This post discusses plot points from the December 6 episode of Parks and Recreation.
Last week, I wrote that I was concerned that Parks and Recreation was going back to old wells to little effect. This week, the show at least partially righted ship for me, in part by realizing what it has to do with those old wells: cap them, or tap them. It was the first time I felt like, if Parks and Recreation is running its victory lap, the show is hitting the home stretch and really bringing its characters other than Leslie and Ben to satisfying conclusions.
Part of the reason this episode was so good is that it focused much less on Leslie directly, and much more on Ron, the show’s other, and maybe even true, breakout character. Their friendship has always been one of the staples of the show, or, as Leslie put it when she congratulated Ron on his nomination for his chair, “I’ve had a Ron Swanson Google alert for seven years and it finally paid off.” But the show hasn’t necessarily explored how that friendship affects Ron’s life other than to provide an amusing series of annoyances for him, and us, and it was nice to see it through Diane’s eyes. “Ron had told me so much about you, in that he told me your name is Diane, and you exist,” Leslie greeted her at the awards, before demanding to know all about her aspirations and which house she’d be in at Hogwarts. At first, Leslie got to present the situation from her perspective when she revisited her long-standing rivalry with Tammy: “”This may be the hardest challenge yet for Leslie Knope, Emotional Guardian. Protect a sweet couple from sex-crazed demon librarian who makes me question my stance on using the b-word. Maybe this once. No, Leslie, fight it.” But then we saw it from Diane’s, who realized that Leslie knew more about Ron than he did.
I was glad the show took the time to flesh out the difference between the kinds of friendships between men and women that normally happen on television, where they’re just hanging around until the show needs them to get together, and the kind of friendship Ron and Leslie have, that is genuinely and truly platonic and supportive. Sometimes when someone says “I don’t think of you romantically. You’re pro-government, you never stop talking, and you have blonde hair. you’re my worst nightmare,” they mean it. “At this very moment, Leslie is throwing herself in front of a freight train named Tammy for me, and you,” Ron explained in telling Diane to trust him. “I would rather visit Europe than have something romantic happen with her.” Introducing Diane to Duke Silver—and letting her let Tammy know that she can take her—took care of two old joke wells from Parks‘ past in a single episode, and it made me genuinely thrilled for Ron in a way the show doesn’t always have time to let him be.
Maybe it made sense that the other main story had smaller stakes, and pulled together smaller tributaries. The show’s been doing a nice job of tempering the other characters’ meanness to Jerry and demonstrating some of the consequences of that behavior this season, so it made sense that they would have to reckon with their behavior at some point. True to form, it took some selfishness, and the Voice of Retta, to make Tom, April, and Andy realize that their behavior, at minimum, isn’t getting them what they want, which is access to that buffet, if not Jerry’s friendship. Chris may tell Ben that Jerry’s gorgeous wife and beautiful daughters make “no logical sense,” but for the kindness Jerry puts out into the world, he deserves something in compensation for all those doors in the face, and for the perpetual willingness to see them as accidental.
The one part of the episode that didn’t help resolve problems with this season, or long-standing issues in the show, I thought, was Chris’s confrontation with Milliscent. His therapy’s never been the source of more than one-off jokes like his explanation to Ben that in his dream, “This time, the giant spider got caught in my web.” And while it would be amazing to see him truly transform over time, it’s hard to buy his evolution, especially when Rob Lowe isn’t really selling lines like “Thing with fat in them taste way better than things with no fat!” It feels inevitable that the show is going to get him back together with Ann, but this season has spent next to no season on making that outcome seem plausible. It’s one thing to rush us to the finish. And another to feel like everything’s come together perfectly in a Duke Silver solo, directed at just the right woman.