Tonight’s pair of Parks And Recreation episodes keep up the momentum of last week’s stellar “Donna And Joe.” The imminent conclusion of the show, heartbreaking as it may be, has given the show a sense of purpose that is—and this is really the important bit—damn hilarious to watch. The show keeps looking ever deeper into its long roster of recurring players, digging up ever more obscure figures to bring back for curtain calls. Marcia and Marshall Langman! Harris and Brett, the animal control idiots! That accounting guy who loves Ben and is called Barney Varmn, apparently! John McCain and Barbara Boxer! “Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes To Washington” goes overboard with the cameos in a way that’s almost dizzying, but it’s really hard to quibble with a show whose idea of celebrity-pandering is having Senators Orrin Hatch and Cory Booker hype their Polynesian folk band Across the Isle, or revealing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is Leslie’s best friend in Washington. If anyone is wondering why Tom Haverford sat out this week, it’s probably because he would have just spent the entire proceedings shouting about how ridiculously nerdy this all is.
Beyond revealing some impressive comic timing from our national political figures—Booker and Hatch are kind of perfect together, their two different brands of stilted managing a kind of constructive comedic interference—the first episode is important for what it reveals about April. All of the supporting characters have come so far from their initial one-note portrayals, but Aubrey Plaza’s work is particularly impressive because she’s had to convey all of April’s growing complexity without ever really deviating from that same one note. She can have the odd moment of unrestrained enthusiasm, like when she brightly tells the senators that she and Leslie will absolutely be at their show, but those only work as occasional change-ups; they are only funny because she otherwise remains locked in that same monotone.
Now, April has revealed how much she not-so-secretly cares about her coworkers for nearly five seasons now, so it isn’t exactly a surprise when she tells first Leslie that she loves her. That’s an established part of her character, and, as sweet as it and her later tribute to Ron are, they are familiar enough that they can only have so much impact. What I was more struck by was April’s behavior earlier in the episode, as she tried to hide her desire to quit. Plaza conveyed a rare anxiety in April’s voice and demeanor, motivated both by a fear of Leslie’s eventual overreaction and by a sincere desire not to hurt her friend’s feelings. This wasn’t the rare moment of open caring that April allows herself. This was a more internalized niceness—and, with that, vulnerability—and it’s that shade of April that would feel so absolutely foreign to the character we met all those years ago.
As for the eventual reveal of April’s dream job, I will admit that I’m disappointed that Parks And Recreation apparently didn’t have the same bright idea that you nice people had, which was to have her literally become Ann Perkins by going into nursing. (I’m pretty sure I wrote “literally” in Chris Traeger’s voice, and “become” in Andy’s.) April’s choice makes good enough logical sense, but it’s such a random solution. More interesting than the nature of the job then is its location, as now April, Ben, and, given her pending promotion, Leslie herself are all headed toward Washington. While it appears Leslie and Ben could still split time between Washington and Pawnee, April’s future appears to feature a more absolute break with Pawnee. And, yes, April probably is the character whose story would most benefit from explicitly outgrowing her old hometown. Also, Andy’s probably going to be running the place in, like, three weeks.
“Pie-Mary,” on the other hand, does give us a pair of very sweet subplots with April and Ron’s scavenger hunt and Donna and Garry’s walk down memory lane, but this second episode is mostly one last big political controversy episode. And, my goodness, does Parks And Recreation unload with both barrels in this one. I suppose it’s possible one of the next three episodes will indulge in some political satire, but honestly it’s hard to imagine a more fitting, deserving final object of the show’s scorn than the men’s rights movement. (Or, as I wrote in my notes as the Male Men first arrived: “Oh god, these fuckers.”) Parks And Recreation’s approach to satire is so absurd and over-the-top that it doesn’t always land—Jeremy Jamm, I’m looking at you—but this is an instance where even the most ridiculous satire feels inadequate to capturing the inanity of the opposing viewpoint, though the show hits the bulls-eye with lines like “Men have had a very rough go of it just recently” and “Can we have one conversation about feminism in which men are in charge?”
That closing press conference is the real showcase here, as Leslie and Ben eviscerate all the canned, dumb questions asked of women in politics. Here, it’s hard not to feel a certain blurring of the line between Leslie Knope and Amy Poehler, and quite right too. Parks And Recreation is a show that has always been passionate about the issues, from the existential to the wonky—again, tonight’s big guest star was Madeleine Albright—but there’s an unapologetic earnestness to that scene that still sets it apart from every big statement the show has made before. This is a closing argument, the kind that Parks And Recreation yells at the top of its lungs in the hopes that someone will listen. The show is realistic enough to only have half the audience applaud, but it’s idealistic enough to say it all in the first place. And then it closes the storyline with Ben winning the IOW’s Woman of the Year award, much to Leslie’s chagrin, in the process taking us all the way back to season two. (Or, as it’s sometimes known, the real season one.)
There’s more to “Pie-Mary” than its politics, with Jennifer Barkley on hand to yell about her need for heavy drinking and heavier ponchos whenever she steps foot in the Wyatt-Knope household and Ben Wyatt to revive his deep love of all things calzone. (Honestly, Ben might want to thank the Male Men for their protest, because that spiel he was about to launch into about calzone pies sounded like political suicide.) There’s Andy and Ron’s deep amusement with how embarrassing April’s crush on Andy was. There’s Brett from animal control telling us he has the soul of a Ghostbuster. Tonight’s entries are both terrifically funny, and, like “Donna And Joe,” they gain so much vital comedic vitality from all the energy found elsewhere in the storytelling. In the case of “Pie-Mary,” that’s not just the need to make the big statement of belief. It’s also taking the time to let April and Ron have their little moment under that tree, and it’s giving Donna and Garry, the show’s most ancillary main characters, an entire subplot that’s nothing more than reminiscing about times past and reaffirming their friendship. This is all pretty much exactly what I wanted out of this show’s final season, and it’s a joy to watch, even as the end draws near.
- “I have a brother. One brother…” The sight of all those other Swansons shuffling away was perfection.
- “I do not compare people to Mary J. Blige lightly.” “No one should.” Craig continues to be well-deployed. A slightly quieter Craig is a very palatable Craig.
- “Talking about the highway to the … Calzone Zone!” Oh Ben. I’ll miss you most of all.
- Not that the grades matter, but consider the grade for both of tonight’s episodes a kind of combined “A/A-.” I don’t think they’re quite up to the standard set by “Leslie And Ron” and “Donna And Joe,” but they are only a quarter-step below that tier.