As stated in an earlier “Parks and Recreation” recap, this is a show that started off with a markedly different take on its lead character. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) was initially a clone of Michael Scott (or David Brent), the dreaded (but lovable) boss on “The Office”: thoughtless, petty, rather dorky and lacking in self-awareness, or an awareness that her staff really hated (or at least disrespected) her. Then the show and its characters realized that Leslie was actually rather a wonderful person. The show shifted accordingly, and a modern classic was born.
Something intriguing has been happening during this sixth season: Leslie has appeared to maybe be backsliding. Last week, she freaked out when Ann (Rashida Jones) announced she’s looking to hightail it out of Pawnee (and off the show), with Chris (Rob Lowe) in tow. She never got unlikable, but she did become unusually obnoxious and madcap and almost-saboteur-like. She stopped before any damage was done, because this is at heart a nice show where characters learn lessons (in a funny way!).
This week didn’t exactly build on the idea, but it reintroduced an element of Leslie that hasn’t been brought up in ages: Leslie might be kind of annoying. The campaign to recall Leslie is still a-brewin’, much of it stoked by dreaded (but finely hair-dried) Councilman/orthodontist Jeremy Jamm, D.D.S. (Jon Glaser). When Donna (Retta) accidentally sends a sexually-charged tweet — if a rather tame one, as per her admission — through the Parks Office twitter account, Jamm seizes upon the idea, stirs up an unnecessary hearing and fires off several of the episode’s best lines. “This will be blown way out of proportion,” Jamm promises, and later admonishes an uncooperative Leslie: “How dare you demean the value of the political points I’m scoring.”
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Donna’s Twitter account is private, but when the council — a bunch of horny wealthy white men, Jamm included — taps into them, it unleashes an ugly truth: Donna mostly tweets about how she hates her job and how she hates Leslie. Turns out Donna thinks Leslie is kind of annoying. “I thought that was your thing,” Donna says, in a way that actually sounds sincere and even warm. In truth, Donna’s feelings for Leslie are more complicated: She’s worked with her, closely, for years, and she doesn’t hate-hate her. She just gets occasionally fed up with her perkiness, her drive and her relentless pushing of a crew that, put together, don’t have the drive or perkiness that Leslie radiates daily.
It’s not clear whether the rest of this season will build upon this idea: that Leslie actually is annoying — not always, but just a bit. Or maybe she’s getting worse. The new job has been a dream turned moderate nightmare. It’s what she’s always wanted, but the town she loves consistently lets her down, or at least puts up obstacles she has to strive to best.
Everything is wrapped up fine for Leslie and Donna, and that’s nice. But it actually would be great if season six — which tends to find sitcoms in a kind of mellowing middle age — got angrier. Leslie is losing her bestie, plus Chris, the only person in town who has as much pep as she has. There seems to be no end in sight when it comes to the recall campaign, and the townsfolk seem to have a bottomless supply of venom and insanity. We could watch Leslie snap, becoming more desperate and giving this pleasant show an edge it never had.
That’s almost certainly not going to happen. But a recapper can dream.
Meanwhile, in the B plots, Ron continues with his most recent problems: trying to hang onto his fierce Libertarianism in the face of both having a new family and realizing that the gub’mint always finds a way to exploit those who try to defy it. Turns out Ron has no will — or he does, but it’s a piece of paper he wrote when he was eight years old, with a single sentence and some inscrutable symbols. (Through some cryptic revelations, it appears Ron knows the manner of his death with absolute certainty.) He agrees to a lawyer only after he realizes that without proper notification, his bounty will only get appropriated by the powers that be. The major revelation here is this: Ron is ridiculous wealthy. It’s never clear how much, but the money or gems or gold or whatever he has long been alluding to as being buried about his property are real, and they’re spectacular.
This is a fine, character-deepening plot, as is the one given Tom (Aziz Ansari). Tommy is seldom in love with someone who’s not him, and when he does his smooth demeanor drops. He just doesn’t usually go crazy. Here, he meets a young Doctors Without Borders doctor and, instantly smitten — and instantly panicked — decides to talk to her in a terrible and unconvincing British accent. When he suddenly forgets to maintain this ruse halfway through the episode — and can’t summon a good enough excuse for why it disappeared — his obscure object of desire is only perplexed. “I’m just trying to figure out if acting that insane is romantic or totally scary,” she says, in a line reminiscent of the classic Onion article “Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested.”
We’ve never seen Tom this nuts-in-love before. He even turned relatively normal when he wound up in an actual (albeit very brief) relationship at the end of season two. This was a minor, though greatly enjoyable, episode overall, but it’s one that actually found original takes in characters that should have plateaued last season.
Stray observations that did not quite fit in the above that may be of interest:
- This is evidently the 100th episode. Woot.
Requisite list of quotables:
- “Parks can only be reserved for witch covens and slip-n-slide competitions.” — April, natch
- The three most useless people to Ron, in order: “lawyers, congressmen and doctors.”
- Perd Hapley & co. can’t figure out a clever Watergate-style name for the Parks Department’s Twitter scandal, so they only call it “Twitter Watergate” — “Until we can come up with a snappier name for it,” says Perd. This is a bit reminiscent of that great Mitchell and Webb sketch deconstructing the use of the idea of using Watergate to represent all scandals, which you could/should watch here.
- This recapper is a great fan of puns, so Ben’s barrage of PUNishment when talking to a will lawyer was heavenly. The implementation of “good will hunting” gets particular kudos.
- Tommy’s infatuation quickly realizes the extent of the weirdness of the show’s microcosm, which viewers take for granted week in and week out. “What IS this place?” she exclaims, her eyes bulging.
- “Isn’t language fun? It’s like racquetball — for your mouth!” — Chris, natch
- Ron repeatedly points out that he never jokes, because joking “is a form of lying.” He makes one later on, which he proclaims is as his “first joke ever.” He smirks, proudly…then considers the joke in immediate retrospect. “Don’t care for it.”