It’s a play on what passes for moral relativism in action movies, but Leslie utters it with sincere gravitas. Leslie, Ann, and Chris are in the middle of an Emergency Drill—an exercise that Pawnee has failed 12 years running—taking them away from organizing a gala to raise funds for Leslie’s Lot 48 project. The drill could take eight more hours, and Leslie has just found out it was organized by Councilman Jam to sabotage Leslie’s gala.
The gala is an attempt to raise $50,000 for the Pawnee Commons—a project Leslie has been trying to make a reality since the pilot episode. It’s a lot like a Scrubs episode where J.D. imagines life in the hospital as a sitcom. The hospital needs $26,372 or else a staff member is getting fired. In J.D.’s imagination, a talent show is held—and the grand prize is $26,372. The episode ends with the staff member getting fired, a patient dying, and other bleak reminders that hospitals do not function like network sitcoms.
How far the sitcom has come since then! Or some of them, at least—2 Broke Girls is still an atrocity. Parks and Recreation has been building the Pawnee Commons project and developing these characters carefully for five seasons. The episode never feels like a convenient way out of a monetary problem—Ben has the idea for the gala, everyone on the cast makes it happen, and it ends up reinforcing the idea that community matters. That a town can come together and government can be used for good.
But what is good? A black tie gala is very high society—you expect hors d’oeuvres and fine wine and classical music. Everyone’s dressed to the nines, there’s polite dancing, and no one makes a scene. Well fuck that, we’re not in Downton—this is Indiana! The gala ends up catered by fast food restaurant and entertained by Mouserat. Cynically speaking, it’s the worst tragedy suburban America has to offer. Speaking within the context of the show, it’s the best of Pawnee doing what they can to make something beautiful happen.
And then the show really blew up conventions: Ben proposed to Leslie. Not a conventional, lets-get-married-at-some-point proposal. A lets-get-married-tonight-at-this-gala proposal.
In a lesser sitcom, more attention would be devoted to crazy old Leslie’s desire to have all of Pawnee at her wedding. The two-part episode would’ve been turned into an hour-long Valentine’s Day special. April would serve as a sardonic flower girl while a loophole in town law would be found that made Ron responsible for officiating. Who knows, that could all still happen. What’s important is that in spite of the episode combining two boring sitcom staples—the “just enough money” fundraiser and the long-awaited marriage—Parks makes everything feel organic at best and plausible at worst.
It goes back to Parks’ treatment of its characters and setting. We love these irrevocably flawed suburbanites and how messy their town and lives are. We love them because they love each other, even if no one has Jerry’s cell phone number. So when Ben and Leslie (presumably) get married at a fast food-catered gala where the music is the worst Dave Matthews Band impression since your freshman roommate, it’s not a gag. It’s funny, but it’s sincere. Heartwarming, even. Besides, a proper gala and a separate wedding that adhered to conventions would be so Eagleton.
Bonus Community Thoughts
I caught Community on Hulu this morning. It opened with a promo starring Joel McHale and Danny Pudi playing Abed and Jeff, respectively. The episode that followed was Community’s third costume episode. It was funny, but something about Community just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it was Abed incessantly chirping about needing to watch TV while on his way to a party. Maybe it was when Troy, a former high school quarterback, didn’t know what Pierce’s BDSM sex room was or what Britta will “expect of him,” to use Shirley’s abstinence-only language. Maybe it was when Annie looked almost directly at the camera and said, “I hate reference humor.” Maybe it was when Abed, acting as a metaphorical stand-in for the viewer while watching the security tapes in Pierce’s mansion, says “I remember when this show was about a community college.” The new episodes are enjoyable, but they feel like the writers are undergraduates doing Community imitations, rather than actual episodes. Internet, give up the ghost: let’s hope Season Four is the end.