So, Parks and Recreation is pretty amazing these days. It's always so lovely to see a show work its way out of an initial struggle and into its own little groove - and Parks is the perfect example of this. It started out as kind of a ragtag group of oddball characters who almost grated against one another in their differences, but has evolved into a charming little comedy with synchronized, goofy characters who you can't help but root for.
But perhaps more than anything else, Parks and Recreation has cornered the market on refreshing character interactions that sidestep the typical tropes you find on television. And they were all on display in last night's episode.
Leslie and Ron
So, the basic premise of the episode was that Leslie and Ron had to take a trip to Indianapolis together to receive a commendation for their Parks Department, which gave us the delicious treat of seeing them interact. Seriously, how perfect is the dynamic between these two? Leslie cares so much, and Ron cares so little, and yet somehow they make that work. There's no ill will over workload or responsibility or even just general annoyance that Leslie wants to stop and see Indiana's second-largest rocking chair. It's refreshing, and lovely. What could be a maddening push-and-pull between two very different coworkers has morphed into a mutual respect, and shared love of breakfast food.
Leslie and Ann
Okay, so I personally believe that on paper, this friendship shouldn't work. Ann and Leslie are complete opposites in a way that should probably derail their onscreen interactions. There's a very basic comedy construct here: Leslie says something doofy, then we get a classic "WTF" reaction shot from Ann. The show used to do this more, and as a result, their relationship used to feel flat. Plus, it was totally wasting Rashida Jones' talent - all too often does she play the proverbial straight man, and I'm growing weary of it.
But in a lovely stroke of genius, the Parks showrunners tweaked Ann and Leslie's friendship to be basically one of the best female friendships on television. And it was simple: they just made the characters love one another, plainly and honestly. How great is that? No gimmicks, no typicalities, no overused comedic tropes about two-handed comedy. It's simultaneously made the twosome ridiculously endearing, and provided the opportunity for Rashida Jones to show off a little more individual comedic finesse, and for that I am supremely glad.
Last night's fare found Leslie trying to find out if her best friend was being cheated on - clumsily trying to show support no matter the outcome by telling Ann that if he isn't two-timing, then she and Chris are great together, but if he is, she's going to kill him. It's this sort of fumbling adorableness and acceptance from Ann that helps keep the Leslie character out of caricature and strongly planted in winning charm.
So many other shows would take the opportunity to create animosity between Ann and Leslie, but Parks and Recreation firmly plants them together as a team, and it's refreshing. It takes a lot to shake the foundation of their friendship, and when it happens, the characters never forget their friendship in spite of any external ordeals. "Indianapolis" gave us Leslie supporting Ann through her surprise break-up, and ditching her work conference to help Ann drink away her troubles.
Ben and Tom
Here are another twosome who should probably either bicker like children or have nothing to talk about. Tom is effervescent, outgoing, and flattering; Ben is socially awkward and grounded in reality - they have absolutely no common ground. But they came together last night when Tom invited Ben to Pawnee's local club The Snakehole for a party thrown by perfume mogul Dennis Feinstein. Tom wanted to debut his signature scent, Tommy Fresh, but Feinstein basically squashed Tom's dream and his self-confidence hit rock bottom.
This allowed for Ben to step up and support Tom, even though they aren't really cut from the same cloth. Ben stated, "I like Tom," and it's as simple as that. The Parks and Recreation showrunners aren't afraid to make their characters like one another, and that fearlessness makes a world of difference in character dynamic. I felt so badly for Tom last night, and the choice for Ben to show solidarity and douse Feinstein's car in the rank-smelling Tommy Fresh made me cheer.
April and Andy
So, April and Andy are Parks and Recreation's original will-they-or-won't-they couple. Now, will-they-or-won't-theys are tricky, and so far Parks has done a commendable job in sidestepping all the typical ways to keep them apart. In fact, April and Andy finally got together last week, and it wasn't even a season finale! Well done. But it begged the question: what happens now?
In "Indianapolis," Andy struggled with the idea that he can't really financially provide for his lady, as much as he would like to. She deserves a treasure chest full of scarves! I would like to point out that most typical comedies would take this idea and use it to create conflict in the relationship - thereby dividing the twosome and prolonging the drama. The guy would never admit it out of pride, and the girl would sense something was wrong, and then they'd fight over the miscommunication, make up and then boom - episode over! Lather, rinse, repeat. I was nervous that Parks was going to go this route, and have April be unforgiving of Andy's low-to-no-income status.
But instead, April didn't bat an eye at the admission, and challenged Andy to a competition to see who could get the most free food, drinks, and money out of the patrons at The Snakehole - only to give it all back at the end (except the toilet paper). Oh my goodness, but how adorable were they in their shenanigans? That's the true appeal of April and Andy - that they simply enjoy each other's company. Guess what? They like each other.
And that's the true lynchpin of Parks and Recreation's success. Yes, they have good actors, and good writing, and good jokes. But the choice for these people to be tied together not by simply their workplace but by mutual friendship and respect is what makes the show so refreshing to watch. It's become a darling, upbeat, winning little comedy. "Indianapolis" was firing on all cylinders in this respect, and I immensely enjoyed the half-hour.