Growing Up Doesn’t Mean Growing Old: ‘Parks and Recreation’ Season Five, Episode 8 Reviewed

Maybe the best thing about Parks and Recreation is that, as a viewer, you are treated with respect. You’re expected to follow long-running jokes, agree with character development, and trust the writing staff to reward your patience. This frequently doesn’t work in television, making Parks one of the most rewarding shows on television.

In the previous episode, we saw a sort of partisan segment in which Leslie lusted after Joe Biden with more heat than a severed electrical wire. Leslie’s activist government ideas mostly align with the Democratic party, but it’s not necessarily the show’s job to endorse a certain belief system (despite reality’s well-known liberal bias). So this week’s episode cold-opened with a perfectly dead-voiced send-up of NPR. The best joke was probably playing a Benny Goodman track over a Miles Davis track, because studies indicated their listeners liked jazz. However, it was the Batman joke that signaled the direction of the episode.

In a recent interview with Film Comment, Christopher Nolan discusses how Bruce Wayne is actually composed of three different people: his real self, Batman, and the decadent playboy persona he puts on for the public. He also discusses how any attempt to see The Dark Knight Rises through a single political lens necessarily ignores significant portions of the film. Parks seems to know that after a pot-boiling election season, divisions need to be healed. Parks also seems to know that its primary demographic is primarily Democratic. But divisions need to be healed, so of course Leslie has to visit Eagleton.

For those unfamiliar with one of Parks’ less subtle yet most spot-on bits of satire, Eagleton is the whiter-shades-of-pale-town-next-door where groundskeepers appear out of nowhere to pick up your litter, no food is not organic, and you are always wined and dined before business conversations. It is a town of loathsome one percenters with unmasked disdain for the slovenly masses of Pawnee. In general, neither view is completely off base. Both, however, forget the human element (much like Ra’s al Ghul and Bane). Eventually, Leslie has to learn to compromise with a park designer from Eagleton who’s so convinced by her #pluck that he waives his designing fee and works pro bono. If only America was blessed with such an eager-to-please GOP. Ratings, it seems, are less forgiving than vote totals.

In the spirit of the human element, let’s celebrate all that the minor characters had to do this week. Parks is succeeding at the most difficult and vital tasks of any sitcom: evolving the characters without losing what makes them lovable and funny.

First, Tom: Rent-a-Swag is taking off, and he has his own store space. Unfortunately, Business Tom has taken over, and the store is far too conservative for an enterprise named “Rent-A-Swag.” The soul-crushing austerity culminates with Tom buying one small cheese pizza as a reward for those who helped him build the store. Ann takes him out for a fiscally responsible breakfast and reminds him that his rakish charm and swag are part of what puts the swag in Rent-A-Swag. A balance must be struck—the old Tom can’t be completely subsumed by the new Tom. Parks must be centrist after all.

Andy, bored by the terrible job Chris gave him as a security guard, indulges in a larger-than-life Burt Macklin fantasy with April (who plays Hitler’s daughter). The tables are turned when they encounter a lost child. Burt Macklin makes the kid cry. April reminds Burt Macklin that he’s actually Andy Dwyer. Andy helps the kid find his mom. It’s an extreme rarity in half-hour sitcoms: a second subplot that is 1) decent and 2) more affecting than the primary or secondary plot. April and Andy have to grow up. Burt Macklin has to be retired. After all, they’re married, and they might have a kid sometime. Responsibility actually does exist, and sooner or later, children or not, they have to embrace it. But growing up doesn’t mean they have to become boring, like Jim and Pam. Advancing their personalities doesn’t mean they have to become square-peg-round-hole caricatures, like Andy Bernard trying to channel Michael Scott. April, Andy, and Tom are evolving—while staying hilarious.

On top of that, you can lock in a fantastic Chris Traeger episode sometime this season. He’s learning woodworking from Ron??!!! Are you kidding me??!!! His psychological meltdown has been largely on the back burner, but we are getting a fantastically operatic 22 minutes of self-destruction at some point this season. Parks is too smart for this to not be building somewhere amazing.

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