Is there a comedy out there more serialized than Parks and Recreation? Having finally found a comfortable groove after its forgettable first six episodes, season two ended with a sizeable cliffhanger, one that shook-up the cast, and segued into the ongoing Harvest Festival arc the next year. By that time, the writers were already demonstrating that their characters had a memory, and would put that to use when fleshing out the lives of Leslie and company, as well as Pawnee itself. It was that commitment to the details added each week that has made the show as rewarding as it is for devout followers, but also difficult for newer viewers to fully appreciate, because a sense of history, and progression, is vital to Parks and Recreation‘s identity.
Playing the long game can backfire mind you, because not all investments get as much mileage as others. Leslie’s campaign was the cornerstone of almost every latter episode of season four, and the storytelling that followed her weekly climb towards becoming city councilor occasionally stranded other characters in pointless, gimmicky side ventures. Unsurprisingly, the show really hit its stride right around the time they filled in the pit at lot 48, as the premise the show was launched on proved to be far less interesting than the characters inhabiting it. The quick end to the D.C. experiment was probably for the best, because while Ben and April made for a solid pairing, and the change of scenery was interesting, splitting up a cast this good is just criminal.
Despite the missteps that can occur because of it, long-form storytelling is immeasurably more satisfying than procedural television, and the reason shows like Arrested Development and Community are modern classics, and most laugh track sitcoms, with static plots and unchanging characters, seem so damn interchangeable. It’s the difference between writing a funny line, and writing a line that’s funny because of who’s saying it. Why is April giving an honest (if muttered) apology to Leslie both sweet and chuckle-worthy? Because the April of four years ago would have never done such a thing. Why is Leslie turning to mush in the presence of the Vice President hilarious without being goofy? Because a great running gag was created around her stupefying crush on him.
Yes, what’s probably the final big shot political guest appearance of the season is not, in fact, Mitt Romney awkwardly grabbing his coat from a crying Leslie, it’s America’s cool uncle who slips them a beer at thanksgiving, Joe Biden. Ben bringing Leslie to D.C. to meet the senator from Delaware proves just how bold he’s become, because she looks like she’s ready to run off with the silver-haired devil, and takeover for Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, if need be. It’s a fantastic finale to the D.C. arc, with Amy Poehler’s babbling and bubbly reactions to Biden making the most of a brief cameo.
It sets the tone for a very emotional episode for Leslie, not focused in on a single pivotal moment like “Halloween Surprise,” or based on the dreaded Crazy Leslie. She’s literally in tears over how pleased she is that April has come up with the idea of building a dog park, a clear extension of her pet adoption charity event from last season. Leslie has every right to feel so proud, considering she’s managed to convert an acerbic teenager into someone who actually wants to provide a public service for people. Sure, April’s motives probably have more to do with helping animals than the electorate, but it’s baby steps like these, which have built up over 70+ episodes, that make April endearing, due of the contrast that separates where she started, and where she is now.
That’s why it’s also great that the episode immediately throws a bucket of ice water on Leslie’s excitement, by having April recommend lot 48 be where they build the dog park. Though not much of surprise if you go in knowing the episode is called “Leslie vs. April”, it’s the setup for a really satisfying A-plot. Before she becomes president, Leslie has to fulfill her promise to Ann, and herself, that Lot 48 will have a proper park, dogs be damned. Some of the best episodes have burst the bubble of positivity surrounding Leslie, by pitting her against her coworkers, and there’s no exception when April’s newfound ambition causes her to run afoul of the boss, role model, and friend responsible for emboldening her in the first place.
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