Leslie Knope may well be torn between two contradictory career paths. She has the passion and the skills to take her to the highest of offices; okay, maybe not all the way to the presidency, but at least to being the head of a new office of the National Park Service. We may not know a lot about Grant Larsen, director of the Midwest Branch of NPS, but I’m pretty sure he’s not the kind of regional director who would go to all this trouble if he weren’t absolutely convinced of Leslie’s worthiness for the job. Indeed, about the one thing that “New Slogan” knows for certain about Leslie comes right at the end, as she voices her concern that she might fail in this more demanding job with such greatly heightened responsibilities. Her husband’s simple, entirely reasonable response is that that’s the dumbest thing she’s ever said. Leslie’s competence has never been the issue (well, at least not since the first season); it’s finding the right outlet for her particular brand of endlessly enthusiastic hyper-competence. The responsibilities of the Chicago job are too big and broad to let her do all the micromanaging and filling out paperwork that she loves, but her gig in Pawnee is no longer an ideal fit either.
That’s a point that the sixth season has made repeatedly, although “New Slogan” finds a few new wrinkles in this now familiar story. The episode drills down to the essential contradiction of Leslie Knope with her stance on write-in votes. She insisted that some stupid internet poll to pick a new slogan feature a write-in option because she refuses to be a dictator who tells people what to do, but she spends most of the episode desperately attempting to appeal to the better nature of the citizens of Douche Nation, an effort that is just as futile as it sounds. The apparent ridiculousness of those contradictory stances is something that the episode only addresses on the margins; tonight’s story isn’t another referendum on Leslie Knope. Indeed, there is a certain weird consistency to Leslie’s actions here. For her work in government to have any meaning, she needs to believe that people can be trusted to do the right thing, and Leslie in turn considers it her civic duty to try to change people’s minds when they do the obviously, stupidly wrong thing.
Whatever the individual viewer’s feelings might be on these particular points of political philosophy, Parks And Recreation broadly endorses Leslie’s approach—the show has generally favored at least a certain degree of paternalism over true populism in its conception of local democracy—and so the humor comes not so much from the foolishness of Leslie’s underlying ideas but rather the ludicrous ways in which she puts her beliefs into practice. Her decision to throw a media junket to promote that silly poll is the first of many such ill-conceived decisions, but it doubles as an inspired bit of plotting. After all, the junket provides an easy excuse to bring in four of the show’s most consistently funny utility players in quick succession. Joan Callamezzo appears to now be in recovery mode from her latest downward spiral, taking her interview with Leslie—or, as far as she’s concerned, Leslie’s interview with her—to discuss her plans to rename herself “Juan Callamezzo” (it means “flower”). And let’s not forget Perd Hapley, who tries to pass himself off as his usual, happy-go-lucky self, but I’d say there’s a storm brewing inside the veteran newsman; after all, he says his interest level in the story that he’s reporting is only “medium.” A Perd Hapley who takes only medium interest in his stories isn’t the Perd Hapley I want to know.
But it’s Crazy Ira and the Douche who dominate the proceedings. Matt Besser and Nick Kroll’s characters so perfectly embody the idiocy of radio shock jocks; I’d say they represent a perfect parody, but I’m not sure their fart-obsessed antics are actually more inane or over-the-top than what’s really out there on the airwaves. There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about the comedy here—either in terms of the in-universe radio show or Parks And Recreation’s satirical presentation of it—but I’ll admit that I’m always amused whenever these two show up, especially when their presence allows the show to reposition Leslie as the dumbfounded straight woman. Crazy Ira gets to go on quite the journey here from the man asking an insightful (albeit fake) question about the poll’s role in integrating Pawnee and Eagleton to the guy gleefully showing Leslie a picture of his own mother’s butt—or possibly her boobs—and I’d say we’re all richer for having gone on that journey with the show.
The eventual resolution to this story, in which Leslie turns the decision-making process over to Larry and the people at large, suggests at least a degree of hope for Pawnee. As crazy as it sounds, Larry runs a surprisingly effective meeting, in that his willingness to consider every silly idea without offering any pushback allows the Pawnee crazies to have their say without the proceedings devolving into utter chaos. The woman who ultimately gets up to propose the winning slogan initially comes across as a proto-Leslie, with her little speech and mock-up poster indicating a very Knope-like love of Pawnee and a clear willingness to go the extra mile. But if that woman is like any version of Leslie, she’s like the incompetent goofball Leslie of the first season, at least if the typo is anything to judge by. The subsequent, doubly wrong correction and Larry’s chipper approval of the poster suggest Pawnee is still a town full of idiots, but these are idiots who actually can come together and get things done, even when Leslie isn’t around. If Leslie really is waiting to complete building something lasting in Pawnee before moving onto the next phase of her life, then “New Slogan” suggests she might be closer to accomplishing her task than we might have suspected; Pawnee isn’t quite ready to cope without her, but it’s getting there. And honestly, there are worse slogans than “Pawnee: When Your Here, Than Your Home.” I mean, it’s not as good as “Pawnee: Welcome to Douche Nation,” but then, what is?
- “Things used to make me so happy, but I’ve grown so much in the past year. Now I just want one big thing!” Tonight’s two subplots were really slight, so I’m shuffling them to the stray observations. Still, that observation from Tom is a wonderful bit of insight into his character, explicitly acknowledging his growth while still signaling that he’s fundamentally the same person he’s always been. Honestly, Parks And Recreation might have a clearer sense at this point of what it’s doing with Tom than of what it’s doing with Leslie. I’ve previously suggested that Tom is on a parallel path to Leslie, as they are the two characters engaged in the most obviously dynamic character arcs. And yes, it’s hard to ignore that both Leslie and Tom are considering some fairly major career changes. But if we were setting up analogies between the main story and Tom’s subplot, I might actually suggest that Tom is more like Pawnee than Leslie. Like the townspeople, Tom has some dopey ideas and can be all too easily manipulated, but there are far more competent people—in this case, April and Donna—who care about him and, once they get past their own selfishness, are ready to do what it takes to ensure his happiness. So maybe if Tom can succeed, then so too can Pawnee? I don’t really think Parks And Recreation is consciously setting up that parallel, but I’m now weirdly amused by the idea of young Mr. Haverford and his Frank Sinatra-style bistro serving as a sort of proxy for the entire town. I’m just bummed that Tom didn’t decide to set up shop in Jurassic Fork. It’s hard to find a restaurant with its own load-bearing dinosaur!
- Much as I’m always inclined to like an episode featuring Crazy Ira and the Douche, it’s hard to go wrong with an episode that features the return of Duke Silver. That said, there really wasn’t much of anything to the story with Ron and Andy; the episode definitely appeared to leave Ron considering whether he should reveal himself publicly and play at the unity concert, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if that story just kind of petered out. Still, Chris Pratt gets in some nice earnest acting as Andy implores Ron not to give up jazz; it’s a good reminder of just how much Andy loves music, and Pratt conveys just how crushed Andy would be if his meddling caused Ron to abandon Duke Silver forever. Plus, I’ll be the first to admit that I also don’t really understand how the percentages in milk work.
- Crazy Ira is right: Whatever they’re paying Jewish Greg, it’s not enough. But does this mean China Joe is on sabbatical?
- Ben really did make one hell of a panda game, didn’t he?