“The Trial Of Leslie Knope” is a pretty good episode—in which Leslie and Ben make their relationship known to Chris, who is forced to hold an ethics hearing for both of them. But I get the feeling that most of the good stuff was happening off-camera. The courtroom setup means that there’s a lot of talking about past events; and as is the case with the frantic Leslie Knope, there’s also a lot of time when the characters go off to gather new ammunition to fight the charges. There are even clips from previous episodes filling some of the time, distracting from the meat of what’s happening in the courtroom. There’s was a real chance Leslie will lose her job, but it’s very hard to feel those stakes.
The episode’s best moments come whenever new information is introduced. Basically, Chris—now hopped up on vitamins and nutrition supplements to avoid his inevitable depression—has multiple charges to lob Leslie’s way, things like lying about the start of the relationship and using the affair for professional gain. Each time Chris brings anything up, Leslie is ready to swat it down. So when she testifies that the relationship began in May, and Chris questions the validity of that statement, Leslie has Ann come into the courtroom with her laptop and play a video Leslie apparently made the night she and Ben first kissed. It’s a gloriously lame fake movie trailer that ends with a frantic Leslie talking directly into the camera, “HiAnnIKissedBenTonightIAlsoFiguredOutHowToUseiMovieOkayBye,” dated May 16. Boom, court roasted. There are a few of those types of scenes, but there are way more of the type where, for example, Chris introduces a receipt for a hotel room where Leslie and Ben might have had a tryst, and Leslie has Donna explain that they were just working that night. Some of the most lively things to happen during the trial—like when April goes apeshit and Tammy 2 brings clearly doctored photos—are relegated to just a few seconds. (However, Ron’s loud cover-up of his cabin address, plus smelling Tammy 2’s arrival in the air? Just long enough.) There is little from Andy or Tom either, so the episode felt very controlled without the usual sources of unpredictability.
Even Ben barely shows up, which feel strange considering how much the characters talk about Ben. Granted, he’s forced to wait outside during the hearing, with his own commencing the next day. And he does have a sweet scene with Leslie before the hearing begins, where he gifts her a Lil Sebastian stuffed horse and promises to sit right on the other side of the wall the entire day—so every time Leslie looked up at the picture of that “wrinkled, hideous monster,” she could think of him. And she looks up at that picture an awful lot (which means we get to see that lovely image a few times), each time reminding me of his absence from the episode. The hearing ends with Leslie receiving the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, and it’s due to a secret meeting Ben had with Chris and the rest of the board. When I heard this, I got worried that we’d be denied even seeing that part of the episode.
Thankfully “The Trial Of Leslie Knopes” sticks the landing in a major way. Not only do we get to see what happens during the meeting, but the camera cuts back to Leslie’s face, hearing the transcription from the court stenographer. During the sit-down, Ben tenders his resignation, and Chris asks Ben if it was all worth it—was losing his job and slandering his name worth being with Leslie Knope. Of course the answer is “yes”, and seeing Leslie react to the retelling, slotted right after seeing Ben’s face in the actual moment, is one of the most touching things Parks And Rec has ever done. Until a few minutes later, when Leslie brings the court reporter over to Ben’s place and has her read back Leslie’s own on-the-record love fest. The two can’t even hold their smooching until the woman is done; it’s a powerful, passionate moment that stands out in a show full of ’em.
I mean, even though we don’t get to see a lot of what happens behind the scenes of “The Trial,” we see a whole lot that happens “on the record.” First off, the entire office cares enough about Leslie that they forego work for the day so they can help her pour through antiquated Pawnee historical texts. Tom’s physically repulsed by Leslie—the mere thought of dating her is like thinking about dating his older sister’s elderly aunt—yet he willingly takes the stand and lets everyone know that they kissed each other once. Andy’s so eager to help that he rushes off to gather evidence before Leslie can even finish telling him what evidence he’s supposed to be gathering. And Chris—poor Chris. He’s psychosomatic to his core (the target zone of his workout) and is becoming physically ill at the push-pull between his respect for Leslie/Ben and his duty as their boss. He pops a bunch of pills, works himself to a sweat by jumping up and down, and openly weeps in Ben’s arms… because he cares. Parks And Rec is, as always, a shining example that characters can really like each other and things will continue to be funny. Right, Gary?
- I love that Ron thinks the computer is the problem with his privacy, and that by throwing out his computer everything will be better.
- I’ve interviewed Poehler, and she’s expressed a fondness for Law & Order. Art, it imitates life!