After bringing us along for the Harvest Festival ride, Parks & Rec wrapped up that seven-episode arc last week, leaving me wondering what those crazy kids were going to get up to next. "Camping" echoes that sentiment, focusing on the momentum the parks department achieved and how Leslie fears her next idea won't live up to the high standard she set out for herself. "You only get one chance to make a second impression," she points out near the beginning, and the self-administered pressure is suddenly on. There might not be an overarching storyline driving the episode, but the characters were at their wackiest and most affable. "Camping" served as a reminder of why I look forward to Parks & Rec: At its heart, it's a character comedy that's easy to love.
Leslie is at the heart of the episode, her neuroses doing their part to shoehorn the entire department onto a camping trip in the hopes of discovering the next big parks-related idea. But "Camping" is as much an ensemble piece as any episode of Parks & Rec has ever been. Every major character gets plenty of screentime and pretty much plays the best, most funny versions of themselves. Ron starts the camping trip ecstatic over the prospect of some alone time fishing ("It's like yoga, except I still get to kill something") but inevitably winds up letting his soft spot for Leslie overpower his desire for a solitary existence. Ben is so eager for acceptance and validation that he blindly heads off to the camping trip without so much as an idea of what camping entails, nor a desire to even purchase a tent. Tom goes on Sky Mall and buys out all the impractical gizmos he can find. Jerry makes everyone uncomfortable, Donna betrays her love of canopy beds and sneaky gin, and Chris is so positive he claims both Pawnee and Indianapolis to be, literally, the best cities around—accent on the "t" in liTerally.
"Camping" celebrates all these weirdos and shows their idiosyncrasies can pretty much exist symbiotically, excepting Jerry's over-the-line sexual stories. April is the only character who seems out of place. Her character has softened substantially since she began dating Andy, but while she used to want to avoid work functions because of her disdain for them, she now wants to avoid work functions because of her disdain for them, especially given the alternative of much making out with Andy. Her character still doesn't know how to play nice with most of the other ones on the show and lacks much of a connection to anyone who's not Andy or, sort of, Ron. My favorite April scenes are the ones she has with Andy, because she's able to let her guard down and demonstrate more than whatever it takes to be somewhere and constantly text. It'd be interesting to see what April would do if she found something really important within the parks department and had a reason to purposefully interact with more of the characters around her. As it is, I enjoyed her in "Camping" for the most part but can't quite say she contributed too much to the episode other than to be the kind of girl Andy would fight a squirrel for.
I'm pretty glad Ann's breakup has allowed her true colors to shine through (and not just in her hair-ular region). She's always been a stick-in-the-mud comedically, and that's a shame because Rashida Jones is pretty darn funny under other circumstances. Tonight, she once again falls victim to Chris' relentlessly upbeat attitude; even when he agrees to meet and discuss the now-shuttered relationship, she reads it as a sign they should get back together immediately—or at least suck face in the diner. Ann is usually such a calming presence on the show, mostly by design, since she's a natural foil to Leslie's scatterbrained existence. She was due for an unhinged moment or two, and we're getting them in spades.
For the most part, though, "Camping" was about playing right to our expectations of these characters and taking it one or two steps further. Nothing was all that shocking, but nothing had to be. This was a reminder of some of the show's best moments. DJ Roomba returns. Ron tells a horror story that ends in a state inspection of privately owned land. Leslie's proposed headline "Harvest Best-ival" actually happened. Hard to believe this season is more than halfway over; I'm having way too much fun.
- "That's the second most awkward way someone has grabbed my breast."
- "It's called the ground when it's outside."
- "I married Alf, and we're pretty happy."
- How many of those cats tonight looked like Ron Swanson?