Leslie and Ben getting back together was inevitable. The show has jived and feinted well enough over the past few episodes to tease that it might leave the two to smolder apart miserably, but Parks and Rec is, at its core, a feel good show, and the only way this season could go on without wallowing in its characters’ and its viewers’ misery is with Ben and Leslie cutting a slice of happiness out of their sticky situation. In order for this to happen, though, Leslie has a bit of growing up to do.
After city hall rips up a pair of useless phone booths, Leslie and the Parks department decide to install Indiana’s smallest park in the tiny space. Only big enough to fit a bench and a couple of shrubs, it’s a project that’s so small it even flies under the radar of Pawnee’s typically prickly citizens. With the project about to wrap up, Ben sees it as a good opportunity to break things off with Leslie… again, and tells her that he’ll be concentrating on other departments from then on.
Of course, Leslie will be having none of that, and sets out to delay and monkey up the simple project as much as humanly possible. She tries one of Pawnee’s usually ridiculous town meetings, which doesn’t work, and then starts planning a bunch of fake events designed solely to annoy people in the neighborhood. Personally, I would be fine with fireworks every night at midnight, but that’s me.
Realizing what she’s doing, Ben pushes back, opening the park with an unceremoniously clipping some ribbon with a pair of normal sized scissors. This leaves Leslie gobsmacked, and it’s Ann that makes her realize that the problem has been her all along.
Leslie Knope is a good person—everyone knows that—but she’s demanding as get all. It’s both her best and worst trait, it means she gets stuff done, and that she’s engaged in others and she really just wants everyone to be happy regardless of circumstance. But her tendency to get caught up in pushing a boulder up a hill can sometimes shut off her ability to see reality. She’s a steamroller, as Ben puts it. She gets an idea that she thinks will benefit everyone, and then she implements it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like Harry Potter, you are watching all eight movies. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like white wine, it gives you a headache so you are ordering something else. Like it or not, things are going to go the Leslie Knope way.
Usually, it’s fine--Leslie’s pretty awesome, but if you’re Ben, getting forced over to the friend ladder and pretending like nothing is wrong is too much to handle. It’s Ann who finally makes Leslie realize this. Ann may not have what it takes to be a central player in Parks, but she works wonders in a supporting roll—as we saw when she was playing Ms. Fix-it with Ron a couple weeks ago. The way that she breaks through Leslie’s tirade against Ben to make her friend realize that she’s acting thick is one best moments of the episode.
Leslie has been acting pretty kooky these past few episodes--declaring war at the model UN, forcing Ben to work with her against his will--but when she tells Ben that she’s willing to risk a scandal just to be with him, it’s clear that she’s only been acting crazy because she's refused to acknowledge her feelings. And then there’s the payoff, with Leslie and Ben finally throwing caution to the wind and embracing one-another in Indiana’s smallest park.
Other things happened in this episode too. Tom is back in the office and suffering from a bit of depression now that he’s found himself back at square one. Chris assigns him and Jerry to rejigger the Parks Department logo. Dealing with the unsexy matter of font selection with the Pawnee government’s most unsexy man is a bit of a nightmare for Tom. In working with Jerry, Tom glimpses a possible future for himself—an overweight government drone, just trudging along until he can retire. With E720 dead and buried, Tom could very well end up just like him.
The writers handle this scenario pretty well—lord knows it’s a familiar feeling to anyone in a job they never intended to have--and it never really overstates the panic that washes over Tom when he realizes that he’s about 30 years away from being a short, brown version of Jerry. To compensate, Tom tries a million ways to pimp out the entire department. New uniforms, remaking city buildings to look like Apple stores, Sopranos font—for Tom, blandness is death, and right now, he’s staring right down the barrel.
In his despair, eating a crappy ham sandwich with his nightmare future-self, Tom comes up with a pretty good idea when he sees Jerry’s old ID card: go retro. He puts a plan together of 70’sing up the department with funky roller-rink fonts decorating hats and t-shirts. If there’s one thing that Tom loves, it’s building a brand, and he does a pretty good job of this one. Though, considering its 2011, 90’s throwback stuff would likely have been more appropriate. But, whatever.
The funniest bit of the episode concentrates on Andy’s continued quest to expand his horizons, leading him to give college the old college try once again (that’s… that might be the worst sentence I’ve ever written). While April encourages him to do something easy like Intro to Guitar, Ron encourages Andy to take on something challenging like a course on the theory behind lasers, the latter of which turns out to be the biggest disappointment in Andy’s life.
This season has been working sweet, guileless Andy to death, but his wide-eyed enthusiasm for everything is such a joy that you can hardly blame the writers for exploiting i--that and Pratt's knack for timing and inflection is damn near flawless. Thankfully, though, this arc gives us some much needed Swanson as well, who shows to have an unexpected interest in Women’s Studies courses (he especially likes the part that says that marriage is a form of slavery). Ultimately Andy settles on Women’s Studies, but discovers that he's unable to pay for its steep fee, so Ron steps in land saves the day with the Ron Swanson Scholarship.
Last week I complained a bit about how Parks was getting a little too sweet and less jokey for its own good, and this episode was… basically the same. Even though Leslie and Ben reigniting their relationship is the sweetest thing we’ve seen on this show in a while, it’s made me realize just how syrupy this season has been so far. Has the show always leaned this heavily on the adorable? Leslie and Ben, Tom and Jerry and Ron and Andy had some great character moments this week, but in the end, most of the comedy leaned on Andy. But with Leslie and Ben stabilizing, I’m kind of hoping that the turn for the sweet that we’ve seen over the past few weeks has been due to circumstance and the saccharine levels can get dialed back a couple of notches. Then again, I’m probably just complaining for nothing.
When April suggests that her parents pay for Andy's class "No, that's embarrissing........ I’m going to beg in the street like a drug addict.”
I love that Andy tries to register for a course like he’s buying a ticket to a movie. “I’ll have one ticket to… women.”
“As ready as I’ll ever be… oh crap! I forgot my books and my computer.”
“For what it’s worth, you’d make an incredible brunette. Ron Swanson.”
“I think that Comic Sans always screams fun” – Think again, Jerry