Grown-Up Swag: ‘Parks and Recreation’ Season 5, Episode 7, Reviewed

Joe Biden was on Parks and Recreation last night, in case you didn’t know. Yes, the Trans Am-driving, Onion-headlining, Paul Ryan-disdaining vice president shot two different versions of a scene with Leslie and Ben some months ago. The version that he wanted aired last night. There wasn’t anything spectacular about Biden’s appearance—the comedy was all in Leslie’s gradual freak out. She clasps his hands, inches towards him with bursting lust, and loudly admonishes a secret service agent to take good care of the veep as she leaves the room. It didn’t contribute much to the episode or anyone’s character development, except now we know that Ben is out of favors in D.C.

Although Biden’s cameo probably means nothing, it is refreshing to see the vice president make time not for Law and Order or Two and a Half Men, but for an excellently written and criminally under-viewed program about the pratfalls and necessities of local government. It’s nice to have a vice president who gets why NBC’s single-cam, laugh-track-eschewing comedies are valuable, despite low ratings. It’s nice to have a vice president who sees the value in people like Leslie Knope—even Ron “Paul” Swanson can see that. And it’s nice to have a vice president (and president) that understands America’s growing diversity is a good thing.

Like last week, this week’s episode is primarily about maturation. April is beginning to take pride in her work, and has made opening a dog park her new pet project (#pungun #nailedit). For the first time in his life, Tom has a legitimate business idea with legitimate prospects. Andy is training to become a police officer, a serious career that he is taking seriously. Equally as important as these characters maturing is the older characters—Leslie, Ben, Ron, Ann, and Chris—accepting their maturation. Leslie mentors April and, after an episode’s worth of conflict, the two become allies. Ben decides to help Tom’s Rent-A-Swag business get off the ground, not because he’s being nice, but because he believes in the idea. Chris helps Andy realize that police training is not a game—the job will involve real crimes and a lot of paperwork, but nothing he can’t handle.

As the younger characters are growing up, their bizarre comedic quirks are evolving into valuable personality traits. Tom’s fantasies of Watch The Throne­-esque opulence has been refocused from Prestige Worldwide-like failures to the actual good idea of renting nice clothes to middle schoolers. April’s prickliness isn’t just a way to keep unwanted guests out of Ron’s office, it’s a necessary personality trait in the cutthroat world of Pawnee politics. This is subtly brilliant writing: The characters stay funny without getting reduced to cartoonish shells of themselves. Parks has become the opposite of later seasons of The Office. And the fact that the minor characters can carry some story lines and the major characters can adjust their roles accordingly only strengthens the show. If there’s a flaw with season 1 of Parks, it’s that Leslie was the primary feature every week. Now, it’s a little more evened out.

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