‘Parks & Recreation’ Open Thread: Soulmates

This post contains spoilers through the Sept. 29 episode of Parks and Recreation.

As someone who has spent a lot of time reporting on things governments do and the people who do them, I am constantly surprised by the way Parks and Recreation manages to find specific functions for the various departments it covers and make them slightly, and delightfully surreal. Also, the way it manages to take on various tropes of female behavior and make them incredibly funny.

In this first category is what Leslie describes as “Budgetary thunderdome!” an annual staredown between the various Pawnee departments. “So make lists of why other departments suck, and I’ll get our secret weapon.” As a perfect example of the marvelous dynamic between Leslie and Ron, Leslie’s looking forward to turning Ron into a weapon by targeting his libertarianism at agencies other than their own. Except the arrival of Tammy One is getting in the way of her careful plans. “You love arguing against government spending!” Leslie wails when she finds Ron tamed and shaved, a plot twist that could only come after the discovery of how funny Nick Offerman looks when some of his facial hair is surprisingly removed. I have to say, though, the fact that Tammy One is conducting a totally fake IRS audit of Ron as a way to get back into his life — and more importantly into his gold stashes — makes them seem like an even more perfect odd couple than Ron and Leslie, who clearly should be his work wife until the end of time.

Then, there was Ann and Chris recording a public service announcement about diabetes, which I thought was funny, but not as strong as that other government plot. I think Chris is a lot of fun, but the show needs to come up with some sort of growth arc for him. I’d like to see him sweep Ann up into his crazy enthusiasm, to be the male Leslie in Ann’s life.

But really, this episode is all about the “old-fashioned prairie drinkoff” between Leslie, Ron’s mother, and Tammy One, who had turned Ron into a checking-account sharing, moustacheless, government-trusting zombie who says things like “anywhoo” and “cool beans.” Ron’s mother is clear evidence of nature and nurture, a stocky woman who explains to Leslie that she doesn’t have to tell her why she has so many guns because “This is America, isn’t it? Then I don’t have to answer stupid questions while standing on my own property.” She could easily have been coded as a masculine lesbian or something, while Tammy One could easily be a castrating nightmare (or Godzilla, take your pick). But all the actresses involved are too good to simple lapse into tropes, even as they assume vast amounts of corn alcohol whose “only legal use is to strip varnish off of speedboats…We use it to burn warts off of the mules!”

And oh am I glad they do, because Amy Poehler play tipsy is a delight to watch, as is watching her repeat a phrase like “pants” drunk or “jail” sober. Their contest ends as it has to, with Ron drinking the rest of the booze and championing the woman in his life. “Mom, you’re going back to the farm. And you, you’re going back to hell,” he tells the two runners-up.