“How a Bill Becomes a Law” is about as shticky as we’ve seen an episode of Parks and Recreation get. Leslie spends most of the episode butting half-permed heads with a fecal-obsessed fellow councilmen, Ben and April have the world’s most inert road trip, Gerry answers 9-1-1 calls, and Ron puts on princess makeup. You know things are heading into crazy-town when Anne, one of the few voices of reason in Pawnee, doesn’t so much as make an appearance.
Parks and Recreation has always been a silly show, but the exact degree of silliness often changes week to week. One of last season’s more divisive episodes, “The Comeback Kid”, reached Springfieldian levels of zaniness, probably because it was written by longtime Simpsons scribe Mike Scully. It was jarring, particularly as a follow to the one-two emotional punches of “The Trial of Leslie Knope” and “Citizen Knope”, but the episode did climax in one of the wackiest -and just plain funniest- sequences the show has ever done, where the entire department spends nearly five minutes slip-sliding and waddling across an ice rink, to the tune of Gloria Estefan’s “Get on Your Feet.”
“How a Bill Becomes Law” doesn’t have the giddy momentum of “The Comeback Kid”, mostly because it doesn’t build toward anything significant by pairing everyone off into a quartet of self-contained stories. Well, the city’s new 3-1-1 line is mostly there just to distract us with Jerry’s haplessness and letting us know what Donna thinks of Fifty Shades of Grey, but keeping their appearances to pop-ups in the other plotlines didn’t ease the feeling that everything was a little spread thin tonight.
This was inevitable, seeing as Ben and April are off doing their own thing in D.C., though it actually has the least to do with laws or politics. It’s easy to imagine Ben writing Star Trek fan fiction (and April scowling at said fan fiction) if they were still in Pawnee, so their plan to do just that leads to a largely pedestrian plot that strands the two in gridlock before even leaving the parking lot. I guess for every road trip episode that can afford to end on a beautiful shot of the grand canyon, you need one that farts out something as anti-climactic as the car running out of gas just as the traffic moves.
Pairing Ben and April was an interesting choice, seeing as about the only thing they have in common is that they’re both in a long distance relationship. We’ll have to see whether or not there’s more mileage to it than just having Ben give April a lesson on being more responsible and social every week (she does appear at least 15% more committed to work), but seeing as these are two actors who can turn a fan fic reading into something hilarious, it’ll be a while before the D.C. material runs out of good jokes.
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