We're getting "Parks and Recreation" double-features for the last two weeks of the season, and I have a combined review of "The Fight" and "Road Trip" coming up just as soon as I have a CGI puppy co-host...
"The Fight" and "Road Trip" weren't designed to air together - and, in fact, play just a bit oddly as a double-feature, as in "Road Trip" Tom is back up to some of the extra-curricular antics Chris told him to cut out moments earlier in "The Fight" - but they work very well as a pair of character studies about two of the three most important relationships in Leslie Knope's life(*), and as two very funny portraits of just how crazy Leslie can be when her personal life gets out of balance.
(*) The third is her and Ron, and we got plenty of that in last week's wonderful birthday subplot.
The Poehler-scripted "The Fight" gets into the first real argument of Leslie and Ann's young friendship, addressing how it's in some ways not the healthiest relationship. Each puts the other up on a pedestal - Ann is intimidated by Leslie's exuberance and work ethic, while I don't think it's just a running gag that Leslie has to refer to Ann as beautiful at least once per episode - and that in turn leads them to ignore certain things that might otherwise bother even the closest of friends. Leslie, for instance, has put Ann into a lot of uncomfortable situations (like her fake first date with Chris) long before she set up that job interview without asking her first.
And what's great is that even as they're having an argument for a legit reason - Ann is understandably frustrated that Leslie, in dealing with her sexual frustration about Ben, keeps pushing her to do things she doesn't necessarily want to(**) - it turns completely intense and ridiculous because it's taking place at the Snakehole Lounge on the night Tom has introduced his incredibly potent, disgusting new Snake Juice liqueur. Alcohol can be a real mood intensifier, so the fight becomes far more intense (and speedy) than it would under sober circumstances, and it also pushes both Leslie and Ann to do ridiculous things, like Leslie inviting a giddy Jean-Ralphio to dance on her when Ben refuses.
(**) In that way, the episodes make good companion pieces, because in the second, Ann keeps going against Leslie's instructions and encouraging her to hook up with Ben.
And by bringing all the regulars together into this liquid environment, and adding in some familiar faces in The Douche and Jean-Ralphio - along with April and Andy bringing back their alter egos Janet Snakehole and Burt Macklin, FBI - gave the whole episode a chaotic yet welcoming feel, like it was the show's drunken greatest hits.
I was particularly impressed by the puke jokes. (And, yes, I just wrote those words in that order.) Ever since Leslie Mann spewed all over Steve Carell in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," it feels like vomit humor has become both really prevalent and really lazy, as if too many writers and directors think puke is funny in and of itself, rather than based on context. It takes skill to craft a good puke joke, though, like Ron Donald pleading for an ambulance at the end of the high school reunion episode of "Party Down," or like some of the gags here like Andy puking as he chases after April as Kip Hackman(***), or Leslie and Ann having a very polite exchange about throwing up into a wastebasket.
(***) I love that Andy thinks Burt Macklin's brother should have a different last name.
"Road Trip," meanwhile, finally brought Leslie and Ben together after several weeks of delay due to Chris' rule against inter-office dating. I wasn't crazy about the idea when they introduced it, feeling like it was one of the more contrived devices I'd seen to keep sexual tension between two characters unresolved. But the show didn't drag it out too long, and the policy - and Leslie's usual compulsion to follow the rules - led to a lot of very funny scenes in this one. Leslie's various tactics to kill the mood were a hoot, particularly the different reactions to "Banjo Boogie Bonanza," from Ben's uncomfortable "I didn't realize it could be this loud" to Chris' ecstatic air banjoing on the drive back to Pawnee.(****)
(****) Not to nitpick too much, given just how funny that gag was - and pretty much every bit of Rob Lowe's performance as human saltpeter in that episode - but why was Chris driving back with them? And/or how did he get from Pawnee to Indianapolis in the first place?
And though it was slightly odd placement to have another Tom scheme involving City Hall personnel mere moments (in our time) after Chris had ordered him to stop it - I believe that Tom would start looking for ways to defy that order soon, but it took away a little of the impact of his sadness at the end of "The Fight" to have it happen on the same night - "Know Ya Boo" was both a funny concept and another good story about Mr. and Mrs. Andy Dwyer getting to know each other after already being married. April loves Andy, but she still doesn't quite appreciate the depths of his simplicity ("Art is supposed to be happy and fun!") and neediness, and she has to turn to hated rival Ann - who's in a very helpful mode throughout "Road Trip" - for advice on how to fix the problem. April singing "Pit" with the other members of Mouse Rat was both a really sweet scene and one that makes me want to see Aubrey Plaza touring America with her own hopped-up bar band. (Or, at the very least, that NBC makes the April Ludgate version of "The Pit" available to download.)
And Ron teaching a 9-year-old girl about libertarianism? Simply fantastic in both concept and execution(*****), as well as a good example of the value of opening up the show's world now and then. When Ron exists only within the insular world of the Pawnee government, he can seem almost like a superhero. But introduce him to the mother of that 9-year-old girl, and he comes across, quite understandably, as a lunatic. I love Ron Effing Swanson, but the man is insane, and every now and then it's important to point this out.
(*****) Ron's lesson about taxes reminded me very much of a classic "SNL" sketch where then-Governor Bill Clinton stops at a McDonald's in the middle of the '92 campaign - specifically where he uses Rob Schneider's burger and McNuggets to explain the situation in Somalia.
Two very strong episodes - but then, nearly all of them have been this season. And the two episodes airing next week are damned good too, which means we have to wait until the fall to see how long this streak can keep going.
Some other thoughts:
• When I interviewed Poehler before the season premiered, she talked about this episode, and about how everyone had such a good time improvising their characters drunken behavior for that talking head montage (Ben saying "Baba Booey," Andy singing, Ron - Ron Effing Swanson! - with that goofy look on his face while he dances in April's Janet Snakehole hat) that they likely could have just assembled 22 minutes of that and it would have been super-funny. I expect the deleted scenes for this episode on the DVD (if not on NBC.com tomorrow) to be epic in length.
• Speaking of talking heads, between "The Fight" and "Sweethearts," I think it should be a rule going forward that at least every other episode features Tom listing a bunch of his douchiest ideas (here his business plans like the department store with a guest list) to the camera.
• Ann's new job allows the show to have it both ways, in that they no longer need to keep explaining what she's doing hanging around City Hall, participating in Parks Department functions, etc., while still leaving room for her to be at the hospital if a story happens to take place there.
• While I enjoy a good joke about the fat people of Pawnee as much as the next guy, it's getting a little weird how most of the guest stars, extras, etc., are in fairly good shape. Just how obese do the obese citizens of the town have to be to bring the average up that much?
• Loved the evolution of Ron's position in the office, where Tom can laugh in his face about the idea of Ron being his boss - and Ron can't really object, because he'd much rather these people waste their time than carry on the actual business of government.
• Chekhov's Hooker Dress: if you introduce the idea of Ann owning the dress Julia Roberts wore as a prostitute in "Pretty Woman" in the first act, then somebody needs to be wearing it by the third act. Dramatic writing 101. Yeesh.
• As I did with the Andy/April wedding episode, I have to thank NBC for canceling "Undercovers" so that Ben Schwartz could come back. I hadn't realized just how much I missed Jean-Ralphio until he was appearing semi-regularly again.
• Not sure which was funnier: Tom explaining that "Can't Buy Me Love" was based on "Kramer vs. Kramer," or Tom's list of his favorite cable channels and shows, including Slurp, Slurp Latin, Slurp HD and (at Andy's suggestion) "Ultimate Battle Smoothie."
• In the whole Pawnee vs. Springfield thing, Perd Hapley's hairstyle in the flashback to the raccoon infestation reminded me very much of how "The Simpsons" changes Dr. Hibberd's hair for each flashback episode.
What did everybody else think?