Parks and Recreation has always been a show about love. And I don't necessarily mean in the romantic way. This was something I didn't quite realize until I re-watched The Office not too long ago, having not seen the early episodes in several years. I was surprised at how gnarly that show used to be: it's a portrait of some truly terrible human beings. And what I realized is that Parks & Recreation has really always been the exact inverse of its spiritual sister show. If you think about it, the latter is a show that focuses on a ton of people who do horrible things to one another because they need to in order to feel OK. Michael Scott's hijinks are hilarious, sure -- but they're in service of his crippling insecurities and a vast well of emotional problems. Parks & Rec, on the other hand, is a show that depicts a group of best friends, all of whom (mostly) want to do the best things possible for each other and everyone around them. It's interesting that the town of Pawnee is composed of by-and-large crazy people. Most of the normal folks, it would seem, are a part of the little group of friends upon which the show focuses. Sure, there's a little bit of too-crazy-for-real-life that goes on within Leslie's group of friends and confidants, but we need that because it's part of the show's special brand. The point is that even though Pawnee is comprised of some of the craziest people in the history of crazy, the main characters of Parks and Rec still happily devote their lives to serving them. I mean, the people of Pawnee often actively work against the steps that people like Leslie Knope take to improve the quality of their lives. And Leslie never gives up. That's why it made me choke up a little when Anne, in a talking head interview, describes how perfectly calm she is as she goes about setting up Leslie's last-minute wedding: "I feel like every crazy thing Leslie's ever made me do was a drill. And this is the real thing."
"Leslie and Ben" pretty much had me choking up about every ten minutes. Thanks, Parks and Rec. Thanks so much. Normally when I want to cry I just put on some Fleetwood Mac and pour myself a glass of wine. But the comedy of Parks and Rec is transcendent; no other show can have me laugh and cry at the very same time in quite the same way. From Ben and Chris' heartfelt exchange, to Donna's singing, to Councilman Jamm sitting in the jail cell (in one of the most hilariously composed shots that I've ever seen in my whole life) saying "I got five bathrooms" to nobody; this episode was simply stuffed with P&R series high points.
Simply put, Ben and Leslie's wedding (just like the episode that surrounded it) was just about perfect, and the episode that followed was similarly excellent. I'm glad the show wasted no time in getting back to business, and I'm definitely glad we didn't get a special honeymoon episode. I feel like this show is more fun when it's doing exactly what it knows how to do. "Correspondents' Lunch" stuck to a simple structure that still breathed nicely, with a B- and C-plot swimming comfortably in its wake. The actual Correspondents' Luncheon was a lot of fun, as was the unfolding of Leslie's email hacking scandal. Leslie's plan to foil her nemesis at the Pawnee Sun was hilariously conceived, and when Donna got to bring the sass, it was a wonderful reminder of how her sexual adventurousness is a character detail that gets serious laughs because of how seldom it's actually leveraged for comedy.
Anne's quest to find a sperm donor and have a baby is something I really had trouble with when it was introduced, but has become more about giving her character something that's legitimately quite interesting to do, and not simply a crazy plot point designed to change up the status quo. Her whole rapport with Ron was fantastic (it always is; she's excellent as the show's "uncool character"), and the way things wound up between her and Chris was as heartwarming as ever.
April, Andy, and Ben found themselves in a subplot came together quite nicely as Andy's arc dovetailed with Ben's. Its unfolding is yet another example of how much love this show has to spare, but I've got to say that I'm getting a little sick of Aziz and/or Tommy. Maybe that's because his "celebrity persona" and that character are basically the same thing. Maybe it's because Tommy often winds up being something of an irredeemable villain in a show full of laudable heroes. Whatever it is, I'm getting super tired of his schtick, and want to see a lot more of him acting like a normal human being, the way he did during Leslie's wedding. His speech was heartwarming, perfect, and I believed that it would come out of Tommy's mouth. The fact that he was back to being an obnoxious, selfish asshole in the very next episode kind of made me want to change the channel. Even so, the character serves a purpose and has an audience, whether I dig him or not. I'm just glad they're not trying to put him together with Anne anymore; I was having a tough time suspending that much disbelief.
Oh, and also...
• "Can it, Unabomber."
• In defense of being a dick on the show Parks and Rec: April is often a dick, and it's very, very funny. For some reason, I don't think it's funny when Aziz is a dick. At the same time, I can't help but notice that April either a) doesn't quite mean it, or b) is acting in service of someone else when she acts inappropriately. She's a total asshole to Ben at the end of "Correspondents' Lunch," but she's doing it out of love for Andy. Also, she acts in service of others enough times for you to know that she's not truly such an asshole. Tommy, I'm not so sure.
• Anyone else think that Leslie's pre-roast note was a nod to the early Tenacious D episodes?
• Of course Leslie watches Army Wives.