In the waning days of the Cold War, a noted Soviet philosopher best summed up the prevailing emotion that ultimately brought down communism and ushered in democracy. “America,” he wrote. “What a country!”
The contemporary apotheosis of this Smirnoff-ian ideal is Ron Fuckin’ Swanson, mustachioed Libertarian hero (and, we can only assume, Penn Jillette’s favorite sitcom character). Though he’s working for the Man, he fiercely believes in the individual’s right to drive home after three whiskeys at a reception celebrating a local candy conglomerate’s deal to install concession stands in town parks. Put another way, he abhors the state’s — read: Leslie’s — insistence otherwise. To be denied this simple right renders him not just less of a man, but less of an American.
After the parks department binges and crashes on a basket of NutriYum bars courtesy of their new corporate partners Sweetums, Leslie discovers that high-fructose corn syrup is not, in fact, as nutritious as it sounds and fights to have the deal nullified. Ron stews — he vividly makes the case that the same nine whiskeys that might cause one man to wrap his Prius around a tree can inspire another to lovingly handcraft a small harp using a bandsaw, a spoke-shave, and an oscillating spindle-sander, but Leslie is typically undaunted. So she holds a town-hall meeting, because everyone knows that’s the most effective way to open a constructive, enlightened dialogue between the government and its concerned citizens. But as Pawnee goes, America goes, and Pawnee — emboldened by the impassioned, catchphrase-worthy rallying cry, “Ham and mayonnaise! Ham and mayonanaise!” — doesn’t mind gorging itself on the ingredient designed to keep pigs fat and happy. The people have spoken, and Ron celebrates with a turf-and-turf: a 16-ounce T-bone with a 24-ounce Porterhouse, plus whiskey and a cigar to help it all go down. Little pink houses for you and me.
Meanwhile, the rest of the gang gets suckered into helping Tom move out of Wendy’s. Mark rues the day he ever bought a pickup truck, while Andy embraces the task with childlike, Andy-like fervor. Actually, they’re not helping Tom move so much as moving all his shit for him while he watches a Canadian Deep Blue Sea DVD and orders himself pad Thai, but he does offer assistance in the form of D.J. Roomba — an iPod dock strapped to a robotic mini-vacuum. (Andy, beaming: “He likes me!”) This is Tom at his Aziz Ansari-est, oozing men’s-mag smarm just repellent enough that the brief moment his façade drops, when Wendy tells him she’ll see him around, feels like a kick below the LED-sign belt.
And in a way, that’s this season of Parks and Recreation in a nutshell: Just when you think the characters have lapsed into caricature, there’s that split-second of truth that brings them back and grounds them fully. Ultimately, Ron’s dowhatchulike paradise hits its Waterloo — you can’t smoke cigars in the restaurant and it’s freezing outside — as he realizes that Leslie is less an annoying stickler than a concerned friend. He returns the favor by dumping out her stash of NutriYum bars. Colleagues with comically inflated, diametrically opposed worldviews respecting and appreciating and even liking one another: Only on TV, folks.