Review: 'Parks and Recreation' - 'Sweet Sixteen': Signs of overwork
A review of tonight's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as we talk minimum acceptable thread count for sheets...
There's been a danger that the campaign story arc might begin feel a little bit like a "Gilligan's Island" plot, in that Leslie winning and leaving the parks department would change the show so much that it's hard to imagine it happening. But "Sweet Sixteen" cleverly — if belatedly — gives us a crucial new piece of information by revealing that it (like many elected positions in small town government) is a part-time gig, and one that would allow Leslie to do both jobs at once. If anything, Leslie winning would open up even more avenues for the series going into next season(*), though I don't know if that's what will happen.
(*) And, as I said in yesterday's post about the short break the show will take in between March 15 and April 19, I feel reasonably confident that there will be a next season, given its ratings relative to its lead-ins, NBC's other problems, NBC fully owning a comedy that's just on the verge of having enough episodes for a syndication package, etc. And getting to air after "The Office" for the final 4 episodes of the season is nothing but good news.
That said, this revelation comes in the first episode where I've started to feel tired of the campaign itself. It's led to a lot of great episodes and moments, but I also feel like we've now had one too many "the campaign makes Leslie go crazy" episodes. Admittedly, "(fill in the blank) makes Leslie go crazy" is one of the show's go-to moves, but I feel like we've hit this specific beat once too often, especially so soon on the heels of "Bowling for Votes." The dynamic was slightly shaken up by making Ron(**) be the voice of reason here instead of Ben — and Ron's enjoyment of being proven right, over and over and over, was the highlight of both this story(***) and the episode — but overall it was been-there, done-that, laughed-more-previously.
(**) It also provided an homage to the famous "give me all the bacon and eggs you have" scene from last season's "Indianapolis" with Ron and Donna's exchange in the kitchen the following morning: "Are these all the eggs we have?" "Yes, what are you making?" "Eggs."
(***) Though naming the sign store "Sign-tology" comes in a close second.
It also didn't help that the main subplot wasn't so hot this week, as a good B-story will often excuse an underwhelming A-story. Tom and Ann continue to go nowhere fast as both a couple and an entertaining story arc. There was an attempt here to suggest that Tom is settling as much as Ann is, given how many of his "Oh No No" rules she violates, but it didn't work. She can't stand him, he doesn't like anything about her except the way she looks, he's not getting a chance to display his anti-Jean-Ralphio qualities that we've seen in other relationships and plots, and I don't know why I'm watching this. There are routes the show could be taking here — see, for instance, how well "New Girl" is pulling off the "I am simultaneously repulsed by and attracted to you" vibe with Schmidt and Cece — but for the moment, it feels like something they're doing just to do it. As with the Leslie story, the best part of this was watching somebody (in this case, the increasingly drunk April) react to other people being annoying.
The best story of the bunch was Chris and Andy each working out their issues through Champion. The show has gotten good mileage out of Chris' post-dumping depression, and also out of the contrasts between Chris' style of exuberance and Andy's, and that was at least fun. Also, the final scene suggested that whatever danger signs I was seeing in the April/Andy relationship were either not there at all, or just routine "couples getting on each other's nerves" stuff.
(I suppose, by the way, that you could call the birthday that gave this episode its title the D-story, but I feel it's almost appropriate for the show's whipping boy — as seen in NBC's latest character mash-up video — that Jerry was actually a relatively minor part of this one. We never even got to meet Gail! Then again, it sounds like she celebrates Jerry's birthday with her girlfriends, so that makes sense.)
This was the 16th episode of season 4, which equals the number made last season. Whenever anyone brought up the idea of season 3 as a perfect season without any bad episodes, skeptics would suggest it's easier to pull that off when you're doing 16 as opposed to a full 22 (
or, as the show is doing this year, 24). That's certainly true, but "Sweet Sixteen" is the first episode the show's done that I would give a thumbs down to on the whole since all the way back to "The Set Up," midway through season 2. That's 42 episodes — nearly two full seasons — that have landed anywhere between good, great and perfection. As streaks go, that ain't bad. Eventually, all streaks end, and with any luck next week's episode — which I've seen, and liked a lot — will kick off a new one. Like Leslie, I've got a lot of hope.
What did everybody else think?