'Parks and Recreation' recap: Dirty little secrets

parks_and_recreation_dlHaving not yet watched the latest Office (has anyone seen or heard anything about this wedding?) or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and eliminating Friday and Saturday’s television offerings (do they air shows those nights?) from my pool, I admit that the following claim might be under-researched…but you know what? I’m going to make it anyway: Last night’s Parks and Recreation was the most satisfying comedy of the week.

Sure, Curb Your Enthusiasm gave us the Seinfeld gang and Modern Family proved once again — even in its weakest episode thus far — worth all the critical fuss, but it was Parks that managed to be sweet and sharp and absolutely hilarious all in the same half hour. A show that just last spring was struggling to find a voice for its main character was able to combine juvenile office games, blossoming romance, and jazz saxophone all into a believable story line. Gold stars to Amy Poehler and company. You guys are making me so proud!

Anyway, the episode. The two main plots are established early and clearly: A local councilman’s sex scandal press conference inspires the Pawnee Parks Department to bring out each other’s skeletons, and Leslie, filled with first date jitters, enlists Ann’s help to put her at ease. An “office games” episode could feel pointless (and possibly cribbed from, well, The Office), but it was really the perfect story line for a show that desperately needs us to learn more about its characters. Two in particular: Tom’s womanizing ways were put under the microscope and perpetual hardass Ron demonstrated a…softer side we hadn’t seen before. More on that later.

Leslie was having a bit of an identity crisis of her own, struggling to keep it together as her date with Officer Dave fast approached. Woefully out of the game — “What if I don’t bring up Darfur enough?” — she asked Ann to help her prepare, who took her out for a practice date. And it was hilarious! Amy Poehler’s UCB improv background was used in a few episodes last year, but never as strongly as in last night’s role-playing scene. Some of her lines were instant classics (nervously stammering “I have to go to the whiz palace. You know, the toilet thing. It’s a bathroom! It’s called a bathroom.”) and the easy back-and-forth with Rashida Jones — who was FINALLY given something funny to do — gave the scene that much more of a spark.

Back at the office, dirt was being dug up at a frantic pace. Ron produced a picture of Tom in “Taliban robes” (his Jedi costume from ten Halloweens ago); Tom called a co-worker out for donating money to David Duke (“he promised to lower taxes!”). Jerry, who we’ve only seen in snippets before, was the episode’s whipping boy. In 21 minutes we learned 1) he’s a chronic public urinator, 2) he’s got outstanding parking tickets, and 3) he was  — unbeknownst to him — adopted. “I really didn’t want to play,” he told everyone. Ron soon got the upperhand on Tom, revealing his green-card marriage (his wife is Canadian) and declaring victory in their game. Of course, it wasn’t over — there were 10 minutes left in this episode!

After more role-playing with Ann leads Leslie to understand that “it’s just a date,” the two celebrate her successful outing with drinks. Plenty of drinks, apparently, as Leslie later stumbles onto Dave’s doorstep later piss drunk. “Help, police! Help, help!” Brimming with confidence, she slurs something about how awesome she is, and what a lucky guy he is to be going out with her. “I can’t believe I was scared to go on a date with you,” Leslie tells him. “You should be scared of me.” Dave does look mildly terrified. After showing him her bra strap — but not the black, sexy one she’ll wear tomorrow — she’s given a ride home.

The office secrets plot culminates at a neighboring town bar, where on Mark’s suggestion Tom has gone to track down a man named “Duke Silver.” He found Duke, alright — playing jazz sax to a barful of ladies and looking suspiciously like Ron Swanson in a fedora. Smooth and soulful, Ron’s stage persona was a radical departure from what we’ve seen at the office. “It’s been a real gift making sonic love to you tonight,” he told the crowd. Tom couldnt’t wait to call him on it.

If there was a weak spot this episode, it was Mark appearing at Ann’s house late at night to confess his life’s accumulated sins. The romance between these two feels real enough — they’re both pretty straight-laced, and seem compatible — but I worry about the potential for humor here. Jim and Pam continue to be so great, even two years into a long-term relationship, because they’ve still got office pranks and are genuinely funny people. Mark and Ann…it needs some work.

All in all a fantastic “Date Night,” and one whose quality I hope we see again next week (and as long as this series remains on the air). What did you think? Best half-hour comedy of the week? Second best? Tell us how you feel in the comments section below.

More TV Watches:
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Project Runway:  Say No to the Dress
Grey’s Anatomy: Do the Right Thing

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  • marymary

    Such a funny episode. Amy and Rashida need to have scenes together every week, they have one of the best chemistry’s on the show.

  • Luddite

    I didn’t see the whole thing, because I was also trying to watch Flashforward. But I did see Leslie recounting the various first date fiascos she had experienced, which was hilarious (and increased my desire to give up on Flashforward). And since you threw in the caveat of the best half-hour comedy of the week, I’ll say yeah, it wins. (I loved, loved, loved The Office last night, but it was an hour-long.)

  • Lorie

    My favorite scenes always include Tom. This dude cracks me up!

  • PMD

    I really like this show! I did not at first but I have to admit I was doing a million other things while watching and thus not paying attention! But one bored day during the summer I decided to watch all the episodes – and I thought it was hiiigghhllarrious! Last nite’s episode was really good! But I have to admit personally I thought the premiere was funnier. At the start of last night’s episode when we realized that they were going to be digging out dirt on each other I immmediately was prepared to be on the floor laughing – while it was funny, my expectations were much, much higher. So it is my own fault. Nevertheless a good episode and a good show!

  • couchgrouch

    it was great. I think Ron’s the show’s secret weapon. his facial expressions are great. frankly, The Office ep wasn’t that good. The Maid on the Mist scenes were nice but the vomiting and Andy’s scenes were just plain rank. Two and a Half Men and BBT are the tv versions of a Daughtry song. popular and predictable. till 30 Rocks hits its 4th season stride, the best sit-coms are Christine, Gary Unmarried and Parks. oh…and CSI: Miami.

  • kelly

    The whiz palace thing was great, and so was Leslie’s reaction to her cell phone ringing.

  • kafafull

    The “Ann as a bad date” scene was the funniest — Rashida rocked it out of the park. She is the secret weapon here, and I actualy like the Ann/Mark scenes. A little bit of reality goes a long way on P/R. Same reason I like Officer Dave. His normalcy is a great balance to Leslie. Somtimes I feel like Leslie is just Michael Scott in drag. The character needs to become her own person. It’s hard to build two series on an asberger patient. Dave has made Leslie more human — keep Louis CK on as a regular. He’s amazingly subtle. Kudos.

  • Joe

    The Office was so much better than Parks and Rec – it is every week and this week was no exception. Parks and Rec is getting better though.

  • Katja

    If my fiance didn’t want to watch this show, I’m not sure I’d bother. That said, I did enjoy last night’s episode. Tom is the funniest character for me, but I LOATHE Mark. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I don’t find him funny, I don’t understand Leslie’s and Ann’s attraction to him, his asking Ann out while she was having problems with her boyfriend was kind of sleazebag…he just really rubs me the wrong way. On the plus side, in addition to Tom, I am loving Officer Dave! So glad he’s stuck around for a few episodes.

  • Ceballos

    This episode was terrific.

    The office games stuff was funny (poor Jerry), but this recap nailed it. The show finally allowed Rashida Jones to be funny (and not a stick in the mud/straight person) and REALLY unleashed Amy Poehler.

    All this time, I’ve been saying that having Amy Poehler do little more than a second-rate Steve Carell impersonation is a waste of everyones time, so it was funny to see her improv background/skills unleashed.

  • Dina

    Always Sunny wins (Gail the Snail sealed it), but Parks was second.

  • Holly

    Good call! SOOOO FUNNY!! My friends and I will be quoting this episode forever. The cheating Senator part alone had tons of memorable lines.

  • Emily

    The cheating Senator was amazing…”In my defense, it was my birthday. And, I wanted to.”

  • memories of now

    yes p&r is definitely holding its own in the nbc thursday lineup this season. with people as funny as aziz, amy and rashida there’s no excuse not to give them this level of material each week. there needs to be more love to help keep this show going since most people are still stuck on impressions from last spring.

    sidebar for ew: since now all the thursday comedies get a recap, as well as big bang theory, how about a recap for how i met your mother (which gets about twice the audience of p&r)? please??

  • Ian

    i smell emmy nominations :)
    it was the best episode of the series, it made me laugh more than the office had in its latest season so far

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