendship to be the core of Parks & Recreation. And though her own storylines have been inconsistent, Ann has been a perpetual force for support in Leslie's life, spiraling into her own issues only after Chris broke up with her—and even then only briefly. The show has been building for a few episodes that Ann's been seeing an unwieldy number of gentlemen lately (thanks to her new-found confidence as a single lady), and for the first time in P&R's history, Leslie wasn't along for the ride. And we all knew how that would end up; the fight between Leslie and Ann—as usual on this show, aided by alcohol—was inevitable.
"The Fight" and "Road Trip" dealt with a lot of inevitabilities. There was the fight itself, of course. There was a sobering note in Tom Haverford's forcefully carefree lifestyle. April and Andy squabble over something that might have been more of a tiff had they, you know, had it before they were married. Ron's libertarian views are allowed to come to light all at once. Jerry is shown to be good at something, and actually receives accolades from his peers for it. And oh yeah, Beslie.
This is fantastic comedy, where inevitabilities aren't things to draw out, but merely beats on the way to much larger comic ambition.
A brief synopsis of the two…Tom is trying to pimp his Snake Juice-brand alcohol, so he enlists his coworkers to head to the Snake Hole Lounge for some guerrilla marketing. There we see an eager-to-please-yet-terrible-at-rhyming Jean-Ralphio (actually quite a lot of him, thankfully), as well as a spacey Ann hangin' with The Douche. It's a problem for Leslie, because there's a health department PR job open, and Leslie has already decided Ann is perfect and should apply, therefore spending the entire night home studying. Leslie and Ann get drunk, exchange words about Ann's recent boyfriend-of-the-minute attitude and Leslie's pushiness as a potential coworker, and Donna drives everyone's drunk asses home. The next day Tom sells his shares of the bar (under Chris' orders), Leslie and Ann make up, and everyone's hungover as shit except for, of course, Ron Swanson. Plus, the whole time, April and Andy were doing some role playing, which means the return and untimely death of Bert Macklin, plus the rise of his brother Kip Hackman who doesn't share Bert's last name despite being his brother and shut up, Kyle!
In "Road Trip," Leslie has decided that she must do whatever she can to avoid getting too close to Ben; her job is on the line, after all. This proves difficult (this is already starting to sound like terrible marketing copy at CBS) when Chris assigns Leslie and Ben to go on a road trip to Indianapolis, make a presentation, and presumably spend the night together celebrating in the most professional way possible. After many failed attempts to keep distance—talking about the dorms at Johns Hopkins despite not attending the university, listening to banjo music, just flat-out not talking to each other—Leslie and Ben confess their feelings for one another (and fondness for lamb-like bath mats) over dinner and two-and-a-half glasses of red wine. Leslie goes off to call Ann, vows to return and make out with Ben, only to find Chris has arrived to be the third wheel. And we all know Chris is really great at doing everything he tries, thus the microchip invites Leslie and Ben to stay with him, walks in on them constantly, and spends the car ride back jamming out to the horrific banjo tunes. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Tom makes up a fake Newlywed Game-type deal called Know Ya Boo, forcing April and Andy to compete against Donna and Jerry, who crush the actual newlyweds—mostly because Andy didn't realize April doesn't think as highly of Mouse Rat as he does. April and Andy make up, Leslie and Ben make out, Ron convinces a little girl to be a secret libertarian, who's ready for next week?
Both these episodes were stellar—loose, silly, rich with details and heart. There was a swiftness to the proceedings; characters let themselves get to uncomfortable, unexpected places. For example, in almost no time flat, Ron Swanson went from doubting Tom's skills as a distiller (or "distiller," as in pouring a lot of liquors together until it was palatable enough) to dancing drunkenly wearing April's old-timey old lady hat. Really, all the tiny moments benefited from an eye for detail. When Ben goes to Ann's house after the fight to smooth things over, he comments on Ann's snow pants, to which Ann replies that drunkenly the night before, she had a great idea to go sledding. A quick camera cut later, Ben is surveying the beautiful sunny day and immaculately trimmed lawn of Ann's house. Whether it was Ben's sweet drunken mugging or Jean-Ralphio's instantaneous reaction to Leslie's beckoning, it felt like the director was having as much fun as possible in "The Fight."
There was a lot of similarly outrageous comedy in "Road Trip," but it actually spun from seemingly non-outrageous moments. The entire "Chris wedges his way between Leslie and Ben, who want so desperately to be together" storyline had the potential to be very sitcom-y, but both Adam Scott and Amy Poehler played everything so subtlely. Their reactions to Chris' interruptions were refreshingly nuanced—their heads only inching away from one another when Chris comes back from the bathroom; looks of brewing madness once Chris picks up the air-banjo and starts strummin' along. And when the kiss finally happens, it's shot just like any other scene on Parks & Rec. Same goes for when Ron finally sees that sharing his government views with a curious student isn't such a bad thing. There's no flashiness, only the victorious smirks of a beloved but closed-off character enjoying opening up, or as the case may be, of a kiss' recipients.
Nothing on Parks & Rec ever feels like its trying too hard. One of my favorite moments from both episodes is when Tom is rushing around the office, gathering up everyone for his game show because, as he explains, Leslie's gone and there's no boss. Ron politely points out, "I'm your boss," to which Tom quickly rolls his eyes and says, "That's a good one." It's such a throwaway line, but it says so much about both those characters, and the surprise is good for a solid laugh. Earlier though, in the tag for "The Fight," the gang has crowded around Tom's computer to hear The Douche's recount of the Ann evening, and Tom is slapping the table and falling over himself, he's having such a great time. Both are moments of delight for Tom, and though they're different, they share a catharsis that's wholly earned.
"The Fight": A- (if only because some of the framing devices—Leslie apologizing to Ann within the context of the interview—were similar to ones used before"
"Road Trip": A
- "I'm allergic to fingers."
- "My instinct is to be mean to you."
- "I'm pretty. Boring."