A review of tonight's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I put a question mark on Stop signs...
After a couple of wobbly episodes, particularly where Leslie was concerned, "Gin It Up!" was much more on point, neatly balancing three different stories that did right by the characters. Not a "Parks" classic, but a solid, funny outing.
Let's take the stories from smallest to biggest, starting with Tom trying to make a move on guest star Tatiana Maslany, here playing a Doctor Without Borders who understandably wants to do some work in the overweight hot zone that is Pawnee. As funny as Maslany often is in her multiple roles on "Orphan Black" (particularly as Alison), she was more of a straight woman here, but I liked seeing someone able to verbally thrust and parry with April with no advance warning, and hope she'll get more to do when she reappears. And April's deadpan amusement at all of Tom's stupid ideas elevated what could have otherwise come across as a pretty stock sitcom plot about unnecessary lies spinning out of control. Plus, DJ Roomba!
Ron's marriage to Diane has opened up some opportunities for the show, but also a potentially huge problem: things that were hilarious about Ron Effing Swanson, single man, seem insane when he has a pregnant wife and two young stepdaughters. We ran into that a couple of weeks ago with his desire to get off the grid, and for a few moments, the subplot about his lack of estate planning seemed like it could go that way, even with the reappearance of Trevor the snippy lawyer (who of course looks down his nose at accountants like Ben) and Ron being especially peculiar. But the idea that Ron — who, as Tammy 1 has long suspected, is incredibly wealthy — is afraid of spoiling his children made it feel just real enough for the comedy around it to work. I think to an extent the show needs to find ways to more frequently feature Lucy Lawless so it's not just Ron running around on his own making wacky decisions that impact his whole family (say, making the maitre'd at Mulligan's, as opposed to some pre-existing friend or relative of Diane's, the first choice for guardian of the kids), but there were enough strong jokes, and good Ron/Ben interplay, that this individual story clicked.
The Leslie and Donna story, meanwhile, functioned both as an effective bit of satire about the current incredibly hostile, dysfunction condition of our national government and as the first glimpse of a post-Ann Perkins version of "Parks and Rec." When it was announced that Rashida Jones (absent this week, appropriately) and Rob Lowe were leaving at mid-season, I figured Retta would be given a chance to step up, as Donna's (relatively) sensible demeanor made her a good candidate to serve as both friend and comic foil for Leslie. So while a lot of the Twitter Watergate story is simply an opportunity for Jamm and Dexhart to be awful — and for the latest, greatest appearance of Ethel Beavers, who may have the highest batting average of a minor sitcom character since The Man Who Said "Sinatra" on "Cheers" — it also dealt honestly and interestingly with the issue of what it's like for a woman like Donna Meagle to work for a woman like Leslie Knope, and with Leslie's own difficulty in recognizing how other people can react to her intensity. Donna's reaction to Leslie's over-the-top apology gift was similar to the way Ann might once have responded, but not identical, because they're different characters with different voices. A good story, and a solid foundation for future Leslie/Donna exploits if that's what to come later in the season.
What did everybody else think? And was anyone disappointed that it was Tom, and not Nadia, speaking in a fake English accent?