5.18- "Animal Control"
By this point, I largely know what to expect with Parks and Rec on a weekly basis. “Animal Control” balanced three storylines, each of which received about the same amount of screen time. Leslie, Chris, and April improved the city’s terrible animal control department (including a great performance by writer Harris Wittels). Ann convinced Ron to seek medical care for his strep throat – and to take better care of himself. Ben, Tom, and Andy made a pitch to local cologne magnate Dennis Feinstein (played by Jason Mantzoukas, who also plays Rafi on The League).
The most satisfying storyline was Ron’s. It had the funniest gags – the initial humor of Ron bundled up in his office drinking whiskey, his heavily redacted medical forms and subsequent expanded answers, and the final scene in which he tries to eat a banana, is disgusted by it, and ultimately adds it to an enormous cheeseburger. But it was also the storyline with the most heart. The always gruff, stubborn Ron Swanson is willing to change the way he lives because he loves his girlfriend and wants to be able to take care of her children. Parks and Rec has always expertly balanced the cartoonish details about each character with pathos – heartfelt dialogue grounded in realism.
Overall, I don’t really have any major criticisms of the show right now. Every episode is at least good, and many are great. It’s consistently one of the best shows on television and has been for a few years.
My fear is that the current long-term storylines will stall. Sitcoms tend to evolve their characters through major personal developments – relationships become marriages, characters have children, they take on more responsibilities in life, and they adapt to these responsibilities, and they grow. That’s exactly what is happening right now on Parks and Rec. Last year, Leslie ran for city council and won, she is able to promote actual change in the city she loves, and she married Ben. Ron is finally in a relationship that isn’t destined for failure. Ann and Chris are going to raise a child together. Tom started his own business and is responsibly managing it successfully. Andy took the police academy entrance tests, failed, and now seems to have found his true calling working with Ben to manage the Sweetums Foundation. April is taking on more and more responsibility at work.
I admire the way these characters are evolving, and I think the writers deserve a lot of credit for coming up with compelling storylines for each character that also complement each other. But I am worried that there’s not really anywhere to go from here. I try not to compare the two shows, but I think of how The Office followed up the very compelling Jim and Pam storylines after seasons three and four. There was no more drama there, and as the show began to explore the lives of secondary characters, it lost what made the show special in the first place. Parks and Rec has always been about community, and the storylines introduced this season have reflected that while still keeping things fresh. But I don’t know what’s next for many of them, and I fear it will soon become bland.
Take the April storyline from this episode, for example. I am absolutely on board with that character taking on more responsibility. She’s come a long way, and it’s clear that she actually does care about what she does. The issue is that by now this is so clear that it’s no surprise when she comes through for the Parks department. I knew that she would think of a solution to this problem, so there was no suspense. Our expectations for the character are just as high as Leslie’s. So what’s the next step? How will the character continue to grow?
I react to innovation as much as I react to characters that I love and storylines that have that inherent charm. That’s why I try to at least sample as many comedy pilots as I can each year – because even shows that take a while to find their form show promise from the beginning. For every Scrubs – a show that found its form right away and stayed consistently good for years – there’s a corresponding or Parks and Rec, which improved exponentially over the first two seasons. Parks and Rec has remained fresh by exploring the colorful world of the show in greater detail while allowing its characters to grow. My hope is that we continue to care about these people.
Ben Wachtel likes baseball, the Boston Celtics, pancakes, tacos, and swam collegiately at Purdue University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benwachtel24.