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

Parks And Recreation: “Gryzzlbox”/“Save JJ’s”

Illustration for article titled Parks And Recreation: “Gryzzlbox”/“Save JJ’s”

Blink and you’ll miss it, but Ben finally dealt with his Ice Town trauma. His sudden, only moderately flustered intrusion of The Perdple’s Court to point out why Gryzzl has been so unchill is a far cry from the sweat-drenched disasters that defined his media appearances way back in season three. And, unlike season five’s “Partridge,” his own attempt to make peace with Ice Town isn’t coopted into the main Leslie story. Honestly, it’s kind of an odd moment, because beyond Ben’s ability to frame Gryzzl’s misdeeds in their own absurd lingo, there isn’t really much comedy to the scene. Ben is just making some entirely valid points about terms of service and the misdeeds of data-mining internet companies, as though someone on the Parks And Recreation staff had been saving up that rant for a while now and finally saw an opportunity to get it on national television. The moment works fine, mostly because Adam Scott is a capable actor, but his speech doesn’t really play as comedy or as a big, triumphal character moment. This might well be another little valedictory moment for Parks And Recreation, as the show quietly resolves another of its dangling threads, but it’s all a bit subdued.

Thank goodness, then, that Parks And Recreation has such a deep bench. I suppose I mean that literally in this case, as Judge Perd Hapley and the amazing disclaimer captions are there to save the scene. Putting Perd Hapley on a judge show doesn’t necessarily allow for too much originality—what can any sitcom say on this topic that wasn’t already dealt with authoritatively with Mock Trial With J. Reinhold?—but the change of setting gives the writers and Perd actor Jay Jackson just enough room to find a new spin on the familiar gags. While his opening explanation of how a judge show work is a typical Perd joke, the constant undercutting by the captions adds a nicely sardonic edge to the proceedings, as though someone in the Pawnee universe is finally, if not exactly fed up with Perd, then at least aware of his general ignorance of everything, up to and including what a judge’s hammer is called. (It’s “gavel,” in case Perd is reading.) But perhaps the best gag is Perd’s quick correction when Leslie fails to refer to him as a judge, with the screen immediately reminding us that, no, Perd doesn’t have any actual right to that title. It’s rare enough to see Perd break from his obliviousness long enough to demand anything, and of course the first thing he asks for is something he really ought not to have.

The rest of “Gryzzlbox” works best when it can find new twists on the most familiar setups. It’s a huge damn deal when it turns out that, for quite possibly the first and only time in her career, the unruly Pawnee mob actually agrees with Leslie on something. Perhaps wisely, Parks And Recreation doesn’t overdo the potential meta gag here; beyond the very specific chant of support, which carefully stresses that the townspeople only support Leslie on this one issue, the rest of the town meeting unfolds much as any other would over the show’s history, with residents volunteering hilariously embarrassing personal information, willfully exposing their own shortsighted thinking, and just generally revealing themselves to be the strangest, saddest people on the planet … other than that super cool dude with the celebrity pig dolls. The biggest difference then is a subtler one, as for once Leslie is not forced to contend with any attacks, which does rather take the pressure off the scene. The goofiness of the townspeople gets to be straightforwardly pleasant and positive in a way that it isn’t usually, and after seven seasons Leslie has definitely earned this quick, undoubtedly fleeting victory.

In the comments last week, some of you suggested that April’s quest to find the perfect job for her will lead inexorably toward becoming a nurse and, by extension, the new Ann Perkins. As a great former city manager might say, that is literally the most brilliant fan theory I’ve ever heard, and there is literally no solution that could be more satisfying. Happily, I’d say Craig’s assessment of April’s skills at the end of “Gryzzlbox” do indeed point in that direction, with him noting her flair for telling people what to do. The intern subplot itself isn’t quite as strong, if only because there are only so many ways you can have April play off someone who is exactly like her, and we’ve already met her little sister. While April’s offhand announcement that she’s going to file papers to adopt that surly intern is a hilarious line—and, in its way, an oddly sweet one—this is the kind of storyline that could benefit from some twist, some surprise about April’s non-protégé that doesn’t line up quite so perfectly with our expectations of an April-like character. Then again, this episode does find a way to make Craig tolerable, or at least quiet. That’s probably sufficient surprise, honestly.

The apparent resolution of the Gryzzl plotline in “Save JJ’s” is also a shade neater than it has to be, particularly considering the episode doesn’t really pay off Ron’s vow to bring down the company at the end of the preceding episode. Still, after JJ’s Diner has served as a constant background fixture for so long—not to mention the emotional barometer for Ron and Leslie’s friendship—it does feel fitting to bring the character and the restaurant into the spotlight for one of the show’s final episodes, particularly when it also allows Dennis Feinstein to make his own spectacularly awful curtain call. Just as an illustration of the sheer variety of characters that inhabit Pawnee—JJ is the town at its most grounded and good-natured, Dennis Feinstein it at its most cartoonish and vile—the episode is a nice reminder of what makes Parks And Recreation special; I mean, I’m not going to argue too hard against an episode where one of the characters’ primary motivations is something as darkly hilarious as “pull the plug on his dad as soon as possible.” But beyond Dennis Feinstein’s passion for what I’m going to go ahead and guess is involuntary euthanasia, the episode skates by a little too much on past glories, with the return of “Treat Yo’Self” a case in point.

If anything, Donna and Tom’s scenes represent a pared down version of the original “Treat Yo’Self,” which was used very effectively to get Ben into a Batman suit and have him confront his heartbreak over Leslie. Here, those sequences let the show get in some fun Hollywood gags—Josh Grobin ordering his own sushi is the most baller thing I’ve ever seen, and Hitch 2: Son Of A Hitch does sound like the star vehicle Jaden Smith has been waiting for—while also pushing ahead Tom’s romance with Lucy. On that score, Parks And Recreation can probably do fine just relying on the considerable charms of Natalie Morales, but there’s still not much of a sense of Lucy as a character beyond “cool person who likes Tom for reasons that don’t quite make sense, because look at him, he’s Tom.” He self-destructed so instantly the last time these two were actually in a relationship that it’s hard to know quite who Lucy is, and the deepening of her character, if only slightly, is probably essential to making this subplot compelling over the course of the season. Like much of tonight’s hour, this feels like solid setup, a necessary reset after the apex that was last week’s “Leslie And Ron.” Now, Leslie appears to have won the day, and her friends are set on their respective courses. There’s potential here to reel off some more all-time classics in the coming weeks; in the meantime, episodes as sweet and amusing as these are a perfectly serviceable consolation prize.


Stray observations:

  • “They have no right to give me something I will treasure forever.”
  • “Is Star Wars the one with the little wizard boy?”
  • “Not to brag, but my colognes have been known to stunt human growth.”
  • “Well, I wish my reign had lasted longer, but I’m proud of the decisions I made and the people I fired.”
  • “Oh Dennis, what a mess.”