Review: 'Parks and Recreation' - 'Ben's Parents': How to make an American unity quilt
A review of tonight's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I don't mention the Green Bay Packers or the state of Iowa...
One of Leslie Knope's defining traits is her refusal to believe in the no-win scenario. She approaches life under the assumption that anything is possible, and good outcomes should be expected.
Ben Wyatt, meanwhile, was scarred early on in life by the Ice Town Costs Ice Clown His Town Crown business. Though he and Leslie share a deep sense of wonkishness, he's much more of a pessimist than she is. He doesn't think good outcomes are an impossibility, but he's more pleasantly surprised by them.
So even though the two of them are well matched in many ways, there are other areas that leave them well-primed for conflict, and comedy, as we see throughout the very funny "Ben's Parents." Leslie thinks their love and her unity quilt will be enough to heal Ben's family; Ben thinks that's not remotely possible. And the contrast between their reactions, as well as the absurd behavior of Ben's mom and dad (excellently played by guest stars Glenne Headly and Jonathan "No more half-measures, Walter" Banks(*)), generated a lot of laughs. (I was particularly partial to how serious Banks sounded when he declared that the Wyatts are a Twizzlers family.) "Parks and Rec" has had years to demonstrate with Andy and April that a happy couple can still be a funny couple, and "Ben's Parents" suggests the show can continue that trend with Leslie and Ben, who end the episode with one last over the top makeout session in the back of the cab.
(*) Steve was there to interact with his son and future daughter-in-law, so there wasn't much opportunity to pit Ron Swanson against Mike Ehrmantraut, but I will always love "Parks and Rec" for giving us the two of them staring each other down over the last piece of bacon-wrapped shrimp — which, as we all know, is Ron's favorite food wrapped around his third-favorite food.
The subplots were very strong, too. I like that Chris has now turned into the pathetic crazy guy that the rest of the group has to humor, as we saw first in the teaser, and then throughout his weeping in the party. It's both a good use of Rob Lowe and an opportunity for the rest of the cast to amuse with their reactions to him, whether it's the look of joy on Donna's face as a despondent Chris rests his head on her chest, Anny trying to sneak away from him at the front door, or the comedy team of April and Andy evening him out with a list of things that are either awesome or awful (or, in the case of Dave Matthews Band, both).
And, of course, anytime Ben Schwartz's Showtime overlords let him come over to play Jean-Ralphio is a great and wonderful thing, and particularly when it gives us some more of the J-R/Ron Effing Swanson combo. Of all the people and things Ron Swanson hates, he may just hate Jean-Ralphio the most, and his disdain for this ridiculous individual — who would dare to try to take his bacon-wrapped shrimp — is always a pleasure. At the same time, it's interesting to see Tom finally outgrowing his douchetastic sidekick, even if only a little. Season 5 seems about right for Tom to mature just a bit — just so long as it doesn't pre-empt future Jean-Ralphio appearances.
What did everybody else think?