Good evening, P&R people! Steve Heisler is down with the flu that's sweeping through the A.V. Club offices like Falcon Henne jokes through a Twitter feed, so he won't be able to provide your recap tonight. Luckily, having replaced my blood with gallons of gin, I am immune to all human diseases, and I'll be stepping in to handle tonight's episode.
Parks & Rec is one of my favorite shows of the last few years — Greg Daniels and company obviously learned quickly that you can't spend too much time finding your voice or the audience will desert you. This show has managed to conquer the first-season learning curve with lightning speed; starting with "Rock Show" at the end of last season, it got on a roll like poppy seeds. Last week's "Practice Date" was the first time all year I felt like P&R wasn't firing on all cylinders, but even so, it had plenty of strong moments. (Much as you could usually tell if you were in for a great rather than merely good episode of Mr. Show by whether or not David Cross was wearing shorts in the intro, the presence of Chris Pratt seems to be a bellwether of how good an episode of Parks & Recreation you're going to get.)
The premise of this episode seemed promising enough, anyway — the town of Pawnee is visited by a representative of their sister city in Venezuela, played by the usually reliable Fred Armisen. Leslie's nervous, with her usual combination of obsequieousness and condescension; this sets up another great gag about the horribly offensive murals at Pawnee Town Hall, this one featuring a visiting rabbi locked in a cage with a label reading "UNKNOWN".
Once the visitors arrive, Leslie's forced to imitate America's favorite punching bag, Hillary Clinton, as the Venezuelans prove to be rude, arrogant and cruel; they treat Tom like a native porter (which he doesn't mind as long as cash comes with it), they scoff at Leslie's gift of high-quality corn syrup, and they constantly mistake the female employees of the Department for prostitutes. Ron Swanson is happy with their gift of a solid gold revolver, but he's the only one who's happy; Leslie in particular is on a constant slow burn because of their running down America in general and Pawnee in particular.
This finally leads to a big confrontation after a town hall meeting (dominated by a way-too-padded talking head segment with Armisen) where Leslie tells off the visiting Venezuelans and disses their main man Hugo Chavez. When the Venezuelans try to reconcile by offering her a $35,000 check — enough to fill in the pit, hey, remember that? — she goes along with at first until it becomes clear (in a bit that lands with a heavy clunk) that it's a bribe as part of pro-Chavez propaganda. (Tom shows a little depth of character and salvages Leslie's humiliation by donating his tip money to the park fund.)
This was easily the weakest episode of the season — maybe of the series. Not only did it suffer from the absence of most of the supporting cast and a return to petulant Leslie, but the whole thing was terribly padded; it seemed like a C-plot drawn out to episode length. The political overtones were ham-handed, and the humor went way, way broad in a show that's benefited from subtle character development. You get one clunker a year, though; as long as this is P&R's biggest season 2 misstep, it won't damage things too much.
- April speaks spanish with her usual verve and intensity. "Yes, I am very powerful and feared by many."
- "I told you, gold sequined sweat pants."
- "This city was planned?"
- "Oil is food for cars."
- "Kernstens rubber nipples: taste like the real thing."
- "American children are fattened more efficiently than any other children in the world."