Five seasons in, the staff of Parks and Recreation have proven they have such a firm grip on the show’s characters, and how to go about writing for them, that something as criminal as blowing through all the potential of a Halloween episode in one act doesn’t seem like some missed opportunity.
“Halloween Surprise” is only the third time that the network schedule has aligned such that everyone has an excuse to get dressed up and cut loose, which is a crying shame, since this cast doing dress-up theatre every week would be the number one show on television. But “Halloween Surprise” has plenty of tricks and treats unrelated to the holiday, and there’s something of a meta-wink to Leslie and Ann barely acknowledging one another’s costumes (Leslie’s the woman from the “We Can Do It” poster, Ann’s a gold medalist), before Jerry has a fart attack, and things fly off in a completely different direction.
What keeps the episode from feeling like a waste of the festivities is that it packs so many great beats, that the fact they all occur around Halloween seems almost incidental. Better, “Halloween Surprise” uses the silliness of the holiday as a warm-up act, before launching into a full-blown relationship episode that moves everyone’s status with their significant other forward, by inches or miles. Despite the solid minute of fart noises, the episode slowly builds up emotional steam, with the ultimate payoff being one of those wonderfully unexpected yet masterfully constructed Parks moments that’s going to go down as one of the show’s finest.
Let’s start with the fart attack though, because the wallop of a finale can make you forget just how completely on its game the comedy was tonight. Jerry, as he so often does, screws up Leslie and Ann’s prank to scare Tom, by standing in for him as the scare-e, which he takes in typical stride, before collapsing onto the floor in a sweaty heap of flatulence and heart failure. Seeing everyone struggle to treat Jerry decently now that he’s ill proves just as funny as it did when he fell into a river chasing a burrito in season two, but as mastermind of the prank, Leslie sets out to make up for the money he’ll lose on bed rest by organizing a community garage sale.
People auctioning off all their old junk creates a nice deliberate parallel for the parks department employees looking to lose some personal crap as well, with Ann’s collection of ex-boyfriend paraphernalia being a pleasant nod to her breakthrough last week (even if Chris seeing his own box up for sale might undo all of Dr. Nygar’s psych work on him). Tom is back in mogul-mode now that he’s over Ann, and his massive wardrobe combined with his petite frame may have found him a new business venture as a rent-a-suit hookup for Pawnees teens and tweens. It’s a plot covered in about two minutes, but Aziz Ansari could pivot towards the camera and pitch twitter trend-worthy business names for hours, and I would never tire of it.
The commonality between Tom’s suits, Ron’s table and Andy’s hat is that each person values what they have to offer more than anyone else would (in Andy’s defense, the hat I wore when first listening to Pearl Jam is my retirement nest egg). Ron’s case has more to do with the fact that he’s not one for bargaining, whether fiscally or personally. Lucy Lawless is back as Diane, but despite their matching Halloween styles (they both wear the same costume every year), the night ends with her haranguing Ron for ruining her daughters’ Halloween,. When he doesn’t reciprocate her apology at the garage sale, she walks out, and Ron pours his heart out with an emotional “oh well, relationship over, too bad.”
Despite how well he gets on with a woman he describes as sharp, confident and strong (AKA the whole package), the kids are the two flies in the ointment, as Ron’s approach to parenting is similar to how you approach a T-rex: stay perfectly still, and hope the monsters go away. Andy bails him out consistently when acting like a surrogate son who loves playing with Diane’s girls, but it’s April (fresh back from D.C.) who prods him into manning up, and apologizing to Diane. Compromise is a must in any relationship, and Ron’s permanent ones always seem to be with crazy women named Tammy, or Canadians, so teaching a couple of princesses about table sawing doesn’t seem like such a concession if he gets to keep a catch like Diane in the process.