A couple weeks ago, BuzzFeed reported that Rob Lowe (Chris Traeger) and Rashida Jones (Ann Perkins) would be leaving Parks and Recreation by the middle of the sixth season. I was saddened because even though Jones is sorely underused on the show, I loved her character’s relationship with Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope. I thought Ann and Leslie made up the best BFF on TV – they were supportive of each other, they loved each other unconditionally, and Leslie had an awesome girl crush on the gorgeous Ann. Her departure will leave a beautiful void in Leslie’s life, and it’ll be interesting to see who the writers replace that key element of the show.
So, with all this in mind, a lot happens in the hour-long episode of the sixth season premier, “London.” Firstly Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) gets married to the lovely Diane (Lucy Lawless), who’s starting to look like Murphy Brown-era Candice Bergen. I’m glad Ron and Diane are getting married because I think Lawless has been a neat addition to the show – her performance hasn’t been too showy, not yet, but she does do her “straight man” bit very well.
So Ron and Diane get married in an impromptu wedding in City Hall. The two grab Leslie and April, who just got back from cleaning the Pawnee River, and of course Leslie’s thrilled, but freaked out, and is momentarily paralyzed by too many emotions – Leslie has had this reaction before in a Halloween episode, when Jerry (Jim O’Heir) had a heart attach and started passing gas – Leslie couldn’t do anything because “too many things were happening at once.”
But she’s thrilled for Ron, and at the same time horrified because she can’t throw a huge ridiculous wedding, and instead makes due with what she has at the office, throwing ripped up sheets of paper (“pretend this is rice!”) and handing Diane a bouquet of highlighters. Of course, Leslie wants to give a heartfelt speech, but Ron – the epitome of taciturn – cuts her off, but gently, understanding what this means to her. The whole gist of Parks and Recreation is that Leslie’s life is intertwined with those of her friends – she cannot function without them, and they, in turn, love her for that (more on that later). Poehler was able to portray the range of emotions that crashed into each other into a messy pileup so well – it made me realized just how much I missed her during the summer.
And though Ron’s wedding is happy occasion, all is not well for Ms. Knope – she still has that pesky recall from last season because of some of her acts as councilwoman that included instituted a ban on buckets of soda pop at the movie theater and saving a porn theater from being closed down. As with any problem or issue, Leslie faces with by using her most trusted weapon: her obsessive compulsive behavior. She rolls out 40 Phases to Success – a list of ways that Leslie will endear herself to the citizens of Pawnee, and hopefully beat the recall.
One of the phases was No Problem Too Small, a ridiculous idea that had Leslie fielding the most petty complaints from her constituents, including an old lady who had an issue with a slug infestation.
While Leslie is trying to salvage her political career, Ann and Chris are together – because the two were trying to have a baby together last season, and because they’ve decided to become a couple, it’s clear that the writers have a definite plot in mind to shift them out of the world of Pawnee. I like Chris and I like Ann separately, but I never liked them as a couple. Chris’ manic energy and enthusiasm is a sharp contrast to Ann’s even keelness, but sometimes by comparison, she comes off as a bore – which is unfair, because when she’s paired up with Leslie, Ann can be lots of fun. Also, Ann’s character was poorly defined, and relied on her relationships with the other characters to mark her, so we’re always looking at Ann in relation to another character.
Tom (Aziz Ansari) is also having professional issues. Like Leslie, he took a risk by starting his own clothing rental shop, Rent-A-Swag, and was rewarded with initial success, only to be torpedoed by another store that is siphoning off his business by copying his business model. The owner is a wealthy, anonymous investor who is proving to be a threat to Tom’s livelihood.
So the setup for the episode has been laid out for us – Leslie’s trying to figure out what to do about her job – as is Tom, while Ron and Diane and Chris and Ann are making important decisions and progressions in their relationships. These are interesting parallels, because for once characters that normally would be in conflict (Ron/Ann and Leslie/Tom) have some very important issues in common. And while Leslie and Tom are good friends, it’s too bad that Ron and Ann never warmed up to each other, because Ron often has a soft side which he shows to Leslie, when they have their heart-to-hearts.
And in the midst of all this angst, April (Aubrey Plaza) does something really lovely for Leslie: she nominates her for an International Coalition of Women in Government award. The added bonus is the ceremony is being held in London – so Leslie, Ben (Adam Scott), Ron, April, and Andy (Chris Pratt) are off to London so that Leslie can pick up her much-needed trophy. Diane cannot go (maybe NBC wouldn’t spring to fly Lucy Lawless to the UK), so she makes Ron go and instructs him to document everything he sees (“My love for her trumps my hatred of Europe”).
In London, Andy and Ben meet up with a stupendously rich lord who turns out to be a real man-child – so of course, Andy and he instantly bond. The point of the meeting was Ben was looking for a rich donor for a music nonprofit, but the meeting quickly gets sidetracked by the immediate bromance between Lord “Eddie” and Andy who rush out to play with remote control helicopters. In a great scene, Ben is trying to talk numbers, and Eddie starts to point to all the buildings he owns, checking them off on-by-one. Awed, Andy asks what else does Eddie’s family own, and the lord replies, “Well, have you ever heard of Scotland?”
Their friendship eventually leads Eddie to offer Andy a job working at his foundation for a few months (I’m thinking maybe Chris Pratt has somewhere to be for a couple months?). April is kind and encourages him to go forward to take this opportunity. Yes, the job offer is very sitcommy – and it does raise a WTF? flag because despite his new-found maturity, it’s still Andy, but it’s gratifying to see that Andy’s growing and moving forward (just a couple seasons back, he was shining shoes in City Hall).
Back in Pawnee, Tommy has to figure out what to do about his failing business. It’s a little sad that he couldn’t join the gang in England, and instead is trying to reveal the secret identity of the shark who’s putting him out of business. He gets Donna (Retta, regretfully her only scene in the episode) to do some snooping and finds an address. Tom goes to the building and busts in on…Ann’s sonogram appointment. Tom’s archenemies is Dr. Saperstein (Henry Winkler, the artist formally known as the Fonz), father of Tom’s best friend, Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz) and his on again/off again girlfriend Mona-Lisa (Jenny Slate). Oh, and he’s Ann’s obstetrician.
Over Ann’s sonogram, Dr. Saperstein and Tom start to fight, and it’s revealed that Jean-Ralphio and Mona-Lisa lied to their rich daddy and told him that Tom screwed them over – figuratively and literally, respectively. The whole room erupts into laughter at Dr. Saperstein’s anguished “You stole my daughter’s virginity!”
Back in England, things are getting worse because Leslie’s found out that the recall is getting more momentum and she wants to hop a plane and return to Pawnee. Convinced to stay put, she attends the function and runs into a 8-foot tall glamazon from Denmark, Ulee Danssen, a bizarro version of Leslie, who is feted at the same gala, with the full support of her tiny Danish village. Oh, and Ms. Danssen is portrayed by Heidi Klum. The other honorees are all being embraced by the bosoms of their respective towns, and it’s only Leslie who is being trashed by her hometown.
Leslie’s resentment boils over and during her acceptance speech, she snipes that Pawnee is populated by a “bunch of pee pee heads.” At the moment of her lowest popularity among Pawnee citizens, Leslie flew across the Atlantic ocean to crap on them. This awful speech quickly gets the attention of the Pawnee media, because poor Jerry throws a viewing party in honor of Leslie’s speech, otherwise known as the “Pee Pee Head Speech.”
Leslie’s sore about the whole situation, but Ron comforts her, reminding her of why she went into local politics. These talks are some of the nicest moments of Parks and Recreation because Nick Offerman gets to show a warm, supportive side to Ron – it makes the character all the more endearing. Leslie, in turn, knows Ron better than just about anybody else in Pawnee, and sends him on a mystery tour of the British Isles as a wedding present – she keeps the destination a surprise, and he’s delighted when he lands at a brewery. In his itinerary, Leslie has instructed Ron to read a poem by Robert Burns. As he’s sitting on the majestic rocks in Scotland, with the waves crashing at his feet, Ron reads the poem, which leaves him in tears. This is played for some laughs, but at the same time, it’s meant to be sincere and lovely – it’s a rare moment of vulnerability for Ron – and Leslie allows him to have it in a space only he’d feel comfortable in: by himself.
Once everyone returns to Pawnee, they start to learn about Ann’s pregnancy. Leslie’s predictably thrilled, which is nice for Ann and Chris because everyone else has been indifferent to the news. Their relationship takes a few steps forward, obviously leading the way for a graceful exit for the characters – not sure if it’d be wedding bells, but they share a lovely scene together on Ann’s couch.
And Tom is still trying to best his enemy. He convinces Jean-Ralphio to admit his lies, but instead of changing his mind, Dr. Saperstein is even more determined to crush Tom, now motivated by profit and greed as opposed to vengeance. Winkler’s very funny on the show as the odious doctor, and he’ll be another welcome addition to the colorful collection of recurring characters on the show.
None of these adventures have distracted Leslie from her goal to win over Pawnee, once resident at a time. With April in tow, they arrive at a Pawneean’s front lawn, sprinkling coffee grounds to rid the woman of her slug problem. She accosts them and proves to be ungrateful and ungracious. Leslie is resigned – sad, but resigned, remembering Ron’s speech, but April is stung by the woman’s lack of manners. She is also unhappy with a downcast Leslie, so to get the chirpy Leslie back, she bares her emotions and shares the beautiful letter she wrote to the committee at the International Coalition of Women in Government. The letter is touching – it encompasses what many viewers feel about Leslie – how inspirational it is to see someone do good work because they love it so much. The best part of the letter includes, “If you’re lucky enough to be her friend, your life gets better everyday…that’s what I love about her. Sincerely, Satan.”
There is a slow shift, that’s perceptible, that when Ann leaves, Leslie won’t be alone, because she has others around that love her just as much; April, like Ron, had to build a tough exterior to deflect any moments of rejection and vulnerability – but when she saw that Leslie was a true friend, who loved her no matter what, she allowed for her feelings for Leslie to come through. They’ll never be the kind of demonstrative friends that Ann and Leslie were, but April has proven that she loves Leslie just as much as Ann does. It’s also interesting that the true moments of friendship in this episode – when Leslie is at her lowest, but is elevated by encouraging words, it’s because of Ron and April, not Ann.
There’s more possible foreshadowing as Leslie shares her love of travel with Ben – she assures him that she still thinks Pawnee is great, but there feels like an ellipses when she thinks about broadening her world view. Can this mean Indianapolis? Then maybe Washington? Seeing Leslie become a congresswoman, state senator, or senator is not a ridiculous thought – and it’s interesting to see if Parks and Recreation will have our favorite midlevel beaurocrat leave her bucolic surroundings for the glittery world of power.
I like how the sixth season opens up – it brings up a lot of questions that I hope will be resolved throughout the year. This year will probably be the last for Parks and Recreation, so I also like that we’re starting to get hints of our lovable characters doing more with their lives than just staying with the Parks Department: Andy and Ben are going into nonprofit work, Ron’s getting married and having a persona life, Leslie’s exploring possible moves, Ann and Chris are having a baby together, Tom is becoming a successful businessman, and April is becoming a veterinarian. These are important changes in the characters’ lives that make the show believable and interesting. The debit of The Office lasting as long as it did, was that a lot of the characters stayed static in their roles for almost a decade.
Parks and Recreation had an incredible ride since its bumpy first two seasons – the third to the fifth were some of the best in TV comedy today. The sixth season opener shows that if the writers maintain quality consistent with the first episode, that they’re in for another banner year.