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Parks And Recreation Review: “Ben’s Parents” (Season 5, Episode 6)

While still basking in the afterglow of their engagement, Leslie and Ben have to face that they’ve taken a big step towards becoming parents themselves, despite both coming from non-traditional families: Leslie’s father has been dead for who knows how long, and Ben’s parents… well, they wouldn’t necessarily mind the demise of one another. A party brings the Knopes and Wyatts together under one roof, but as the title of this week's episode of Parks and Recreation suggests, “Ben’s Parents” deliver a graduate thesis on familial tension at its worst.

And while Mrs. Knope’s belief that screwing is a good way to reconcile differences may not be such useful advice for Tom and Jean Ralphio, what accounts to the closest thing to a fight between the two gets resolved by someone else having a big influence on Tom, Ron. Despite Tom’s impish swagger and frequently terrible business ideas, no one has supported his entrepreneurial spirit more than Ron, a guy who can appreciate wanting to make a success out of yourself through sheer hard work. But as fun as it is to have Jean Ralphio back, and to see Tom once more pitching his ideas like the P. T. Barnum of the MTV era, the fact that they’re back in business together isn’t encouraging, considering the spectacular failure that was Entertainment 720.

After Tom’s dreams crashed and burned around him early on in season four, the show couldn’t find much to do Aziz Ansari other than to stick him with Ann. Part of what made that relationship frustrating was that it seemed he had learned nothing; yes Ansari is at his funniest when acting like a total player, but it became hard to invest in Tom as a character when it seemed like he was the only one refusing to develop. That’s why the sight of him sitting at his computer, struggling to come up with the right pitch for Ron, was such a subtly sweet moment, because the Tom of last year would have gone off to the clubs with Jean Ralphio as soon as the million-dollar idea didn’t come together on its own.

Ron has plenty of reasons to despise (and toothpick stab) Jean Ralphio, the biggest being how enabling of Tom’s more immature instincts he can be. The only time Jean Ralphio seems capable of tact is when he’s being shot down, which is often. Tom does his best to get a solid night’s work out of his poofy-haired partner, but he ends up having to strike out on his own when it’s clear he’s the only one pulling his weight. It’s a very Swanson thing to do, something Ron recognizes, and rewards, by giving Tom the investment money needed for his Rent a Swag business. Despite having no children of his own, Ron has given Tom fatherly advice again and again, and now that he’s really listening to it, Tom’s got more resources at his disposable than all the NBA players and IPads Entertainment 720 could muster.

The other major character to go through a lot of change this week does so in frequency, as Chris’ therapy leaves his mood swinging like Mike’s granddaughter (last Breaking Bad call-out, I swear). While a funny diversion, Chris hasn’t found the right person to make his evolution seem organic instead of incidental, and that seems to be the point. Could Ann be the one be the one to save him? They’ve already tried being a couple, but Ann’s been building character since they split up, so maybe she’s ready to affect the sort of change in him he caused for her during their first relationship.

Dining on the details of these personal arcs might be emphasizing the long game too much, but at this point, that’s what I come to Parks and Recreation for. “Ben’s Parents” had plenty of great bits in it, as well as a few duds, but after so much time spent with these characters, the investment is in watching them grow and gain depth, not just waiting for them to make me laugh every week. It’s what makes Parks and Recreation the most joyous show on television, in addition to usually being the funniest.

  • Stray Thoughts

-A stare down over the last bacon-wrapped shrimp between Mike and Ron is every bit as intense as you would hope.

-I side with the Knopes on the Red Vines vs. Twizzlers debate.

-Here’s hoping we get a flashback episode detailing the great Donna/Jerry Parking Spot Feud of 2006.

-Andy’s Macaulay Culkin-esque reading of, “again?!”, proves just how much Chris Pratt can do with his body and one just one word.

-Andy and April’s competing lists of good and bad things in the world is the perfect distillation of why they’re such a great couple.

Breaking Bad Cross-over Theory: Mike’s granddaughter is the offspring of Ben and Leslie. Ben is the one who knocks (up Leslie).

-Adam Scott and Amy Poehler are starring in an upcoming movie called Adult Children of Divorce, where Poehler is playing Scott’s mother-in-law. That makes me sad. And a little creeped out.

-Leslie and Ben’s relationship survives the meeting of the parents, but its greatest test will be Joe Biden’s guest appearance next week.

About the author

Sam Woolf