Tonight’s episode represents the beginning of the post-Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe era of Parks And Recreation, and they are missed. Probably nobody was expecting this to be the glorious windfall for the show that the departure of Paul Schneider turned out to be. But is it just a little bit ominous that the show is unable to make it halfway through its first scene tonight before the magic words “Ann Perkins” escape Amy Pohler’s lips? Ann’s name comes up because it’s Leslie and Ben’s first wedding anniversary. Ordinarily, this would trigger a full tsunami of sentimental, romantic feeling in Leslie, but she’s temporarily distracted by the continuing blowback over the merger of Pawnee with its hated rival, Eagleton, a process that, she explains, has been marked by “some bumps and bruises, and a small rash of arson, and a rather large-scale brawl at the dump.” If it’s Pawneeans starting the brawls and the fires, it is hard not to sympathize with them. The Eagletonians seem to have responded to their town going bankrupt by becoming even more superior and hoity-toity than usual.
This point is hammered home when Leslie visits a local public radio talk show, Thought For Your Thoughts, that is home to the first casting coup of the episode. The Pawneean host, Derry Murbles (Dan Castellaneta) is now obliged to co-host the show with an Eagletonian, played by John Hodgman and his dashing ‘stache. The tension between the two of them is palpable, and not conducive to a show described by Leslie as “a quiet, arcane ball of fun,” despite the fact that this is such a good description of John Hodgman that he ought to insert it into his press kit. Someone phones in to say that the worst part of the merger is “the garbage problem.” At first, Leslie is happy to have something specific she can work with, but it turns out he means that Eageltonians are, in fact, “human garbage.”
Trying to find some way to bring these warring tribes together, Leslie arranges a TV interview with Doug and Rosie DeMarco, a Pawnee-Eagleton married couple who’ve just celebrated their own golden anniversary. She hopes that the locals will see them as the symbolic embodiment of their own shared humanity and potential to love their neighbors. Not gonna happen. Doug and Rosie—played, in the night’s second casting coup, by Peter Bonerz of The Bob Newhart Show and Debra Mooney, the Supreme Court justice the President Of The United States snuffed in her hospital bed on Scandal—only got married in the first place because pickings were slim, and, with the Cold War going on, neither ever imagined they’d have to endure each other’s company for so long. Besides, as Doug says, “I figured I could really tick off my parents by marrying some Pawnee trash.”
While Leslie is obsessing over the merger, Ben is trying to surprise her with the perfect pre-anniversary day gift. Unable to pry her away from her work, he ends up taking a couples massage, a horse-drawn carriage ride, and a dance class with Jerry. (“It’s not too late to cancel the waffle buffet and the Hillary impersonator, but a lot of these deposits are non-refundable.”) The joke is that, having gone to great lengths to diss Jerry earlier in the episode, Ben greatly enjoys his company. I’ve never felt that I really get the whole joke of Jerry—he’s a nice, gentle-spirited man who always does his best and is quick to do favors for people, and who has a happy home life with his beautiful wife and daughters, all of which is supposed to make it hilarious that the people he works with all think he’s a crass boob and treat him like shit. It’s as if, when the show was in the planning stages, one of the writers was told, “Come up with a funny shtick for a subsidiary character that we can really milk week after week,” and the writer had a terrible undiagnosed hearing problem and thought he’d been told, “Come up with a terrifying illustration of the twisted mindset that leads to senseless bullying, so we can ascribe it to all our main characters,” and that’s what he did but the show went with it anyway.
At least Jerry is consistent. The subplots involving April and Ron, two of the show’s sturdiest sources of entertainment value, border on character abuse. April is sore at Donna for taking too many unannounced breaks from work, but she doesn’t want to confront her directly, so in an uncharacteristic fit of passive-aggressiveness, she leaves anonymous snark about Donna’s job performance at Yelp. Ron, meanwhile, has been wasting his time by composing “strongly worded letters about things I disapprove of.” Apparently, he is doing this just so that when one of the respondents comes to the office to ask him what the hell he thinks he’s been doing, April can ask how the man found him, and Ron can explain that, of course, he always puts his name and address on the nasty letters he sends to strangers, because “when you believe in something, you sign your name to it, which is why the makers of carbonated water will soon know how to find me.” The show has often gotten away with allowing Ron to impart life lessons to April, but this is a little too Fat Albert for comfort. As for Andy and Tom, they’re given bupkis to do. Even with the recent departures, Parks And Recreation has one of the best casts of any comedy on TV, but that’s not going to help it much if it’s run out of things for them to do besides increasingly arbitrary, random silly shit. That way leads to late Seinfeld.
- Ron shows up at the animal center, looking to adopt a dog for Lucy Lawless’ daughters, and carrying a picture the girls have drawn to help him pick out the kind they want. “So,” says April, looking at the picture, “like a banana made of spiders?” “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” replies Ron. “Children are terrible artists. And artists are awful crooks.”
- Mo Collins as the TV host about to dig deep in her interview with the long-married DeMarcos: “What is the special sauce that we should all be putting on our marriage burgers?”
- The best thing about the Ben subplot: Just getting to see Adam Scott sitting in what he calls an Enchanted carriage, dressed Prince Charming-style.
- Retta and Jim O’Heir are in the opening credits now, because what were they going to do, make the title sequence shorter?
- Alasdair is otherwise engaged this evening, but will be back next week.