At the end of this week’s Parks and Recreation, as they are standing in a fountain outside the bank, Ben points out to Leslie that it’s no wonder their work/home life has become so muddled given that they’ve changed positions of authority relative to each other so many times. It’s a fair summation of what has gone awry with the show since the purity of its beginnings (in season two). Remember when the whole aim of the show seemed to be about filling in a pit? So much has changed since then, mostly for the better, but every character has been switched around so often that character relationships are almost meaningless by now. Ben got the role of City Manager only by dint of being the only person willing to be around Chris Traeger on a regular basis – remember when he was just a plain old auditor/Leslie’s nemesis? Remember how funny that adversarial relationship was?
It’s not that this was a particularly bad episode. I really enjoyed all the hateful references toward chard, which is something Parks and Recreation has always specialized in – being really hateful towards innocent targets, like the library or sewage department – and Andy perhaps finding his calling as a children’s entertainer is something I would never have anticipated, but it’s so perfect.
In my New Girl reviews, I usually parrot on every week about how “well-drawn” the characters are “at this point” in a relatively pretentious way, and I think that does also apply to Parks and Recreation. Not every character though, only Andy and April in fact, who are so cleverly created and surprisingly perfect for each other that I would imagine they are the easiest characters to write for. Tellingly, they are also the characters who have changed the least over the run of the show. Draw your own conclusions on that one.
Last week I also mentioned that Chris and Anne are treading water, and that didn’t abate this episode. The entire story with those two was that Chris is far too nice to Anne, who hates it. That’s seriously it. Chris actually has the cheek to try and solves Anne’s problems, instead of just listening to her passively and agreeing. How annoying is that? Depressingly, it seems like the one show on television that genuinely stood a chance of being progressive in its attitudes towards (and portrayal of) women is falling back on the traditional clichés of female characters – pregnant and crazy (Anne), newly-powerful and crazy (Leslie) – both of whom require a man’s help to get them back on the straight and narrow. I’m not suggesting for one second that women don’t have the right to be crazy in TV shows, it’s just depressing to see in a show that used to be about non-traditonal portrayals of women in power. Leslie has always been crazy, but she need require a man to get her back on the straight and narrow – usually waffles or whipped cream would suffice. That she uses Ben as a crutch is endearing in a way, as it shows how far their relationship has come, but it also shows up a surfeit of new and fresh ideas.