“Great advice. Impossible to follow, but great advice.”
Chris says this to Leslie near the end of “Women In Garbage,” and it’s one of the more memorable lines because of how it essentially sums up every single conversation I’ve ever had with every one of my friends. People get in their heads a lot, and being told what they should do hits on an emotional level, at which point their turbo-fire brains take over and it’s all for naught.
I feel for Chris. He is in a quasi-relationship with Shauna in which he basically goes to hang out with her and her friends (Shauna’s clearly been reading the New York Times) and is unsure of their relationship status. Leslie, smartly, advises him to just play it cool, and see where things go. Great advice, impossible to follow.
But there’s another option, which is that Chris, being the intense guy that he is, could just ask Shauna out on a real date—brazenly and confidently. He might secretly want to marry her or whatever, but he can be at least a little outwardly bold. Be bold!
My biggest problem with “Women In Garbage” is that all the characters, like Chris and Leslie, are acting in a way that draws out emotional arcs for the sake of television, and not acting in a way that people do. And it’s a bigger bummer because that’s the main reason why I love Parks And Recreation to begin with. Where there are moments for arrogance, Parks chooses humility; where there might be ambiguity, Parks usually clears that right up (I’m thinking about "Smallest Park," which I recently rewatched). Yet here are four stories—impressive as it may be to have that many—in which people are holding back from what they really want in order to prove some point.
To be fair, Leslie is fighting an uphill battle. Since Pawnee has had women in government, there’s been rampant misogyny—calendars and such detailing when the women in charge might be… a bit more irritable than usual. All she wants is for women to get their fair shake at government, much as she’s always wanted for April, and she’s surprised to learn that Pawnee has a terrible problem hiring women. The worst offender is the sanitation department, and they are not only facing a dearth of good applicants, but they simply don’t think a woman can do what they deem a man’s job. Leslie is getting better at working behind-the-scenes to enact change. Fuck that this time around, though. She heads to the truck, invites Shauna, and decides to prove that a woman can do the job.
On the one hand, it’s incredibly endearing that April jumps along for the journey without giving it much of a second thought. She claims to love garbage, but we all know that Leslie’s had an effect on her, whether she’d admit it to the “cameras” or not. On the other, the episode becomes less about its initial conceit—that Leslie is fighting a good fight for all women in Pawnee—and more a testament to what being incredibly stubborn can do for a person. It achieves results, sure, but the opinions of these narrow-minded garbage men changes so quickly that it feels disingenuous. Not everything is going to be that fast, and there’s not much acknowledgement of that fact. It’s just one quick hop from Leslie getting on that truck to the hiring of three female sanitation workers.
Over in Tom’s neck of the woods, he’s worried that because he doesn’t know anything about basketball, his Rent-A-Swag business, which is otherwise booming, will shrink. The market demands more basketball stuff, and he wants to know all there is to know. So he enlists the help of Andy and Ben to learn the game. But not by watching clips and playing NBA 2K13—by actually playing. Sports are clearly not Tom’s strong suit, unlike his actual suit. Some kids see how bad he is, recognize him from his company, and Tom fears he’s ruined.
I’m not quite sure why being a great player would make him a better salesperson of clothing that people wear when they are not playing basketball, but we go along with it anyway, and watch as Tom embarrasses himself with terrible half-court shots and complaints about why all the players aren’t all the same size. Plus, Andy fails a dunk but thinks he was really close, and slams into the mats behind the basket. Chris Pratt is an excellent physical comic who is great at tracking down Osama Bin Laden, so naturally that’s a highlight. The whole storyline just, yet again, feels unnecessary.
Look, it’s all good, of course. Leslie won. Tom won. I’m just being nit-picky, and hey, you didn’t come to The A.V. Club to read breathless fan praise, now did you?!
“Women In Garbage” is rocky in terms of the larger stories, but it excels at the smaller moments that make Parks a show that feels larger than the sum of its parts. Leslie poses for a photographer that’s not there, claiming that Google Earth is always watching—a nod to technology that she’s never referenced before. The fact that Andy’s plan for the entire day was to buy Skittles is hilarious, because truly, he probably wrote it down and knocked it off his to-do list. Then, perhaps a season highlight, Ron is babysitting Diane’s kids and Jerry enters: “Hey girls!” Instinctually, one says, “No.”
And where Chris can’t find his courage to ask Shauna what’s up, Ron works up his own to finally tell Diane how he feels. For he be Ron Swanson, lover of nothing. Surely not these kids who dance around Ron and paint his shoes red while chanting, “Moustache!” Surely not the friendship of one Ann Hanson. Surely not Diane, a woman who lets things roll off her back that are truly not important and is willing to meet Ron halfway with just about everything, so long as he loves her back. And he does. His proclamation is a mere whisper, but it speaks louder than almost anything else in this episode.