Having 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.