‘Parks and Recreation’ recap: “Doppelgängers”

The sixth season of Parks and Recreation seems to be about transition and change. Leslie (Amy Poehler) is adjusting to married life as well as a looming recall, while Ron (Nick Offerman) is also figuring out what’s it like to be happily married. April (Aubrey Plaza) is looking to move forward in her career while Andy (Chris Pratt) is doing good work in London, Tom (Aziz Ansari), like April, is looking for professional fulfillment outside of government work, and Ann (Rashida Jones) is planning a life with her baby daddy, Chris (Rob Lowe).

In “Doppelgängers” these changes start to worry Leslie. Shepherding the merging of the cash-strapped, but still snobby Eagleton with Pawnee, Leslie is in her element – she likes to be in charge. This Leslie is the one we saw in the third season when the Harvest Festival was in peril. But the writers must’ve felt that she was the heroine for far too long, and so we see Leslie’s can-do attitude curdle into tight-fisted control. And the source of her bossiness: Ann.

We knew that Jones and Lowe were leaving, and in last week’s episode, Ann and Chris approached the subject of leaving Pawnee for a bigger city. This week, Chris and Ann decide to talk about this huge change with their respective best friends, Ben (Adam Scott) and Leslie. Ben responded with happiness, support, and warmth. Leslie, on the other hand, had a huge meltdown and began to question Ann’s loyalty.

Her hurt feelings pushed her to latch on to the Eagleton transplants who were brought in to help the parks department. The title refers to someone who looks exactly like you – and in this episode, each major character has an Eagleton counterpart – except for Tom, who apparently can be replaced by a computer program. There’s a bizarro Ron, played by Sam Elliot, and though initially the two Rons get along very well, it becomes apparent that Eagleton Ron is nothing like Pawnee Ron – for one thing, he’s a sandle-wearing Vegan, who chants and mediates. April, meanwhile has bonded with her ditzty peer, Yennifer, simply because Yennifer is a dreadfully selfish and self-involved human being – and April naturally gravitates to any anti-social behavior. Donna (Retta) gets an office manager who’s a high-octane, high-maintenance flamboyant mess who may care about government work more than Leslie.

Because of Ann’s news, Leslie’s unmoored and demands a loyalty contract from her friends – it makes perfect sense that Leslie, who is in control most of the time, would want to bring some sort of binding legal document – she reacted similarly when she and Ben decided at one point in their relationship, to “just be friends.” She also bulldozed and bullied Ben to get her way. Of course, Ron sees through this, and cuts through this absurdity with some great advice: talk to Ann, tell her how you feel.

All of this makes sense and it makes for a particularly poignant episode. Leslie tries to be flippant and cavalier about her friend leaving – she tries to bond with the Eagleton transplants, calling them her new best friends – there’s even a comely new Ann, though Leslie had to point out that she’s not “Ann pretty” (Leslie’s crush on Ann never gets old – The Big Bang Theory does something similar with Mayim Bialik’s Amy having a crush on Kaley Cuoco’s Penny). She wants to quickly create new bonds, as if the new friends can act as a backup, just in case her old friends crap out on her. The thinking makes sense: if Ann, her soul mate, can leave, what will stop the others? It’s a genuine fear that Poehler and the writer, Donick Cary, show beautifully. None of Leslie’s false bravado can mask her fear that she’ll lose her best friend.

While sorely underused, Ann provided some of the most genuinely touching and real moments on the show, when she interacted with Leslie. While all of the characters love her, Ann is the only one that isn’t saddled with some kind of comic persona that will sometimes get in the way of truth and emotions. And though we’ve seen throughout the last two or three seasons that Ben, Ron, and even April, care for Leslie and can also provide the kind of support that Ann gives, no one can replace. When Leslie finally has her “Come to God” moment and takes the time to talk to Ann, the audience is cheated because that’s when the show ends.

The reason why I like Parks and Recreation and found it to be a stronger and funnier show than even The Office or 30 Rock, is that its commitment to comedy doesn’t come at the expense of sentiment. It’s not a schmaltzy show, and none of the characters are idealized, but there are lots of lump-in-your-throat moments. This season is throwing a lot at our favorite midlevel bureaucrat : not only is she getting used to being a wife, but she’s facing the possibility of losing her position – something she fought for with the support of her friends, and she’s looking at living in Pawnee without the constant presence of her soul sister. It’s a lot to take in.

 

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Filed under Comedy, commentary, Sitcom, Television

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