Last night was Parks and Recreation’s second straight week of back-to-back episodes (the series is now on hiatus until January), and while it was great spending another hour in the company of some of my favorite TV characters, this week’s double dosage of Parks and Rec was definitely not as successful as last week’s.
The main reason for the issues in both “Fluoride” and “”The Cones of Dunshire” stems from Jeremy Jamm as Parks and Recreation’s sole antagonist. Now, unlike some other fans, I’ve never found Jamm or his type of comedy to be annoying or too over-the-top for the series. In fact, I think many of his lines tonight, like how he got an Asian girl to sit in his “awesome ride” once or that he’s “not a big Morgan Freeman guy. I find his voice grating,” are downright hilarious. The issue with Jamm in last night’s episodes simply comes down to the repetitiveness of his conflicts with Leslie. Somewhat in “Fluoride” and clearly illustrated in “The Cones of Dunshire” (which felt like a carbon copy version of last season’s “Swing Vote”), the feud between Leslie and Jamm has simply become too stale and stagnant to milk for any new ground.
And that’s a shame, because while I still love Leslie and still want success for her, her desperate attempts to get the Pawnee Commons completed so that Ann will not move away, or her working with Tom to market the fluoride in Pawnee’s water as #TDAZZLE before it becomes H2Flow, don’t have the same impact that they used to because of the overreliance on manufactured drama between her and Jamm. Since Leslie was recalled last week, there no longer feels like there is any threat of consequences for her actions (Ben isn’t even a little angry with her when she inadvertently gets him fired from Sweetums); instead, she is caught in a constant struggle with Jamm and we always know that it will end up with Leslie getting some sort of victory in the end.
After last night’s episodes, for the first time in a long time, Parks and Recreation feels a little too safe, lacking the risk that I praised it for in my review from last week. And that’s incredibly disappointing, because while I root for the characters of Parks and Rec and want to see them happy and successful, the goals that they strive to and, eventually, do achieve do not carry as much weight without the genuine possibility of disappointment and defeat.
However, I don’t want to sound like I hated last night’s episodes, because I didn’t at all. One aspect of both “Fluoride” and “The Cones of Dunshire” that really worked for me (much like it did last week) was the interesting combination of characters again. Last night, we saw a great small story between April and Donna, as the two of them along with “Crazy” Craig try to pick out who the Parks department’s spirit dogs are. When April says that Donna would be a poodle because she’s “pretty and wears makeup,” it causes both of them, specifically April, to reevaluate how well the two of them know each other. With Chris and Ann’s departure on the horizon and this season’s earlier focus on Donna and Leslie’s friendship, it looks like Parks and Recreation plans to expand Donna’s role, and it’s doing a good job of fleshing out her character and making her have more integral relationships with the rest of the group.
Another great, smaller story from last night also had to deal with a friendship that has not been explored much but ends up proving to be stronger than expected. Chris and Leslie and their fight against Jamm are the main focus of “The Cones of Dunshire,” and when Chris opens up to Leslie and finally confirms her suspicions that he and Ann are leaving Pawnee, the pair’s friendship regains a sense of importance. Furthermore, this importance and intimacy are solidified by Chris’s decision to bend the rules a little bit and promise Jamm five IOUs (even though he will be leaving the position of city manager behind in a few weeks and handing it off to Ben) in exchange for immediate establishment of the Pawnee Commons (which is, in a way, Leslie’s farewell gift to Ann). Chris’s actions here speak volumes to how much he cares about Leslie; she is one of the few people in the world that he would compromise his unflinching values for.
And storylines like Chris and Leslie’s or April and Donna’s is ultimately why Parks and Recreation should regain more focus on its characters’ relationships and not fall into the constant trap of Jamm and the nonsensical politics of Pawnee. Both of these components working together are what make Parks and Rec so great but leaning too heavily on one or the other makes it feel like the series does not possess the high emotional (and sometimes professional) stakes that it once did. That would be just like having waffles from JJ’s without any whipped cream, and that’s not the Parks and Recreation that we love or want.
Sorry if the reviews from this week and last week are all over the place or miss out on some of the parts of episodes that you guys really wanted me to discuss. Two episodes’ worth of Parks and Recreation is A LOT to try and write about.
Ron Swanson was typical Ron Swanson last night. I loved that he respected Andrew Luck enough to answer his question (“I’m fine.”) and that he sold his cabin to April after her honest and heartfelt explanation for what she would use it for. I also really enjoyed his storyline with Chris in “Fluoride” about what it truly means to be a parent.
Was so happy to see the return of the account firm that worships Ben. Also, the fact that they had a pizza party for him, and it turned out to be a calzone party. I know city manager is the position of a lifetime, but how could he leave?
“I need to go lay down for 45 minutes. No an hour. A full hour.” That line had me dying for a solid minute. Oh Craig. You’re so emotional, and it’s wonderful.
“Are You Gonna Crawl My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, “I’d Like to Solve the Puzzle on Parenting” by Vana White, and “Rad Dads” by Apollo Anton Ohno and Shaun White are definitely the books I’m going to use to help raise my kids.
“I’m like Picasso mixed with Michael Jordan. I can paint and I could be a world class gambler.”
“I hate metaphors. That’s why my favorite book is Moby Dick. No frou-frou symbolism. Just a good, simple tale about a man who hates an animal.”
What did everyone else think of last night’s episodes of Parks and Recreation?
[Photo via Tyler Golden/NBC]