Review: 'Parks and Recreation' - 'Pawnee Commons' - A Wreston development
Leslie, Tom and Andy all struggle with the need to grow up
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A review of tonight's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I tour the country performing a spoken-word opera about pear-shaped women...
"Parks and Rec" doesn't often bother with finding links between the stories in each episode beyond, "here's what these people are doing while Leslie and [select one of Ben, Ann or Ron] is off doing that." But "Pawnee Commons" did a nice job of presenting three stories that were about the same thing, and that were funny about it in different ways.
For Leslie, Tom and Andy, "Pawnee Commons" is all about the struggle to let go of childish beliefs and/or personae. Leslie has spent her whole life despising Eagleton and all the people in it, so it's hard for her to imagine that Wreston St. James is as perfect and benevolent as he seems. Andy seems to believe, as one commenter astutely put it last week, that becoming a police officer will make him a superhero, and he has to come to grips with the idea that the job has a lot of drudgery, and the good moments don't involve taking down Judy Hitler, but maybe helping a little boy find his mom. And Tom is desperate to put Tommy Timberlake and all the Entertainment 720 nonsense that went along with it as he tries to make Rent-A-Swag into a real business.
But the stories don't all play out so that the lesson is exactly the same. Leslie has plenty of good reason to hate the snobs of Eagleton, and is given even more when two of Wreston's underlings bring that prank diorama in to show her and Ben. Amy Poehler is often at her funniest when Leslie is at her most petulant, and her ongoing frustration at the opulence of Eagleton was terrific. Even better was the righteous fury in her voice as she told Wreston's underlings, "You have five seconds to get out of here or I will rip your throats out." And though Leslie's inability to apologize to anyone from Eagleton reminded me a little of the old "Happy Days" running gag about how Fonzie could never say "I was wrong," the way it kept going and going turned it into its own thing, and nicely fit in with how Leslie later just kept spraying and spraying the shaving cream onto Wreston's head.
The Andy/April, story, meanwhile, gave us one final adventure for Burt Macklin, FBI, which was ridiculous in the details as always. (Burt's retirement ceremony, and the notion that he had been undercover for 40 years and never met his family, was particularly demented.) But much as I always love Macklin, it was, indeed, probably time to say goodbye to the guy, and though "Parks and Rec" doesn't need to suddenly turn into "The Wire,"(*) I do think Andy needs to start to grow up a little, whether it's about his interest in policework or something else. April has started to mature, while Andy has, if anything, regressed mentally over the last few seasons. Chris Pratt makes a hilarious overgrown 8-year-old, but this show does a good job of balancing the silly and the sweet, and it becomes harder for the sweet to work if any one character gets too silly.
(*) Even if I'm positive Mike Schur wishes it could.
And the Tom storyline very smartly balanced the need to have characters grow and change in season 5 with the recognition that there are things we like about them that we don't want to get rid of. (In that way, it was almost a meta-commentary on the challenge of writing a sitcom in the later years.) The Tom of Entertainment 720 can't function as an adult businessman, but the Tom who's pinching every penny also can't make this particular business work. The tag with the remodeled store nicely split the difference: it looks much better, but mostly because Tom brought in all the fancy furniture we know he has at home.
Very satisfying all around, and that's without even mentioning Ron's attempts to tutor Chris at woodworking.
Some other thoughts:
* I will never not enjoy Leslie's appearances on Wamapoke County Public Radio, with my biggest laugh from that segment coming from Derry Murbles' need to both explain to his listeners who Batman is and to describe him as, "a strong gentleman who fights crime nocturnally."
* Wreston was played by Brad Hall, the latest "SNL" alum (albeit from the historically-ignored Dick Ebersol years) to stop by Pawnee. Hall doesn't act much anymore — nor does he have to, what with being married to Emmy Winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus — and his only acting credit between 2005's "Must Love Dogs" and this was in a straight-to-video 2010 movie called "Love Shack."
* DJ Roomba! Now playing "Heigh Ho" to get the crew working.
* Janet Snakehole and Judy Hitler are locked in a room overnight and told only one can leave alive. Who wins?
* I want to hire the guy who made the Leslie and Ben balloons to come to my kids' next birthday party. That is all.
What did everybody else think?