A review of tonight's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I resign in disgrace...
That smile I've had plastered to my face since Monday afternoon? "Citizen Knope" put it there.
As I said in my sneak preview post on Tuesday, there have been "Parks and Rec" episodes this fall that have made me laugh til it hurt, and others that have been wonderfully, infectiously sweet, but rarely has the show been able to reach peak levels of both comedy and emotion at the same time.(*) Both sides of the show are individually so strong that I'll happily take either one - last week, for instance, was light on big laughs but note-perfect in the romantic end of things, where something like "Ron & Tammys" made me laugh til it hurt but wasn't the slightest bit deep - but there's an exponential level of enjoyment that comes, I think, from these rare episodes that manage to do both to the maximum level.
(*) Then again, in thinking back on season 3, there was a similar alternation, with only a few episodes ("Harvest Festival" and "Fancy Party" being the most notable) achieving total harmonic convergence of silly and poignant.
On the one hand, "Citizen Knope" offered us Leslie Knope at her most dangerous: with no professional outlet for her usual superhuman levels of energy. (Both stories, in fact, were about how much better Leslie is than the rest of the world, and how she inspires her little corner of the world to try to live up to her standards from time to time.) So Leslie's running amok, starting up citizen activist groups with names that sound like hallucinogenic drugs and terrorizing Chris and the whole parks department through her insider knowledge and the irresistible force of her personality. But she's still Leslie, and still awesome and pure of heart, so we can get a hilarious scene like Leslie giving Chris the perfect Christmas gift, hugging him sincerely, and then barking, "See you in Hell!" as she departs. The same things that make Leslie great also make her terrifying.
And on the other hand, while Leslie's causing all kinds of trouble for Chris, we have the episode's more sincere (but still funny) side, where Ann, Ron and the others realize that they have to make a real effort this Christmas to repay Leslie for all the great things she's given to and done for them over the years. Her selection of presents for the gang this year was hilarious in how over-the-top and yet spot-on it was for everyone, with April's painting of herself as Xena holding the decapitated heads of the Black-Eyed Peas being my favorite gift, and Ron's reaction to the remote control door closer understandably being the best response anyone had.(**)
(***) I will now remind you that Nick Offerman was not nominated for an Emmy last year. The way he played Ron's conflicted emotions about the gift - irritated that Leslie shames him so and that she knows so much about him, yet genuinely touched by how well she gets him - was beautiful, and funny as hell, and brilliant.
And even as the show was having fun with Ron being out of his element for once at a craft, at Andy eating Donna's spray-painted M&M desk, and all the other amusing aspects of the candy model, it was all coming from a sincere, optimistic place. So many comedies are cynical, and as a cynical bastard myself, I can respect and really enjoy that. But "Parks and Rec" rarely, if ever, comes from there. Like the parks department staff itself, it takes its cues from Leslie Knope. It believes that people can be better if you give them a model for doing so. It believes government can actually help people(***). It believes that these lazy slobs who let Leslie do all the work for them year-round would come together to not only make her the greatest Christmas present ever, but step in and offer to run her campaign when the heavy hitters understandably drop out. The combination of "Ron Swanson: Any other damn thing you might need" and Leslie's reaction to the whole display was the most choked-up I've gotten from anything in entertainment (non-Muppet-related, that is) in a while. Just perfection.
(***) Which is funny, given how much Mike Schur and most of the other writers are fans of "The Wire."
I'm still writing up my top 10 list for the year, to be published sometime later this month, and it will surprise none of you that "Parks and Recreation" will be very high on that list. An episode like this represents exactly why that is.
Some other thoughts:
* I think we all know Ben is going to wind up working on her campaign soon (and given the obviousness of that, it was a very minor distraction that the idea didn't occur to Leslie or Ben within the context of this episode), but in the meantime, he got a funny subplot of his own with the offer to go work for Barney (the boring guy who teaches accounting classes at the rec center and showed up at both Leslie's house party and the telethon), his bizarre interview with Tom's hero Dennis Feinstein, and even a bit of career counseling from Jean-Ralphio. (Whose hair in this episode resembled a style I think Tina Turner rocked in the early '80s.) He and Leslie will link back up professionally, I'm sure, and after the heavy focus on them the last couple of episodes, it was probably wise to do an episode where they interacted a bit but not too much.
* Interview advice from Dennis Feinstein: "Treat him like you would treat a person in another country that you paid $25,000 to hunt."
* Love that Ben still enjoys his calzones, and that a hungry April and Andy were perched on the other side of the door to the dining area, waiting to burst in to devour Leslie's leftovers.
* Leslie Knope does love herself some Ann Perkins, doesn't she? And Ann loves that she loves her the most.
* Marshmallow Ron Swanson should be a thing I can buy at the grocery store that's a few doors down from my office.
* Leslie thinks that Ben's big news for her is that she's pregnant. Heh.
* Better invention: Bumbleflex or salgar?
* Poor Jerry. No one ever tells him anything. On the other hand, I thought it a very nice touch that what seemed like a lame gift from Leslie (socks) turned out to be just as intuitive as the fancier stuff she got for the others. (Or, alternately, Leslie put no thought into it and got lucky, because Jerry is just that boring.)
* I also enjoyed Leslie's difficulty figuring out the religion and sexuality of Elizabeth the campaign advisor.
* Andy's behavior with the marshmallow fluff and then with the M&M's points out that he's moving closer and closer to full Homer Simpson-hood each week.
* Leslie Knope: "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Oh, Leslie, as if I couldn't love you more.
Last new episode until sometime in January, but what a way to end the year.
What did everybody else think?