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Parks and Recreation Recap: Wings of Desire

It’s a given that once a workplace sitcom settles into its characters, the setting becomes almost incidental. (Remember any good aviation-oriented plotlines on Wings? Okay, remember Wings?) So far, Parks and Recreation has managed to be steeped in politics without ever feeling overtly political — no small feat for a show about bureaucrats. Cases in point: the gay-penguin marriage flap and the media circus surrounding the trumped-up sex scandal. In that vein, “Leslie’s House” (whose house?) aims its satirical barbs at a familiar target: government officials abusing their positions for personal gain. Which is to say, Leslie Knope knows how to get a quality belly dancer on short notice.

After being wined and dined in glitzy downtown Indianapolis by the irritatingly worldly Justin, Leslie is desperate to prove that she, too, can put on a show. Of course, she cannot. So her plan to wow Justin with a dinner party for the whole gang — five courses, as cunningly negotiated by Ron Swanson (“If I wanted to bring a large number of deviled eggs but I didn’t want to share them with anyone else, could you guarantee fridge space?”) appears doomed once it’s revealed that Leslie, in fact, lives like one of the OCD cat-lady sociopaths on Hoarders.

Leslie places an emergency call to Maria Portlesman of “Organize Your Life With Maria Portlesman,” one of the dozens of rec-center teachers who stands to lose a class thanks to $1,000 in budget cuts. Maria doesn’t tender Leslie a bill for the hefty job, just a knowing wink. From there, it’s a short trip to having Pawnee’s cooking and bartending instructors handling the evening’s comestibles, each assuming they’re trading services for a guarantee that Leslie won’t eliminate their classes. It’s not that Leslie isn’t aware that she’s in some murky ethical waters, it’s that she’s too worried about impressing Justin to care.

As character foibles go, compulsively collecting 24-year-old Iran-Contra news clippings is more inspired than publicly embarrassing oneself over a guy; leave it to Amy Poehler to find the line where Leslie turns pathetic and never going further than to brush against it. But the biggest problem with her crush is that it’s totally misguided — Andy and Mark and April are all onto the fact that Justin’s a pompous blowhard, while Tom is as smitten as Leslie, sneaking peeks at Wikipedia to feign a working knowledge of India. (Too bad his overexfoliation renders his handshake akin to touching raw chicken.) As the night turns increasingly awkward thanks to the arrival of Tom’s green-card wife and April’s gay boyfriend and his boyfriend, each of Justin’s yawns and ambivalent stares fills her with panic. Cue the rec center’s belly-dancing instructor.

That Leslie’s painfully obvious, if initially unintentional, graft necessitates a hearing is not surprising. But that she called for the hearing herself as penance is, while still perfectly in keeping with her by-the-books code. Well, it’s not just penance — look at her glow as Justin testifies that he had an awesome time regardless of the night-school trappings and as she reveals to Ann her true motivation: “Are you kidding? It’s every girl’s dream to ask a dude how their date went under penalty of perjury.”

Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC