Leslie Knope takes a back seat in the excellent ‘Parks and Recreation’ episode “Donna and Joe” – a recap

Parks and Recreation I always loved Donna Meagle – she was a great scene stealer, who never got her due. Now in the final season, she finally gets to have an episode of her own: “Donna and Joe,” in which the fabulous Donna gets married to her lovely, Joe (Keegan-Michael Key). In “Donna and Joe” Ben also faces a huge decision in his life: should he run for congress? Interestingly enough, Leslie, normally the comic force of Parks and Rec, plays it pretty straight, letting the other characters shine.

Parks and Recreation

The main plot has April killing it in her duties as maid of honor. I’m not surprised that Donna chose April (though it would’ve been nice if Leslie was MOD). April approaches the position as she does everything else – with a newly-developed work ethic and devotion to make her friends happy. What Donna wants is a happy wedding, with no drama – no easy feat because it’s the Meagles, a legendary family of chaotic proportions. In a great confessional, Donna informs the camera that no more than three Meagles are allowed on an international flight. April’s other major obstacle is Craig (Billy Eichner, who gets a “starring” credit), the easily excitable parks and rec worker who is an amateur wedding planner on the side (Craig’s trigger words, by the way: flowers, schedule, vows, bride, groom, food, love, happy, church, event, wedding, and Craig).

In an episode heavy on awww moments, Donna’s wedding takes place with little-to-no-drama. Remember the other two weddings on the show: April’s and Andy’s and Leslie’s and Ben’s both had some kind of conflict: in April’s and Andy’s, it was Leslie’s panicked reaction to their nuptials; and in Leslie’s wedding to Ben, Ron knocked Councilman Jamm out. But on “Donna and Joe” the most dramatic moment came at the end, when Roots drummer Questlove pops by as Donna’s estranged brother, dropping a microwave to settle a long-festering dual.

Parks and Recreation

In a minor subplot, Tom and Lucy are inching toward a relationship, and Ron, perhaps heady over wedding talk, butts in and makes things awkward by revealing to Lucy just how enamored Tom is of the darling Lucy. Of course, Ron is nothing if not blunt and straightforward, so his over sharing comes off as boner-shrinking for the lovely Lucy who is understandably worried that Tom may be going too fast. As I said earlier, this is a very minor plot, super slight, and feels like it works only to pad the episode into the 22 minutes or so. But that being said, it’s nice to see Ron happy and joyful, and emotionally open – for the beginning of the last season, Ron had to be a quasi-villain, so it’s nice to see Ron being unabashedly sentimental (well, relatively so).

Parks and Recreation

In other plot in “Donna and Joe” has Ben deciding whether to run for congress. I love this plot, and love the possibilities – though, I wish the writers had more than just a handful of episodes to explore Ben’s political aspirations. The other thing that is cool about this plot is how graceful and gracious Leslie is. When Jennifer Barkley (the wonderful Kathryn Hahn) comes back to recruit Ben to run, Leslie assumes that it’s she who Jennifer is trying to tap. When it doesn’t happen that way, I thought Leslie would allow for hyper-competitive nature to elbow her hubby out of the way – but instead, she’s set to have Ben run for office. Atypically, Leslie is restrained and doesn’t blast through, bullying Ben to run; holding back, lets Ben take the center stage, a nice change of pace for Adam Scott, who rarely gets to step out of the straight man role. It’s nice that Scott and Amy Poehler trade roles because it shows just how versatile the two comic actors can be.

Because Ben and Leslie are parents of insane triplets, the idea of running for office seems nuts. Also, Ben was a mayor at eighteen, whose career fell into ruins after disastrously bankrupting his town. But that was the old Ben. Like all the other characters, Ben’s changed – he’s gotten much more confident in his abilities. No where is this more apparent than in his impromptu press conference, when a group of journos call him out on his qualifications. Instead of being adorable and stammering (Ben did remind me of Hugh Grant at times), he was forceful and assertive, proudly listing his accomplishments running Pawnee’s city operations. It was a wonderful moment because it also cemented the bond between Leslie and Ben: it’s clear that the two share a lot in common – among them, a bright ambition and love for public service (plus, if Leslie’s dreams of being the next Hillary Clinton are to come true, she needs a Bill Clinton).

There are six more episodes left, and because the season is so short and tight, it’s also really consistent – there hasn’t been a dud yet (though, to be fair, few of the episodes, save for the icky first season, have been more than a B effort). There is a valedictory feel to these episodes – a touch self-congratulatory – but that’s okay, because Parks and Rec deserves to feel a bit smug. After all, which show lasts seven years and still manages to deliver fresh and funny episodes? (Modern Family needs to take notes as it’s aging faster than Dorian Gray’s portrait)

Random notes:

  • Billy Eichner is great – though strangely subdued – let’s have more of the screamy Craig
  • How neat it is that Tom gets Lucy a dress to match his suit – in baby blue brocade
  • Ron on 19th century architects: “those bastards knew how to construct an edifice”
  • Amy Poehler gets a nice mini-reunion with SNL alumna Rachel Dratch as Roz, the bedraggled nanny.
  • Leslie to Roz: “I love you more than Ben.”
  • Roz on the kids: “All three of them just bumped into each other and broke everything you own.”
  • Christie Brinkley’s back as Terry’s impossibly beautiful wife, Gayle.
  • Jennifer: What’s that horrible sound?” Ben: “Children.”
  • I love that one of April’s duties as maid of honor was breaking up a fight on if it was really Lena Horne in the grocery store in 1970.
  • Leslie’s very supportive of Ben’s congressional future. In fact, she thinks he should be “The Royal Archduke Sultan Emperor of All Inhabitable Lands on Earth.”
  • Guest-starring as Donna’s dad is Hal Williams, Lester, from 227
  • Genuwine is back as Donna’s use-to-be famous cousin
  • Leslie and Ben breakdancing to Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two.”
  • Jennifer’s feelings about children: “So happy with my choices.” Love, love, love that line…
  • Donna to Leslie and April: “Y’all inspire me and I love you.”
  • Craig to Donna’s hairdresser, Typhoon: “Typhoon, I am interested, but now is not the time.” I’m glad Craig is gay and it’s not just an open secret.
  • The church is playing “All Things Bright and Beautiful” during the vows – which are beautiful.
  • Tiny hole in the plot: Ann and Chris don’t show up for Donna’s wedding??? What’s that about???
  • Donna: “Steal my thunder? I’m sorry, have you seen how I’m wearing this dress?”

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Filed under Celeb, Comedy, Sitcom, Television, TV, Writing

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