The sign of a lasting comedy show is when it's able to maintain its tone when venturing into darker territory. Though it's not a guaranteed laugh-a-minute place to take a show, tackling some of these bigger character issues pays off huge in the long-term like that old adage states: Comedy equals tragedy plus time. I was doubly impressed with tonight's Parks & Rec because it tackled not one, but two of the show's more tragic stories, and managed to do so by keeping its plucky, upbeat sense of humor intact.
"The Fourth Floor" started with yet another delicious chapter in behind-the-scenes Pawnee lore: Leslie's sent to the fourth floor of the building, the worst place on earth where DMV rejects and probation folks gather to eat weird popcorn and have their throats replaced. And unlike the library that Leslie railed on so heavily in the past, this spot is legitimately creepy and dank. It's here that Leslie spots Tom and Wendy walking out of divorce court, and the cat's out of the bag. Partially. While Tom's making it pretty public around the office that he's getting a divorce, only Rondoleezza Rice knows the truth—Tom and Wendy had a green card marriage, and the whole thing was a sham. Leslie, always looking to be the hero, organizes an office outing to Jurassic Fork to cheer that little ball of Axe Body Spray up. (It's a spot that Jerry, sadly, has eaten at three times a week for 15 years—when that piece of info came out, I couldn't help but think of the George Saunders' short story "The 400 Pound CEO".) While they're out, Ron asks Tom if it'd be okay if he asked Wendy out—she's his perfect spooning size, and might possibly make his precious breakfast for him—and suddently we get the glimpse of Tom that we saw during the Halloween episode. He genuinely liked her, and now he's bummed.
Tom's plight wasn't the funniest stuff I'd seen on P&R, but there were moments of his story, particularly once things picked up at the Glitter Factory, that made me really glad I'd stuck by this show. One of the things P&R is doing so well right now is deepening how we see the characters' actions. Tom has always been Mr. Inappropriate around the office, and a lot of it's funny, but it's got a definite shelf-life—like how the guy who interrupts your business meeting with some humorous quips is fine at first, grating shortly thereafter. But the show's really let him breathe, given us glimpses of his insecurities. I'm starting to understand the root of Tom's over-the-line jokes, and I'm a lot more forgiving. It's hard to laugh when you truly don't like the person delivering the funny lines, and that depth makes moments like the "glitter bomb", which broke the tension between his genuine sadness and Leslie's genuine caring, hit that much harder and funnier.
And speaking of, the other story tonight involved Andy pathetically trying to woo Ann back—or, rather, steal her back from Mark's failed architect-like grasp. His antics are humorous enough by their own merits: his admission in front of Ann that he wouldn't be able to get those extra-small condoms Mark wanted "in that weird shape… they've never dealt with that before" (and later confesses he was kidding, to the surprise of no one); his philosophy on pool hustling that begins with "step one: get them to play pool with you"; him offering up as colatteral a T-shirt he was wearing when he tackled Eddie Vedder that's "literally priceless". But throw in that sad desperation we see at the end, when he wins Ann but realizes she isn't going to come back, and the previous events seem almost, well, sweet. That open-book style of humor is going to pay off much further down the road with more laughs and plenty more "psychs."
You really notice the difference watching an episode of, say, Community, a freshman show still finding its footing as to how the characters interact and the reasons behind why they are who they are. I like Community; I'm just saying that the jokes have a shorter shelf life. They have to while it garners new fans each week. But it's exciting that P&R is now in version 2.0, and I'm glad I downloaded the update.
- What was up with that patch of Ron's hair that was seemingly shaved? Did they talk about that? If so, I might have missed it.
- "My stripper name would be Equality." Ron's reaction shot was priceless.
- As was his love of the breakfast buffet. Someone get this man a fistful of bacon!
- "It smells like a wet mop in here."
- Sorry about that image up top. The NBC site is being weird, and that's the first thing I was drawn to when Google Image searching "glitter factory".