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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Parks And Recreation: "The Flu"

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UPDATE: After thinking about it for a while, I bumped the grade up to an A-. Still like last week's better, but this one was great.

"The Flu" introduces a small-scale epidemic: a flu that knocks most of Pawnee's citizens on their asses when the floor and wall switch. It's a good fit for this part of Parks And Recreation's third season. First, it gives the entire cast a chance to get extremely loopy and silly (as opposed to just Andy), demonstrating just how capable these performers are at a wide range of comedy. It also allows the characters to see each other at their weakest. P&R was already a comedy rooted in the fact that its characters liked and deeply cared for one another; the fact that Andy can kiss April's post-fever forehead, find it gross and say, "I still like you," is a nice reminder of that.

Tonight's episode begins the long road towards the Harvest Festival, with the first step being to secure the involvement of at least 80 local businesses. It's ostensibly the biggest hurdle Leslie has to overcome, and fittingly, the flu hits just as she's preparing for the big do-or-die chamber of commerce meeting. Clearly, Leslie is the best at what she does, and her involvement in the meeting is crucial for its success. But knowing sickness is looming amps up Leslie's determination to be there, no matter the cost to her physical well-being. Meanwhile, her department puts a number of obstacles in her way: a quarantine, a trip to the hospital, the threat of strapping her to the bed, etc. It's a testament to Amy Poehler's likability as Leslie Knope that she can show off the character's sickly grumpy side—licking Jerry's mug and stealing April's flu medicine—and still have me rooting for a successful speech.

The episode was also a turning point for April and the actress Aubrey Plaza. By tormenting Ann in the hospital, April has gone from passiveness to an active proponent of Ann's inevitable breakdown. Plaza delivers April's lines with more purpose than I've seen her display on the show before, and she seems to really be relishing in the anguish she's causing Ann. I credit this to the fact that April's character wasn't all that fleshed out when the show began, and it wasn't until late last season that plot points started getting in her way. It's fun to watch Plaza play with April's emotional swings, all while maintaining her forced, collected cool—especially when Ann finally loses it, allowing herself a small character-breaking moment. April's, though, was a creepy smile at the end of the episode when she realizes Andy still likes her. Or, rather, it looked creepy to me, knowing April.

Though the show introduced the characters of Ben and Chris with a big splash (name-brand actors will have that effect), I also felt like "The Flu" gave them a chance to feel like they belong in Pawnee. First, Ben sees Leslie deliver a stellar speech despite being riddled with sickness and acknowledges that Leslie Knope is truly a special gal—one worthy of chicken soup. Chris, meanwhile, has one of his rare bouts of sickness ("Stop. Pooping.") and emerges with a fresh outlook on the comfort of Pawnee, an excitement for Ann, and a motivation to invent a flimsy excuse to stay around.

Glad to see it. There's a whole world of meat tornadoes and really good drink deals at the Snakehole Lounge just waiting for them.


Stray observations:

  • Also loved Ron and Andy bonding, mostly because Ron got to run around like a giddy schoolgirl and Andy can pratfall like nobody's business.
  • "Never promise, never disappoint." Wise words from Tom Haverford.
  • "The… door?"
  • "Leslie, I typed your symptoms into the computer, and it says you might have 'network connectivity problems.'"
  • "I worked with a guy for three years and never knew his name. Best friend I ever had."