Tonight’s generally fantastic episode of Parks And Recreation made me laugh harder than any episode in ages. If “Galentine’s Day” isn’t the funniest episode of the season, it’s damn close. And, yes, that’s a hell of a subjective statement to open with, even allowing for the fact that everything I write in these reviews is subjective; it’s entirely possible that you weren’t as amused by this episode as I was. But the success of this episode doesn’t need to be measured solely in terms of how many of its jokes land. More so than just about any other episode this season, “Galentine’s Day” figures out the perfect character combinations and the ideal situations in which to put them. This episode features not only the funniest, clearest Leslie plot that the show has managed in a while but also the funniest, clearest government-related plot. The fact that tonight’s Leslie story and tonight’s government story have nothing to do with each other is a key reason for their success.
After all, comedy tends to work best when the premise and the stakes are as straightforward as possible, and Leslie’s recent—and when I say “recent,” that could arguably mean going all the way back to season four, but certainly since her recall—forays into government work have often been fiendishly convoluted. Some of that is down to the show’s uncertainty on procedural matters, such as what precisely are Leslie’s responsibilities to the merger now that she’s left the city council and gone back to the Parks Department. But, as the last few episodes have explored, there’s also a question of whether Leslie still fits in Pawnee and whether it’s really a good thing that she has now gone back to doing much the same tasks she was doing five years ago. Her husband, on the other hand, has finally found his calling as the city manager, and Ben’s comfort in his job makes him the perfect character to head up the show’s government-related stories; the audience can take for granted that he’s where he should be and just enjoy the scenario unfold.
His and Tom’s subplot, in which they deal with a corrupt tent kingpin who has built up a tent monopoly throughout most of Indiana, isn’t exactly revelatory, but it doesn’t need to be when the tent kingpin in question is played by Rob Heubel. Aziz Ansari’s fellow Human Giant alumnus is television’s foremost expert at playing slick assholes, and his presence instantly livens up what could be a fairly rote story. His preferred insult of “buttface” is so perfectly juvenile, and the episode gets tremendous mileage out of the silly names for his various tent stores. As a sight gag, Rent Tent Tents was already enough to get a laugh out of me, but it was even better when Heubel rattled off the full list of his fine tent establishments, including the Tent Offensive, Ace Tentura: Tent Detective, and the Tentagon (plus a Chick-Fil-A franchise that isn’t doing so well, but whatever).
Ben’s story also gives Parks And Recreation a chance to expand on something first seen in “Anniversaries,” as Ben recognizes that he actually likes and even respects Larry. Given Ben’s immunity to many of Pawnee’s shared quirks—that monster still doesn’t get the appeal of Lil’ Sebastian!—it’s always been a little strange that he would join in on the Larry pile-ons. Jim O’Heir does some nice dramatic work as Larry essentially makes a valiant effort to protect Ben from his own decency, repeatedly stymying Ben’s attempts to stand up for his beleaguered coworker. The episode’s final scene is a work of comedic beauty, as a fed-up Ben launches into a flailing, deeply misconceived Dead Poet’s Society-esque riff about how people should treat Larry with respect. It’s an act of tremendous personal courage that Larry then immediately undermines by bumping into a trash bin and farting; not since Larry’s fart attack has the show come up with such a perfect flatulence gag.
While Parks And Recreation is still struggling to figure out what’s next for Leslie professionally, it has a much better idea of what she needs in her personal life: namely, a new Ann. Finding a replacement for her beautiful, departed tropical fish is just the kind of insane, wrongheaded, overly ambitious goal that Leslie would set out to achieve, except this time the show doesn’t have to worry about what ramifications Leslie’s exuberance might have for the town at large. As such, the Galentine’s Day brunch represents a wonderfully simple scenario, one in which the show needs do nothing more than gather a bunch of its female characters together and let them bounce off of each other.
Every character gets a great little moment, with the possible exception of Evelyn, the deeply un-Ann Eagleton equivalent of Ann, who is barely able to get out her departing, theoretically face-saving complement that the meal was “really… brunch.” Donna continues to reveal that she’s the most fascinating person in Pawnee, a twice-annulled international traveler and all-around Scandal enthusiast who also has her own Jacuzzi, which really is a good thing to know. Ethel Beavers, whom Leslie optimistically describes as “crotchety but probably wise,” is just there to get her flask refilled and to make no secret of her enthusiasm for skin flicks; it’s not hard to see why April and Andy adopted this woman as their grandmother. April is the only one who doesn’t get all that much to do, but the episode offers a fascinating window into her twisted worldview with the shot of her emptying the salt shaker into her bag. As theft, it’s pointless, considering there’s no way to reclaim that salt later. As wanton destruction, it’s self-defeating, as she’s likely doing far more damage to her bag than to the restaurant. April has matured so much over the past few years, but it’s inspiring to see that she’s still challenging herself to come up with new and exciting ways to be recalcitrant and antisocial.
Still, the unquestioned champion—by default!—of Galentine’s Day is Shauna Mulwae-Tweep. Alison Becker is one of the show’s longest-serving recurring players, and she gets to show off tonight that she can do much more than just sit quietly while Leslie suggests absurdly long headlines. “Galentine’s Day” has to hit a tricky balance here in making Shaun’s pathetic, ridiculous life come across as funny instead of sad. Becker’s performance is crucial here, as she’s just so darn enthusiastic about telling Leslie about the time she learned she was part of her dad’s secret second family. Shauna is definitely fragile, but she’s just oblivious enough to shield herself from the terribleness of her situation. That unearned confidence in her own wisdom—she once read a book that said women should never make the first move, which is generally incorrect but doubly so in the case of therapists—allows Leslie to slip back into the role of relatively grounded straight woman. Parks And Recreation could stand to use Leslie in that way more often, as one of her best lines in the episode is her casual admission that she always suspected Dr. Richard Nygard was just Chris talking into a mirror.
“Galentine’s Day” marks the first appearance of Rashida Jones, special guest star. This is a logical place to bring back Ann for a guest spot, as she really is the only person capable of getting through to Leslie on matters of best friendship. As their amusingly fierce debate over Friday Night Lights characters reveals, Ann and Leslie weren’t such great friends because they agreed on everything, but instead because they cared deeply for each other and, on some level, they made each other better people. After all, Leslie needs Ann around to keep her from doing something insane—like, say, sullying the sanctity of Galentine’s Day by using it as a secret audition for a new best friend—but Ann needs Leslie to stop her from doing something truly horrific, like buying a toe ring. (She’s somebody’s mother!)
The fact that that’s now the worst mistake Ann can make is a testament to how much she benefitted from her time with Leslie. As Leslie acknowledges when discussing the general disaster area that is Shauna’s life, Ann was also a bit of a fixer-upper when they first met; after all, she was living with the loutish season one version of Andy. Parks And Recreation has never had enough time to really develop Shauna’s story, but it’s often hinted at the idea that her off-screen life broadly matched what we saw of Ann’s. Shauna too once went through a dubious period of “dating herself,” but she didn’t have a dynamo like Leslie around to give her life the direction that it needed. Shauna’s downward spiral probably wouldn’t be all that funny if we had watched it unfold in real time over the last several seasons, but as something we only really find out about in one gloriously demented brunch, it’s hilarious.
- Ron and Andy’s story is also excellent. Both Lucy Lawless’ limited availability and the complexities of shooting scenes with babies mean that Parks And Recreation has to be creative in how it explores Ron’s newfound fatherhood, and the decision to turn Andy into Ron’s de facto son for the episode is somehow both obvious and inspired. The whole point of this subplot is to illustrate the challenges that Ron faces in raising children, and that provides the perfect excuse for Andy to act even dumber and more childlike than usual. Andy’s fascination with the magazine mazes and personality quizzes—to his deep consternation, the numbers reveal he’s more Goofus than Gallant—is great, but my favorite part of this subplot was when Ron unexpectedly knocked the peanut brittle out of Andy’s hands, with Andy then realizing Ron did this because of “calories.”
- For whatever reason, Rob Lowe doesn’t appear in the episode, but Ann offers a perfectly plausible excuse for Chris’ absence by explaining he’s been asked to help coach other women through their pregnancies. I would have loved a cutaway to Chris in action, but the mental image is plenty funny enough.
- No, this is not the first time that Parks And Recreation has called an episode “Galentine’s Day.” I’d actually be curious to know how common it is for a show to straight up reuse the title of an earlier episode; I can’t imagine this happens very often at all in contemporary television, but perhaps this was less unusual in the early days of television?