This post discusses plot points from the November 15 episode of Parks and Recreation.
When Parks and Recreation debuted in 2009, Leslie Knope’s ambitions were something of a joke. The idea that she could join the company of the women whose pictures hung on the walls of her office at the Parks Department was laughable. And framing her as an object of derision was one of the reasons the show wasn’t particularly good. Now that we’ve had four seasons establishing Leslie as competent, it’s much easier for the show to revisit her dreams without mocking them, in part because Parks and Recreation is at a point where everyone else’s ambitions are up for debate as well.*
The opening of the show framed that tension perfectly. “2020,” Leslie tells Ben, looking at the White House when she comes to Washington to help him move back to Pawnee. “Fine. 2024. I win. We move in there. I’ll take the West Wing. You take the East Wing. You can be the first gentleman.” “That actually sounds kind of great,” Ben tells her. But like First Spouses before him, when Ben gets back to Pawnee, he starts to reckon with the fact that First Gentleman is a job title, not a job description. And he doesn’t actually know what he wants that description to be.
Leslie, meanwhile, is having to deal with the fact that she can’t everything at once—and that she hasn’t made much progress on what was once her signature goal, turning the pit behind Ann’s house into a park. April, whose love for animals moved her enthusiasm meter a tick last season, has finally seized on a project she cares about: the creation of a dog park. And the best location is the former pit. Leslie is torn, thrilled to see April, who, as she explains to Ron later in an attempt at disgusing the situation, “He’s smart and he’s beautiful, and I think of him in many ways as a daughter,” showing some ambition. “Can you say per capita again?” she asks gleefully. “I want to take a picture of you saying per capita!” But as is often the case with Leslie, she doesn’t see her way around the corner that April’s proposal presents, seeing only the threat of April’s proposal rather than the chance for them to combine projects. “That lot is mine,” she tells April, trying to justify the fact that she hasn’t done anything with the lot. “I’ve been doing slow, painstaking work. I don’t want to whip out the legalese on you, but I got dibs.”
It’s nice to have an episode where Leslie’s problem is one of her own creation, but also one that gives her an opportunity to figure out how to do what she hasn’t done so far this season—maneuver effectively on City Council. Councilman Jamm, who’s caused Leslie so much trouble earlier in the season, cleverly maneuvers to take advantage of the rift between Leslie and April, promising to back the dog park proposal, only to reneg and suggest selling the land to a Paunchburger franchise because “You don’t even have to be Asian to do math that simple.” But his perfidy—aided by an Ann Perkins-lead intervention and vow that “No one leaves the Octagon!”—brings the two back together with the obvious idea that a dog park and a human park would double the constituency for the pit project. They discover Jamm’s weakness is his yard—”Get that thing off my gnome!” he orders one of the dogs and humans who invade it for lack of a real park—and get him to give them 90 days to make their proposal work. Leslie’s reinvigoration is a delight to see, and her “I just said let’s get to work. How else do people enjoy things?” is perhaps the line of Leslie’s I’ve most identified with in a long string of Lesleyisms.
Tom, meanwhile, is discovering that having a genuinely strong idea for a business isn’t actually the same thing as getting it off the ground. He may tell Ben that “We specialize in making stacks on stacks on stacks on stacks,” and his Ron-vetted business plan may be strong. But that doesn’t mean, particularly given Tom’s streak of failures, that he has either the credibility to automatically attract the kinds of backers he really needs to get Rent-a-Swag up and running. And of course it’s frustrating for him to watch Ben’s efforts on his behalf do more to demonstrate Ben’s competence than to move his business forward. Sweetums wants Ben to run their foundation. Channel 46 tells Ben “We’re launching a new political chat show and we need correspondents.” But they manage to help each other. Ben helps Tom reconcile himself to the prospect of the work it’ll take to get his first real, legitimate business off the ground, and Tom reminds Ben that even though accounting is a stable career, “If it was remotely interesting there would be a show on A&E about it.” In the end, they decide to take a gamble together. Or as Ben puts it, “Life is short. Why be an accountant? Except for the stability and the benefits and the above-average pay. Oh, God, this better work out.”
While Ben’s figuring out that he has no idea what he wants to do, Andy is coming to terms with the fact that his dream of being a Pawnee police officer may be less Bert Macklin, FBI, and a little bit more Louis C.K. “Andy, I love your enthusiasm, but we don’t have the resources to launch an expansive investigation,” Chris warns him when he lays out an elaborate plan to catch the thief who’s stealing City Hall’s terrible computers. “This is what most police work is, just writing stuff down,” the officer Andy’s reporting the crime to explains to him. “Maybe you should do something else?” Andy’s still convinced that part of his dream is alive, telling Chris “I get a gun and I can point it at people’s faces!” only to have Chris tell him: “Incorrect.” Andy’s sense of wonder has carried him through a lot of life, even through his marriage to April, in whose studied distaste for everything he sees awesomesauce. But it might be time for him to have a similar reckoning with the prospect of adult employment, and I wonder how he’ll change as a result.
*Also, the Joe Biden cameo was just obviously awesome. Leslie lecturing the Secret Service that “You are guarding precious cargo!” is just straight-up delightful.