19 October 2011
Even more so than the introduction that unseen Eagleton is an over-the-top ritzville, or that all along Leslie Knope has been in a women's group or writing a history of Pawnee, or that Ron's first ex-wife is an IRS agent and his former schoolteacher, I just could not suspend my disbelief at the central conceit of this episode: that Ron Swanson would willingly lead a boy scout troop.
Sure, of course Leslie would form her own girls' troop after a young lady was rejected from the boys-only Pawnee Rangers. It's frustrating that this is retconned in as having been going on for several years (instead of this episode chronicling the Pawnee Goddesses' founding), that their meetings questionably occur at the Parks Department, and that April has somehow been roped in as being a chaperone, but I'll buy it. Ron, though? Ron Swanson is a staunch libertarian, and the Scouts are an organization famously accused of espousing communism. It's believable that as in "Road Trip," if forced into a situation with a youth, Ron would embrace it to share some of his anti-government values. But voluntarily take some kids camping? And then be sad when they leave him alone? Not Ron f***ing Swanson.
This essential issue with the A-plot is only exacerbated by how the storyline plays out: with one of the worst stock sitcom plots, "girls vs boys." Leslie decides that this weekend (even though the Pawnee Rangers and Goddesses have ostensibly been around for years now) is a great time for the rival troops to have at it, and decide once and for all, which one is simply "better." Every trite storyline has the potential to be freshened or twisted into something exciting again (think Community), but even with a Leslie Knope spin, the A-line cannot surpass its cliched origins. This rather goofy, unbelievable plot attempts to provide itself with some emotional resonance with a (what is becoming increasingly-requisite) "Ron and Leslie touching moment," replete with a little Ron smile. But this storyline has not earned that little Ron grin, and the connection between the characters feel as in-genuine and contrived as the idea that Ron would lead a boy scout troop.
This episode could be saved by plentiful jokes or adequate ancillary stories, but sadly no in both cases. As Andy, April, and Ann are relegated to background players in the Leslie vs Ron showdown - though I did enjoy Ann's constant rebuffs by the Goddesses - the other plots are left with secondary-characters, and put into uncomfortable pairings: Donna, Tom, and Ben, and Jerry and Chris.
Jerry has not had very many of his own plots, and justifiably: he almost always brings laughs, but he's a one-joke character. That being that he is everyone else's scapegoat for apparently no reason. But if we get to know Jerry more, he could give us some explanation for that unwarranted hatred, and the joke would stop being so funny. No fear, this story did not ruin the punchline by providing Jerry with characterization, but it also wasn't very humorous - just a lot of awkward facial expressions and "umms," as Jerry Jerries it up with no one to make it funny by calling him out, and Rob Lowe cartooning up the place with his increasingly-caricatured Chris. And the reveal that Jerry's daughter is gorgeous and normal - this does not add to his character, but just takes away some of that ambiguity of Jerry's home life, which is a large component of his character's joke (this story inevitably disappoints much like introducing Ron's mom in "Ron and Tammys"; an unseen/imagined off-screen presence will often be much funnier than the eventual reveal of that character can ever be).
The Donna/Tom plot does not waste any big reveals, nor is it complicit in any especially malignant retconning (the "Treat Yo'self" was harmless), but it was just sort of irritating, with Tom spouting off more of his recent ridiculous idioms (has he become Jean-Ralphio?) and containing another of the worst stock scenarios: a montage of people trying on crrrrrazy outfits, culminating in Ben and a batman suit. Sure, he's dealing with his Leslie breakup, but though authentic to his relationship struggles, I couldn't help but thinking this entire mall situation was built around the punchline of Adam Scott in cosplay, not his character's current emotional conflicts. And yeah, that image is highly comic, but it's immediately spoiled by Tom's corny, predictable repetition of The Dark Knight's catchphrase.
Parks and Recreation has some of the most original characters on television right now, and with some of the most consistent characterization, but an effect of that freshness is a severe discordance and incompatibility with cliche. Every good show has some bad episodes, but it's especially disappointing when it's a series as generally exceptional as Parks and Rec.
-"Did they cancel Game of Thrones?"