Review: Parks and Recreation, "Ms. Knope Goes to Washington"
“…season 5 looks be more about the political side of the equation than the romantic.”
If I had a complaint about the last season of Parks and Recreation, it was about the over reliance on romantic pairings to structure the story arcs. As much as I love the characters on this show, I’ve never really had much of an investment in say, Chris’s longing for a companion or Ann and Tom’s horrifically misguided attempt at a relationship. Rather, I’ve always thought that the show is at its best when it deals with local government issues instead of relationship issues. If Harvest Fest represents the best of what this show is capable of, a multi episode arc about Chris dating Jerry’s daughter represents the worst. And so I’m pleased to report that if tonight’s season premiere, “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” is any indication, season 5 looks be more about the political side of the equation than the romantic.
When we last left Parks and Recreation, the majority of our favorite Pawneans were at the precipice of major life changes: Leslie had just won the election for city council, Ben had just accepted a job in D.C. as a campaign manager, Tom and Ann had drunkenly decided to move in together and Andy had decided to pursue a career in law enforcement. That’s a lot of significant, potentially series altering changes to deal with, but for the most part “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” handles them swimmingly, weaving every change naturally into a sweet story about Leslie coming to terms with her new role as a city councilwoman. The majority of the episode takes place, excitingly, in Washington D.C, where Ben has been hard at work managing a campaign with April as his assistant. We don’t see much of Ben and April’s interactions together this episode, but I trust the pairing will yield great comedic payoffs down the line. They’re joined quickly by Leslie, intent on presenting a proposal for her plan to clean up a Pawnee river, and Andy, technically there as Leslie’s assistant but really just there to be reunited with April. Leslie is disappointed to find that while Ben is busy with important meetings and conferences, she’s come all the way to the nation’s capital just to place her proposal in a stack filled with others exactly like it. She doesn’t even get a meeting.
“…we’re reminded crushingly of how small Leslie and her city are in the grand scheme of things.”
Meanwhile, back in Pawnee itself, tonight’s main B-Story in revolved around the one character who decided not to undergo any significant changes in last year’s finale. With Leslie out-of-town, Ron decides to host the annual staff appreciation barbecue. Whereas Leslie usually turned it into a somewhat flamboyant affair full of skits, vegetables and “full grown men wearing costumes”, Ron seeks to throw the Parks and Recreation staff a real barbecue. What follows is a very funny set of gags involving Ron driving the staffers to a near breaking point, first by introducing them to the pig they will be eating, then by arbitrarily refusing to let them eat or use the restroom. The storyline caps off nicely, with Chris reminding Ron that if he didn’t want to take the City Planner position offered to him at the end of last season, he was going to have to start acting like an actual boss to the Parks and Rec department. The begrudging friendship between Chris and Ron is always a delight to watch, and tonight is no exception. There are a few other threads going on at the fringes of this story, notably Ann and Tom’s relationship being revealed to be a fraud to scam Donna out of $1,000, but all of it feels a little slight. The crux of this episode really belongs to Leslie.
Continually throughout the course of “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington”, we’re reminded crushingly of how small Leslie and her city are in the grand scheme of things. For Leslie, a position on city council might be the defining accomplishment of her life, but for another person, it’s just something an elderly relative does to get out of the house. For Leslie, Pawnee might be the center of the world, but for another person, it’s just one in a list of several cities of the same name. To Washington D.C., Leslie is effectively a nobody.
Parks and Rec occupies a unique location in the network TV landscape as the only show to be openly and truly about politics. More so, Parks and Recreation maintains the distinctive quality of being truly optimistic about our nation and the people who run it. Even when the show admits America’s foibles, (such as, say, the slow-as-an-elderly-turtle pace at which a web of bureaucracy allows projects to advance) it remains fundamentally idealistic about the ability of a single person to make a change. If Leslie can’t get approval for the funding to clean up the Pawnee River, well then darn it, she’s going to clean it up herself, no matter how long it takes, one step at a time. Especially with the presidential election right around the corner, it’s easy to be cynical about politics right about now. It’s easy to turn off the television in a huff after an endless barrage of campaign ads. It’s easy to doubt that any one person can make a difference. More than anything else on this show, I appreciate its willingness not only to engage with political realities, but to retain its sense of idealism.
Ron’s permit reads only: “I can do what I want.”
I could have watched a whole half an hour of Andy just interacting with Washington D.C. His National Treasure inspired search for clues was delightful.
Tom bet Donna $1,000 that he and Ann would still be together in a month. “If she finds out that we broke up, I go bankrupt.”
“Ron? Chris Trager. Feeling update.”
There wasn’t much of April in this episode, but she remained appropriately awesome in her attempts to get Ben to give her and Andy some privacy. “Ben. You’re fired. This is my office now.”
I didn’t mention it in the main text of the review, but it was really cool to see senators John McCain, Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe pop up tonight. I don’t know much about Snowe, but one of my roommates is from Maine and assures me that she is indeed quite awesome.
I also didn’t mention much about the reveal that Tom and Ann had broken up. To be honest, before it was mentioned, I had almost completely blocked out that plot point. I’m glad to see it over with, for now at least.
The only change brought upon by last season not addressed in this episode was Andy’s decision to become a police officer, but I expect we’ll see more on that in the new week or so.