Review: 'Parks and Recreation' - 'William Henry Harrison/Leslie & Ron': We didn't start the fire
A review of tonight's two "Parks and Recreation" episodes coming up just as soon as we binge watch the future...
When NBC announced the plan to double-pump these remaining episodes, in an attempt to get the show off its schedule as quickly as possible(*), many of you were irked by it. And while I'd like to stretch out the experience of watching "Parks and Rec" for as long as possible, the scheduling has worked out really well for these first two weeks. "2017" and "Ron and Jammy" made a good pairing — the first with a lot of exposition about the time jump, the second a throwback episode providing a last hurrah for one of the show's best villains in Tammy 2. "William Henry Harrison," of course, ends with a cliffhanger, and the scheduling allows us to see it paid off right away in "Leslie and Ron."
(*) Ironically, the premiere ratings were much better than what all of NBC's other comedies have done in quite some time. I expect those numbers to dip starting this week (most shows get a premiere bump), but it's still funny how this show NBC has been trying to get rid of for years continues to out-perform the new, "broader" comedies the network keeps trying instead. (At press tour, Bob Greenblatt joked that after he saw the premiere ratings, he called Mike Schur and Amy Poehler to ask them about another season, but Schur clarified at the show's farewell press conference that he and Poehler had already decided the time had come to end things midway through season 6.)
The two episodes also complemented each other nicely because the first was a full ensemble piece that was purely comic, while the second almost entirely focused on its two title characters, and was at time as raw and emotional as any episode the show's ever done — while also finding room for plenty of ridiculous things like Ron being covered in Post-Its and Ron blowing a saxophone fart for Leslie. On its own, and especially if it had aired a week apart from the next episode, "William Henry Harrison" would have felt a bit on the thin side, but as prologue for the wonderfulness of "Leslie and Ron," it worked perfectly.
"William Henry Harrison" makes clear to both us and Leslie and Ron's friends just how bad things have gotten between the two of them. The show sometimes takes Leslie's stubborn pushiness too far, but in this case, Ron is being just as unreasonable as she is — that he would get in bed with Bloosh says how much he's disregarding what he believes is right in an attempt to win — so things balance out. And when he says one of the most unspeakable things you can say to Leslie Knope — "You're not that good at scrapbooking" — everyone realizes this has gone too far and that steps need to be taken to save the friendship.
Ben and company's plan turns "Leslie and Ron" into a perfect bottle episode, offering a last hurrah to a set the show no longer has use for (it's as much a farewell to the parks office as "Ron and Jammy" was to Tammy 2), while letting the show's two most important characters go at it. It explores the improbability of these two being friends (or, as Ron insists on putting it, "work proximity associates"), it takes enormous advantage of Amy Poehler's gift for taking pleasure in annoying other people, and then it lets Nick Offerman be as vulnerable as he has ever been in the run of this show(*). That Ron quit the parks department because he missed all his friends isn't that surprising, but that he would say the words out loud to Leslie — and, worse, admit that he came perilously close to taking a job with the federal government — demonstrates just how hurt he was by everything, and just how much he values this particular work proximity associate.
(*) I would say that this should be his Emmy submission episode, but I've given up that particular ghost.
"Leslie and Ron" is wacky, it's sad, it's sweet (particularly the montage of them restoring the original parks department decor, set to Ron's mix CD choice, Willie Nelson's "Buddy"), and while it doesn't resolve the fight over the Newport land, it does repair the connection between those two. It ends on the incredibly sweet note of Leslie wrapping her arms around Ron as they bond over the one thing they've always had in common: a deep and abiding love of breakfast food, and an understandable suspicion of those who would prefer anything else. It's one of the best endings to a "Parks and Rec" episode ever — and perhaps one of the show's best episodes, period.
Obviously, there's a lot more story to tell over the remaining nine (sigh) episodes, but had the series ended on that shot? I would have been okay with that. (In that way, it's the "Parks" equivalent of Don and Peggy dancing to "My Way" — or perhaps the episode is Schur's attempt at "The Suitcase.") Then again, the show has done plenty of other episodes that also would have made fine conclusions to the series, and yet it keeps giving us episodes like this, or the season 6 finale, and it makes me awfully curious and excited to see what the actual end will be like.
Some other thoughts:
* News from 2017: Elton John bought Chick-Fil-A, there is now a Pulitzer Prize category for Top 10 Listicle, Morgan Freeman and Shailene Woodley have beef, and "Game of Thrones" is somehow ending with the Khaleesi marrying Jack Sparrow (which, Ben the nerd explains, makes sense if you've read the books).
* April keeps looking for a new career, now with Andy's help — a role reversal from when she convinced him to become a cop. Here's hoping whatever they settle on for her works out better than his police academy application. (Also, at that farewell press conference, Schur said that for a long time, the plan for Andy was a Horatio Alger-style tale where he goes from a degenerate living in a pit to the mayor of Pawnee.)
* Perhaps because Blake Anderson has a day job on "Workaholics," or because "Parks" wants to keep bringing in new funny people even now, Jorma Taccone from the Lonely Island turns up as Roscoe, Gryzzl's Vice-President of Cool New Shizz, which led to the amusing spectacle of Tom having to do douchebag-to-English translations for Ron.
* Characters and/or props from long ago that return: Leslie briefly enlists the Reasonablists to help her in the fight against Ron, while Ron and his group have to recruit the awful Annabel from Bloosh as their spokesperson. "Leslie and Ron" brings back the landmine that used to be on Ron's desk (and that caused trouble the day he gave that little girl a tour of the office), Ron's iconic bacon and eggs poster, and the awful mural the parks department combined to make in season 2's "The Camel," among other treasures.
* For the Craig-averse among you, were you relieved that his appearance in "Leslie and Ron" was so brief (and relatively quiet), or does the idea that he's now running the parks department irk you?
* The "If He'd Worn a Coat" room of the Harrison museum that posited how different our country would have been had he lived featured many amusing visual gags, but none that tickled me more than the idea that "The Wire" would not only sweep the Emmys, but that it would be news worth of a headline covering the top of A1 on the next day's Pawnee Journal.
* The highest compliment I can pay to the names of both Leslie's jug band (Jug Or Not) and Tom's dancers (the Somebody's Daughter Dancers) is that I would not have flinched if either had been a throwaway gag in a vintage "Simpsons" episode.
* Ron is such a master whittler, as well as such an expert on his own stuff, that he can successfully whittle himself a new key to unlock an office he hasn't occupied in more than two years.
* If I know both the Internet and the people who make and star in "Parks and Rec," there will be a much longer version of Leslie's improvised lyrics to "We Didn't Start the Fire" (like "Freddie Krueger bought some pants, Oprah has a turtle farm!") online sometime tomorrow, if not by the time these episodes finish airing on the West Coast.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com