Love Hurts, Cliché Kills: ‘Parks and Recreation’ Season 5, Episode 2 Reviewed

Hey gang, what’s new with the Parks and Recreation crew? Well I’ll tell you!

Leslie, in a desperate attempt by the writers to be topical, introduces a tax on big cups of soda, because Indiana local government is every bit as liberal as New York City. She’s threatened by some other blonde lady, and learns that Ron tried to fire her four times because she was a dutiful public servant. After some soul-searching, a 120 ounce soda, puking during a city council meeting, and a pep talk from Hero Ron, who really just wants to work with someone with conviction, you guys, Leslie sticks with her convictions and votes “aye” on the bill (#pluck).

Ben, upset with the lack of professionalism and copious amounts of disrespect shown by the interns on his staff (represented by a drawing of Ben with a stick up his ass), decides to fire everybody, only to find out that they’re all related to or at least dentists for big-time Washington players (apparently Donald Rumsfeld still draws a lot of water in that town). In a desperate attempt to prove he’s not a cranky old man, he organizes an ultimate frisbee game and acts like a jackass trying to impress the hip young Georgetown political interns. Finally, he learns a valuable lesson: that April has been drawing the crude pictures, which takes April’s character from “hilariously uncaring” to “unforgivably inconsiderate.” No word yet on why Ben is fit to run a campaign when he’s the kind of dude who makes the decision to bring April to Washington with him.

Andy, attempting to run two miles in under 25 minutes, reminds Chris that he’s never going to fall in love and will die someday. Ann does nothing but help Leslie. Ron does nothing but help Leslie. Tom does nothing but help Andy and Chris. The writers force us to listen to a bunch of over-the-top clichés, like how a “small” soda is 64 ounces and a “kid size” soda is actually the size of a two-year-old liquefied. It was a frustratingly dull and unimaginative episode, is what I’m saying. And that’s a downgrade from last week’s pretty-good-but-not-excellent season premiere.

Falling in love with a show late is a strange thing to do. All of your friends are telling you that you need to watch it, that you’d love it, it’s just like this other show that you won’t shut the good goddamn up about. That was my case with Parks and Rec—I loved (very past tense) The Office, and here’s a show made by the same people in the same format. Initially, I was skeptical. This was before Aziz Ansari met Kanye. I only knew Amy Poehler from Saturday Night Live, and I’m not too much of a fan of that cultural touchstone. I knew and liked Rashida Jones from The Office, but she wasn’t earth-shattering—#TeamPam all the way. And Rob Lowe and Adam Scott weren’t in the first season.

Then my friends started badgering me: “It will fill the hole left in your heart after The Office proved that it’s better to burn out than to fade away,” (note: none of my friends have ever said this). So then I went on the defensive: “I have to catch up with Breaking Bad first,” “I’m rewatching Season One of The Wire,” “I have a job that I sometimes go to.” Eventually, it was inevitable. I started Parks and Rec and binged so hard I signed up for the Hulu Plus free trial just to finish Season Four.

So my affair with the documentary of Leslie Knope’s quirky municipality has been brief and torrid, like a love affair on a one-week cruise. You know it has to end, that you’ll be able to continue living a perfectly fine life when it does, but damn, you really don’t want it to end.

Unfortunately, there are two near-certainties in this world: everything ends, and season fives suck.

Last week’s episode was mostly fine, if unspectacular. I watched it, laughed, and then switched back to watching replacement refs murder the NFL. Later in the week, a friend brought up two points that stung, like finding out my cruise ship lover was married to an MMA fighter: 1) It makes no sense whatsoever that Ben took April to Washington, and 2) What is the point of Ann Perkins?

The short answers are, “Whatever, sometimes shows do ridiculous things, leave me alone,” and, “Uh . . . she left a fruitful career in healthcare for a soul-destroying local government position because she likes her best friend and the show needed her to sleep with everyone else in order to add dramatic spice.” When my friend brought this up, I shook it off, pretending the torrid relationship hadn’t changed. But it had. I started realizing that like so many television programs and love affairs before it, I wasn’t getting out of my relationship with Parks and Rec without a lot of disappointment, self-questioning, and probably a weekend bender. Perhaps next week I’ll be able to review the show more critically, be able to see its flaws for what they are, and rationally explain exactly why they bother me. I’ll be more lucid. But the episode just ended, and here I sit, tuning out commercials I’ve seen thousands of times, numbed by the particular kind of vein-scraping boredom that comes from watching bad comedy.

It was one bad week. I’ll be watching next Thursday, hoping that something changes. Love ends, people are imperfect, but nothing is worse than cliché.  

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