Louis C.K. came back to "Parks and Recreation" tonight, and I have a review of the episode coming up just as soon as I make mature women swoon when I play...
It's funny to think how much the images of both "Parks and Rec" and Louis C.K. have changed since they last combined forces, back in season 2's "Christmas Scandal." Back then, "Parks" was still trying to win back the hearts and minds of those who were turned off by the first four or five episodes of season 1, and while season 2 was a vast improvement over what came before, it wasn't until the show's next season where people really began talking about its possible historical greatness. And back then, Louis C.K. was at or near the top of the stand-up comedy food chain, but we hadn't yet seen the incredible versatility and depth he showed on "Louie," and he hadn't torn apart the comedy special business model with his self-distributed Beacon Theatre triumph. Back then, "Parks" was just a funny show that not enough people were talking about, and C.K. was a familiar, welcome guest star who did some strong, often sweet work for a bunch of episodes as Leslie's straight-laced cop boyfriend.
Now, though? Now it's Superman teaming up with Spider-Man, or whatever nerdy reference Ben Wyatt might make here. And given how much C.K. has enjoyed the total autonomy he has at "Louie," I'm glad he was willing to come back and be a hired hand for a week.
I will say that there were times during "Dave Returns" where I worried the show was selling Dave out a bit in order to make Ben look better in comparison. He was never the brightest, nor the most articulate, guy in the world on his first go-around, but I don't remember him throwing around so many malapropisms, invented words, confused gender pronouns, etc. And where in season 2 he was the extremely stable, normal guy having to rein in Leslie's insanity (most notably in "Greg Pikitis"), here he was the one running out of control with various dumb ideas, including cuffing Ben to the urinal and not realizing he would just use his cell phone to call Leslie.
Ultimately, though, I felt they redeemed Dave by having him admit that being away from Leslie had driven him a little crazy. And the fact of the matter is that everybody on this show goes crazy at some time or other — this was actually a very good episode, for instance, for Ben to also be wacky rather than the straight man — and it's easier to accomplish that with the regulars because they're here every week and you can see the full breadth of who they are. With Dave back as a one-shot deal (for now, anyway), this had to stand in for everything that had happened to the guy in more than two years. And in the end, he apologized, he and Leslie made peace(*), and he even offered to punch the guy from "Bowling for Votes" on her behalf.
(*) I don't know that this was intentional, but I think it's funny that C.K. is suddenly developing this niche for himself as the guy who expresses his love to women who don't reciprocate.
And if Dave was a little broader than when last we saw him, the A-story of "Dave Returns" was very funny overall, thanks to the contrast in styles and personalities of C.K. as Dave and Adam Scott as Ben. Ben being this neurotic isn't a well the show goes to very often, and wisely, but when he goes off the ledge like in this episode, or "Media Blitz," it pays off hugely. Ben's discomfort around cops never stopped being funny, with my biggest laugh probably coming from Leslie pulling him away from Chief Trumple before Ben could go on too long about 9/11. And I thought the story was a good example of how to use the campaign to generate material without having the campaign take over the show. Leslie could have run into Dave under some other circumstance, but her desire to get the endorsement from Dave's good pal Trumple added an extra layer of tension to things.
The material at the recording studio was more of a mixed bag. In the good column, Duke Silver makes his first significant (if largely off-camera) appearance in a long time, and we even got to hear his music combined with Mouse Rat's. Pretty much all of the material about Andy's song was funny, whether it was Andy being a diva, Ron's paranoia that others would find out about his mellow jazz man side(**) or Chris' thorough misquoting of the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" ("I would like to eat at the game!").
(**) Duke Silver was introduced pretty early in the series (season 2's fourth episode, "Practice Date," which was also the first episode where Leslie and Dave went out together), at a time when the characters weren't as nailed down as they've become since. I like the idea of Duke. I like, as we saw with Ron's love of puzzles in "Operation Ann," or as we've seen when he's around the different Tammys, that Ron has other sides of his personality that he usually represses to maintain his libertarian man's man stance. But I'm curious whether, in hindsight, anyone feels that perhaps Ron has too many different hidden personalities, and that if the show had known exactly what Ron would become that early in season 2, if they'd have done the Duke Silver joke. I'm also surprised Ron didn't try to rope Tom into helping him hide the evidence, given that he knows the truth just as much as April. Pawnee's a small town; it's almost shocking that more people in that office don't know by now.
On the other hand, after being at least open to the possibility of Ann and Tom at the end of "Operation Ann," I don't feel like that material worked this week. At least, it didn't if I'm expected to think that this is A)a relationship to root for, and B)a guy Ann would actually date. While I can respect that the show never really softened Tom or suggested he has an off switch, I don't buy Ann Perkins — even in the middle of an extended slump — being interested in the always-on Tom Haverford, and I mainly felt bad for her when she said he had worn her down. I like Tom as a character, and I bought him as Lucy's boyfriend back when Natalie Morales was on the show for a few episodes, but based on what we know of Tom, and of Ann, I'm just not seeing it thus far.
What did everybody else think?