‘Parks and Recreation’ Open Thread: Porpoises and Potholes

This post discusses plot points from the October 4 episode of Parks and Recreation.

One of the things I’d looked forward to about this season was getting to know the other members of City Council, now that they’re Leslie’s colleagues, rather than mysterious higher beings she runs into in the halls. This episode did some work in that direction, introducing us to Councilman Jam, a crude dentist, and Councilman Milton, who’s a refugee from Pawnee’s past. Jam is a small-town, excrement-obsessed tyrant who belongs to a cigar bar Tom would like to be a member of, while Milton felt more located in the exceedingly screwed up Pawnee we’ve come to know and love. “Councilman Milton was first elected in 1948 as a member of the Dixiecrat party. Their platform? Deintegrate baseball,” Leslie tells us, a poster with an African-American ballplayer and “You’re Out!” emblazoned on it hanging on the wall behind her. “I can taste the ignorance,” Tom says, choking down a bite of the man’s dressing-saturated salad. “It’s pronounced anchovies!” Milton corrects him brightly. The two men weren’t bad for the set of jokes Parks and Recreation was exploring, but they also didn’t seem like the kind of people the show is going to want to have Leslie, or us, spend a lot of time with in the future.

The larger issue I had with the A story, though, was that it didn’t read quite right to me that Leslie would get so frustrated with politics so quickly. This is a woman who’s cheerfully inserted her way into Ron Swanson’s boys weekend, who figured out how to get Ken Hotate to lift the curse on the Pawnee Harvest Festival, who Kaboomed her way to fill the hole by Ann Perkins house. And she beat Bobby Newport. I can see Leslie needing to learn how City Council works, but it’s a bit odd to see her telling the Porpoises “Our positive attitude is our greatest asset,” then immediately pivoting to tell Tom, “The bill is dead, the Porpoises are doomed, and democracy is over.” She recovers quickly, with an assist from Tom, who pushes Jam in the pool to keep him from spoiling democracy for the kids who sought her out down by the river to ask for her help in keeping their pool open. But it was a bit of a throwback to the first season of the show to see her so rattled, and not in a way that suggests growth.

It was the B story, rather, where someone was moving forward both personally and professionally. Ron, at the behest of Chris, inspired in turn by his therapist, set up a 311 line*. And after the repeated failures of the public works department to provide assistance to, or in any way respond to, a woman with a pothole in front of her house, declares “Andrew, get your lunch, some water, and a 40 pound bag of asphalt,” and sets off to solve the problem himself. The caller turns out to be a rather attractive single mother, a middle school vice principal who turns out to be just Ron’s type of woman, even if he did have to subject himself to a princess makeover by her children, at the behest of an exceedingly enthusiastic Andy. Over the years, we’ve seen Ron be won over repeatedly by Leslie’s enthusiasm for government on a one-on-one basis, but this is one of the first times we’ve seen him take the initiative on his own and enjoy it. “I begrudingly admit the 311 program is a moderate success,” Ron acknowledged, savoring both the mild personal and professional success of his day.

It’s true, sometimes, as Leslie puts it, that “This is why people hate the government. Just when we’re about to do something really good, it all falls apart due to some stupid, selfish jerkbutt.” But Leslie, more than anyone else on the show, knows how often government comes through. I’m surprised she forgot that over something so small.

*The 311 line inspired the evening’s best joke, with Donna, who’s been reading Fifty Shades of Grey telling a caller Then Anna asks Grey to punish her,” only to have Jerry, who’s been getting all the calls that are supposed to be going to 911 tell her “Donna, please! Can you please keep it down! Or at least research how to deliver a baby that’s coming out face up!” and to have the shot in turn toss to Ron, who explained “Lie the mother on her side and try to move the baby in a corkscrew fashion.”