Happy Thursday, Parks and Recreators! Steve Heisler is out bringing the precious gift of laughter to children everywhere, so the delighful burden of recapping the latest adventures in municipal government-centered hilarity is on me tonight.
Plenty of TV writers — myself certainly included — fall victim to the habit of breaking shows down according to the strength of the B (and sometimes C and D) story, judging the whole on how well (or how poorly) the secondary plot stood against the main narrative. But sometimes, like tonight's episode of Parks and Recreation, what seems like a needlessly over-busy collection of extraneous details comes together and buttresses* an A story that threatened to go off the rails on its own, and makes for an integrated whole that's a lot greater than the sum of its parts.
"Christmas Scandal" starts out at the Pawnee government holiday festival, where Leslie (aided and abetted by a totally Perry Como-ed out Tom Haverford) takes a few good-natured satirical digs at the returning Councilman Dexhart, Indiana's most sex-scandal-plagued public official. The canny Dexhart, after an impromptu meeting with Leslie, decides that pushing the idea that he's having his way with everyone's favorite Deputy Director is a scandal much easier to control than the real one, which involves him having four-way sex in a hospital room where he's just overseen the birth of his own love child. This immediately makes Leslie the target of Pawnee's surprisingly fertile culture of tabloid journalism; you gotta love Perd Hapley, and in an era when print journalism is on the decline, it's almost inspiring to see that a little town like Pawnee can support its own daily scandal sheet.
This was the A story, and while it delivered plenty of laughs, I felt like it was going really, really, broad to the point at which it threatened to lose its appeal. Happily, though, every direction it spun out paid great dividends: Andy's hapless attempt to give a street-level impression of how the scandal was playing out among the hoi polloi degenerated into barely coherent bits of overheard salacity. The hostile public reaction to her non-affair gave Leslie a reason to consider shipping off with Officer Dave on his year-long maintenance gig in San Diego (a subplot that also featured an absolutely wonderful scene where the camera crew asks Dave if he's in love, which question he charmingly misapprehends). Ron Swanson has some great moments when he gives Leslie the day off to deal with the scandal, and then realizes exactly how hard-working his Deputy Director really is. And an almost throwaway thread about what various Pawneeans intend to buy their loved ones for Christmas leads to an incredibly adorable series of moments furthering April's growing crush on the largely oblivious Andy.
When Leslie finally goes on Joan Callamezzo's show to distance herself from the Dexhart scandal, the payoff is a massive comedic homer based on what's really an obvious joke. Leslie's conscious choice to do the right thing despite significant personal humiliation is nicely mirrored by a scene where Andy tries to help April find a gift for her gay boyfriend, and his utter guilelessness disarms the horribly stereotypical ideas he suggests (going through spray tan, a trip to Germany, and a "hip-hop abs dance fitness DVD" before finally asking "Does he already have buttless chaps?"). One of the best things about "Christmas Scandal" is that it has the unenviable task, in an episode where there's already a lot of stuff happening, of more or less disposing of, or at least deferring, two long-bubbling plot threads: the status of the pit, which for so long was a central part of the show, is pretty much shunted aside, and now, after it's been filled in, it's already become the site of the town's official Winter Wonderland/Christmas village. And while we all suspected that Leslie's relationship with Officer Dave wasn't going to be a long-term thing, I think few of us suspected it would culminate in such a sweet, almost touching way as his (final?) farewell to her.
This was an episode that was so busy it could easily have gone awry; instead, like all good Christmas episodes, it sheds a little light on everyone's character and ends with the cast showing themselves at their best — even if, as in Leslie's case, doing what she does best isn't the same as getting what she wants.
*Ha ha, I said 'butt'(resses).
- I'm not sure if April has ever had a more appealing moment than fake smoking with a cheap pen as she suggests seducing Councilman Dexhart just to see if she can.
- "That's crazier than Mayor Gunderson's dog Rufus!"
- "For the first time, our tree-lighting ceremony will be simulcast on internet radio."
- "Which one of them told you? Was it the liver lady?"
- "Even the liberal chicks are all like 'Yeah, bitch, gimme some of them blood diamonds! Make 'em extra bloody!'"
- "That's sweet. Use your nightstick."
- "My name is Ron. You don't need to know my last name. Whoever wants to talk, go ahead and we'll be out of here in a tight fifteen."
- "We can't have raccoons for the Christmas thing. They'll hunt the kids for sport."
- It was driving me nuts where I'd seen Kevin Symons, who played Bill Dexhart, before; his IMDB page tipped me off: he's Don Draper's doctor on Mad Men.