Okay, here’s what I’ve been hoping from Parks And Recreation since last week: One classic, or just standout, episode before this season is through. This six-episode run mirrors The Office’s tryout of a first season, which brought us an iffy pilot and some episodes that look a little weak in light of what’s come since. But it also brought us “Diversity Day,” its second episode, which still ranks with its all-time best. Unlike the pilot, it showed that the U.S. Office could go in different directions than its UK inspiration. P&R has a similar relationship with the U.S. Office as the U.S. Office had with its source material: It casts a long shadow. But one episode in which P&R really came into its own could change that.
It's not this one. After a pretty funny opening segment with a little bit more Pawnee history—“They traded him a baby for what is now Indianapolis”—the main plot in which Leslie nervously attends a banquet honoring her mother (Pamela Reed) kicks in. The idea has potential but the execution defines forced. And I left it wondering again what this show was all about, really. Is it about Leslie growing disillusioned with politics and shedding that layer of eighth-grade-inspired civic pride she wears so proudly? Is it about her learning to cheat and lie? I suspect we were supposed to be made uncomfortable by her actions this week, but this is the first time I found myself actively disliking our heroine. Here she seems more stupid than pleasantly naïve. And the ease with which she let herself by corrupted and the swiftness with which she starts to lie about it both makes her seem fairly despicable.
The laughs were a bit thin, too. The central gag of Leslie showing up with a butch haircut and giving the false impression she and Ann are dating seemed to belong to a capital to a wacky-with-a-capital-W show. Why would she also turn up in that suit? And why would she be so much more handsy with Ann than she’s ever been before? Again, it felt like episode was trying to drag out a gag that didn’t really work the first time. I did like Tom coaching Leslie. The scenes in which he fucks with her, brutally, without her knowing it have been reliably funny. Ron’s love of bacon-wrapped shrimp (“My number one favorite food wrapped around my number three favorite food”) was pretty funny too. But the rest…
I still find I’m enjoying the moments with the supporting cast far more than the moments with Leslie. I’m a lot more invested in Mark shedding his womanizing ways—presumably inspired by Ann—than Leslie’s weekly crisis. And that seems a bit wrong. Not to belabor the Office comparisons, but as ridiculous as Michael’s behavior can be, there’s logic and recognizable neediness to it, too. What Leslie does this week makes her seem like a woman too empty to deserve our sympathy or the friendship of those around her. Maybe there’s a grander plan at work that’s just not clear now, but I’m starting to doubt it. Tune in next week?