Review: 'Parks and Recreation' - 'Operation Ann': Riddle me this, Ron Swanson
A review of tonight's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I play music from the end of a movie about a monk who killed himself...
"Ann, you beautiful spinster. I will find you love." -Leslie
First of all, props to those of you in last week's comments who looked at the Ann/Tom scenes and guessed that the show was heading down the road of them hooking up. I didn't see that at all (I was mainly noticing her disgust at his unmanliness), but now here we are.
Given that we only see a little of the two of them on a date, I'm going to reserve judgment on how this will work. That said, my initial reaction is that it feels like the kind of thing shows do when they're on after a while, and particularly when they have a couple of characters who are unattached and lacking any kind of ongoing storyline. Sometimes, this works incredibly well (Ryan and Taylor Townsend in the final season of "The O.C."), and sometimes it just suggests the show doesn't know what to do with certain people (think Ricky Schroder rubbing snot into Kim Delaney's hair on "NYPD Blue").
But I do think "Parks" needs to do something with Ann — and, to a lesser extent, Tom. Ben has pretty much usurped Ann's roles as both the voice of sanity curbing Leslie's worst impulses and as the character our heroine opens up to when things get tough. She could in theory still work as the straight woman for some the other crazy characters, but her history with Andy and Chris makes it tricky to have her spend extended time with either one of them, or with April. The show has gotten some mileage out of putting Ann with Ron, but his disinterest in her ("Girl") isn't something that should be pushed too far.
So that essentially leaves Tom, and there's some history there, given that he spent much of the first season ineptly hitting on her. And Tom in turn seems to work best in stories where another character — usually Leslie, but for a brief period Natalie Morales as Lucy — inspires him to rise at least slightly above his inner d-bag, so this could be fun. We'll see.
But despite having Ann's name in the title, "Operation Ann" seemed much less about her own Valentine's Day ordeal than about the holiday's impact on Leslie, Ben, Chris, April and Ron. Which kind of speaks to the issue. Even in an episode that's on paper about Ann, the most memorable moments involve other characters.
The scavenger hunt story was my favorite, for obvious reasons. Because the show is so consistent and strong about who Ron is and how he carries himself through life, they give themselves license to occasionally introduce an aspect of the character that seems contrary to that. (Think Duke Silver, who's long overdue for a return engagement.) So while solving puzzles perhaps doesn't seem like a manly enough pursuit for Ron, the sheer pleasure he took in it while trying to hide said pleasure was delightful, and his giggles unnerving. (Ron's trip to The Bulge, which combined both his attractiveness to the clientele with one of his longer giggle-fits, was a particular highlight.)
That story also gave us a brief "Party Down" reunion, with Martin Starr doing his more-sarcastic-than-thou(*) thing as snow globe museum clerk Kevin, and another opportunity for one of my favorite bits of Adam Scott physical comedy: the rapid shift in expression as he lets the camera know just how little he understands his girlfriend's adoration of Lil Sebastian. It also helped, I think, that Leslie was aware that the clues were both too many and too difficult, having initially just wanted to slow Ben down, and that she eventually realizes that even with that as her goal, she went too far. It's important that she be aware of reality even as she's taking a few steps outside of it.
(*) Now that he's been established within the Pawnee universe, they need to bring Kevin back ASAP to have a judgmental-off with April.
Chris' post-breakup depression has been the best thing to happen to Rob Lowe on this show since the flu briefly overcame him. Chris as the world's saddest DJ was hilarious, but not a patch on Chris' look of romantic longing at Jerry, who shares half of Milly's DNA. He cheered up as the party went along, but let's hope he's not entirely over his bout of melancholy. I like the idea that his personality takes every emotion to an extreme, not just enthusiasm.
And maybe the most interesting development is what's happened with April these last couple of episodes, where she's made mature, thoughtful gestures to cheer up two of the people who most annoy her in the world. It's really sweet and reassuring to see her reluctantly growing up in this way, though I do wonder at what point she grows up too much to still be with Andy. There were already hints in this episode (her lament about the novelty cookie cutters, Andy listing all of the things April hates) that perhaps they're finally getting past the honeymoon stage and starting to notice things that bug them about the other person.
But is this just a bump, or is this like Ann tending to Tom's hurt fingee last week, and we should get ready for a break-up arc? Because that's another kind of story that some veteran shows do because they have a plan, and others do because they've run out of stories to tell about a particular couple. "Parks" has done so well by April and Andy that I have faith in whatever's coming, but I'm wondering how worried I should be for them.
Some other thoughts:
* That was "Parks" writer (and Humblebrag inventor) Harris Wittels as one of Ann's prospective dates (the guy in the Western shirt who's been to 308 Phish concerts). He's been on a few times before as one of the employees at Animal Control.
* Good to see that Leslie still practices her tradition of Galentine's Day, last seen in the season two episode of the same name, and I'm always glad to see Pamela Reed as Marlene.
* So what do you figure is Leslie's favorite Ryan Gosling Tumblr? I'm assuming it's not this one.
* When Ben is searching for a five-letter word to open the puzzle, I love that both Andy and Ron's first suggestion is a four-letter word beginning with F.
* Oren! One of the better one-joke recurring characters the show has, and they've been judicious in using him.
What did everybody else think?