Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Parks And Recreation: “Farmers Market”

Illustration for article titled Parks And Recreation: “Farmers Market”

“Farmers Market” is a funny half-hour of television. That’s such a basic statement, which is why I don’t normally devote much space in these reviews to the comedic value of a given episode. There isn’t all that much to say along those lines beyond “That was funny” or “That wasn’t funny,” and those are fiendishly subjective assessments. Still, it’s worth acknowledging—more than that, highlighting—the fact that Parks And Recreation remains a reliably amusing show. Maybe the show is no longer capable of the sustained comedic peaks that it made look so effortless in its transcendent second and third seasons, and some of that is down to the inescapable fact that the show can’t possibly be as fresh and surprising now as it was back then. But that shouldn’t take away from the hilarity of Ron’s reaction to an old-school iPod (that is indeed an excellent rectangle!), Ben’s matter-of-fact declaration that he and Leslie are probably going to die in that fountain, or Ann’s endless, terrifying list of pregnancy-related discomforts. None of these jokes break new ground, in part because there’s precious little new ground left for Parks And Recreation to break, but the writers and the series regulars know just how to position and execute these gags so that they have maximum comedic impact.

Besides, tonight’s episode does find some room to innovate within the show’s established comedic formula. Billy Eichner makes his third appearance as Craig, the lovably unhinged Eagleton import. While Eichner’s schedule and the show’s budget likely dictate that Craig can only be an occasional member of the Parks department, “Farmers Market” treats him no differently from the regulars, sending him off on a subplot with April and Andy as though he were there every week. Unlike a character such as Councilman Jamm, who tended to dominate any story in which he featured, Craig is strictly a supporting player here, facilitating Andy’s latest career epiphany. Craig’s role in this episode could have been taken by, say, Donna without altering the fundamental structure of April and Andy’s story. But then we would miss out on Craig’s fiery commitment to giving his horrible tyrant of a nephew the perfect birthday, not to mention the man’s finely honed understanding of 6-year-olds’ peer dynamics: His uncharacteristic obsequiousness toward first-grade social maven Erica Sorvine is a particularly funny touch. The episode even begins digging a little deeper into just what’s going on inside this madman’s head. After all, his primary objection to being assaulted by a bunch of a pint-sized hellions isn’t the whole being assaulted part, but rather the fact that he doesn’t understand the rules of the game. There are some hidden layers to Craig just waiting to be revealed, and they’re all probably pretty damn loud.

Still, “Farmers Market” isn’t the most original Parks And Recreation episode. Andy’s story is the most obvious example, as the prospect of Andy transforming his rock-god routine into that of a beloved children’s entertainer was previously explored in “Freddy Spaghetti.” In that second-season finale, Andy crashed his motorcycle mere moments after agreeing to take the gig, so it’s hard to call tonight’s story a rehash when the original version of this story never technically happened. Still, both episodes do feature a riff on making Mouse Rat’s classic ballad “Sex Hair” more kid-friendly—“Pickle Hair” the first time around, “Sex Bear” here—and the tale of a failed rocker reinventing himself as a children’s entertainer is one that has been told bizarrely often. (Off the top of my head, Happy Endings featured a similar subplot in last year’s “In The Heat Of The Noche,” while King Of The Hill offered what’s probably the definitive take on this highly specific story in “Redcorn Gambles With His Future.”) I only bring this up because there’s a limited number of jokes and plot beats that can be told in this framework—and again, Parks And Recreation already explored some of them four years ago—so the success of this story is mostly down to the considerable goofy charm of Chris Pratt. When originality isn’t really an option, the show has to lean on the familiar strengths of its main characters. Honestly, that approach works just fine in terms of stringing together an amusing Andy story for tonight’s episode, though it’s harder to get too excited about the prospect of Andy taking this on as a fulltime gig when there doesn’t seem to be much new to say about the material.

Meanwhile, Leslie and Ben engage in what could quite likely be the first of several inevitable workplace clashes. Ben’s extreme tolerance for his wife’s steamrolling tendencies has featured multiple times this season, and “Farmers Market” wisely doesn’t betray Ben’s natural tendency to avoid conflict. Indeed, the episode suggests that that precise tendency is Ben’s big issue, as he sets up a domestic firewall and then insists he and Leslie go home whenever she wants to restart the argument about the chard salesman’s salacious marketing practices—which, it must be said, seems like exactly the sort of thing that Ben and Leslie’s first real argument as husband and wife should be about. Ben maintains his position as the show’s most emotionally grounded character; he might clamber into a fountain to avoid direct conflict with Leslie, but he’s also mature enough to recognize there’s a larger issue of their ever-shifting professional dynamic that they need to address.

That’s the kind of incisive, well-considered point that we’ve come to expect from Ben Wyatt, and that’s probably why it’s so hard to sustain any fight that prominently features him. The show got there once with “Smallest Park,” but that was the culmination of several episodes’ worth of slow-burning frustration. Leslie isn’t perfect, and she’s more imperfect these days than the show most likely intends her to be. Her passion and exuberance can be overbearing, even obnoxious, and her unilateral move to kick the chard salesman out of the farmers market is the latest in a rather long line of unprofessional—worse, unsympathetic—maneuvers. Yes, all that represents an issue that Parks And Recreation will need to deal with sooner or later, and it hinted that it will do so in last week’s “New Beginnings.” But I don’t think this matters so much for “Farmers Market,” because Adam Scott and Amy Poehler are really good at selling the notion that Ben loves Leslie because of her insane enthusiasm, not in spite of it. As long as Leslie remains reachable and persuadable, that relationship still functions. As the pre-credits sequence makes abundantly clear, those two goofballs are in love, no matter how much it drives Ron up the wall.

The episode’s final subplot offers a picture of another weird but fundamentally solid relationship. Chris and Ann’s penultimate story as series regulars circles back to the original problem with Chris as a potential soulmate, which is that he’s just too damn perfect. He believes he can solve any problem that Ann might have during her pregnancy, and all indications are that he can. The argument that Tom, Donna, and a rectangle-enjoying Ron ultimately make is that relationships aren’t built to work perfectly; rather, their success comes from the shared recognition that some things just suck. That lesson—basically, don’t try so hard—is a fitting one for the Parks staffers to impart to Chris as we near his departure. Sometimes, it’s best just to accept that things are how they are. This is normally the point where I’d tie that last point back to the overall theme of the review, but… eh. This episode of Parks And Recreation was funny. Just this week, I’ll try not to overthink this.


Stray observations:

  • “Anyway, hopefully that will help you with any sensitivity that may arise with your… boob hats.” Yes, that seems like the correct euphemism.
  • “I feel bad.” “I don’t. This is a Cuban, this is a yellowtail. I feel amazing.”
  • “When I got into the chard game, I knew I’d ruffle some feathers.” “Sure…”