Last night’s episode of Parks and Recreation was the last of six episodes filmed immediately after season two’s production cycle in order to cover for Amy Poehler’s pregnancy, and it wrapped up a few of the plotlines that we’ve been following since the start of the season. We got to see what an Andy and April date looks like, whether Chris and Ann’s relationship could withstand his move to Indianapolis, and Ben breaking out of his comfort zone and socializing with his co-workers. It’s an episode in which a lot of the characters get shut down, seeing their dreams crumble, big and small.
Progress on the Harvest Festival is moving forward, and Leslie and Ron are set to receive a commendation for bringing the festival back in an official ceremony at the Indiana State House. Leslie is excited for the achievement, while Ron just wants to go to Indiana so he can enjoy a meal at his favorite restaurant, Charles Mulligan’s Steakhouse. Ann is worried Chris is cheating on her since he moved to Indiana, and Leslie sees her trip as an opportunity to help her friend find out the truth. By arranging a get-together with Chris, she sets out to snoop around for evidence of infidelity.
Leslie finds a women’s razor in Chris shower and takes it as proof he’s cheating. When Ann confronts Chris, he explains that “for whatever reason, men’s razor technology hasn’t figured out how to properly contour the shinbone.” Ann and Leslie’s suspicions were wrong, and Chris explains that he actually broke up with Ann a week earlier but she didn’t realize it. The twist with the women’s razor twist was a little too predictable for me. Chris seems like a very well-groomed man who takes meticulous care of his body, and my first thought when Leslie found the lady razor was that Chris probably uses it to shave his legs.
Back in Pawnee, Tom brings the office out to the Snakehole Lounge for the launch party of local fragrance mogul Dennis Feinstein’s new cologne. Tom even manages to convince Ben to come, who has been avoiding hanging out with the Parks staff, as his work as an auditor keeps him moving from town to town and he doesn’t want to get attached to anyone. Ben’s social life has been largely unexplored, and it’s nice seeing him step out of his element. There are shades of Paul Rudd’s I Love You Man character here, in Ben’s first attempts at friendship with Tom — including an awkward nickname flub very similar to some from that movie — but Ben soon adapts to socialization. The Snakehole Lounge event is also the site of April and Andy’s first date, and Andy spends the early parts of the episode worried because he doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on April. April puts his fears to rest when she shows him how easy it is for her to get free drinks, and the two begin a cute and funny competition to see who can get the most free stuff.
Tom’s main objective in attending the cologne unveiling is pitching his own fragrance to Dennis Feinstein. Feinstein is played by comedy up-and-comer Jason Mantzoukas, whom you might recognize as Rafi from The League. Mantzoukas is a UCB vet who has been popping up in comedies all over TV lately. In addition to his acting work on Parks and The League, Mantzoukas has written for Childrens Hospital, is a consulting producer on Portlandia, and can be heard on on Paul Scheer’s podcast “How Did This Get Made?” Mantzoukas is definitely a comedian to keep an eye on, and he’s hilarious here as Dennis Feinstein, who changed his name from Dante Fiero because Dennis Feinstein is considered an exotic name in Pawnee. He’s well-dressed, cocky, and morally ambiguous — everything that Tom Haverford aspires to be. I like to think of Haverford as being right in the middle of the food chain of slick nightclubbing douchebags, with him looking up to Dennis Feinstein while Jean Ralphio is just one rung below Tom.
Ron, Ann, and Tom all have major breakdowns in this episode, but the things that cause their disappointments are so very different and represent their characters well. Rashida Jones’s Ann is the most grounded of any major player on Parks and Rec, constantly serving as the voice of reason in a very unreasonable world. So, it’s fitting that her downfall last night was the most understandable and rational out of the three. Chris dumping her sets Ann off course, while Ron is thwarted by a steakhouse being closed and Tom is let down when his fragrance is rejected. Tom and Ron’s defeats are much more comic and trivial, just as their characters are, but the show doesn’t just write their tantrums off as wacky hijinx. Instead, the writers play things realistically, reminding us that these goofy characters are three-dimensional people. Sure, there are plenty of laughs in both scenarios, but there’s an element of truth and genuine emotion that isn’t present in most sitcoms with characters this broad. Tom’s dream of becoming a cologne entrepreneur and Ron’s obsession with the steakhouse are absurd, but don’t we all have an irrational pastime or two?
I was a little surprised to see Ann and Chris break up last night. The decision might have been due to the producers not being sure if they were getting Rob Lowe back for the rest of the season after these six episodes. He’s an in-demand actor and a busy investor, and I recall it not being a sure thing whether he could commit to the full season or not initially. This may have just been an open-ended way to leave his character in case they had to write him out. There’s no reason to worry, fans, because Rob Lowe will be with the show for at least the rest of season three. Still, though, Lowe’s character’s relationship with Ann Perkins seems to have come to a close very soon. I was expecting Ann and Chris to date all season long, much like Ann did with Mark Brendanawicz last year or her with Andy in season one.
Momentum is still building toward the long-awaited Harvest Festival, which will finally happen in the next new episode. Unfortunately, the next new one won’t air until March 17th, in three weeks. NBC will be airing a marathon of Office repeats next Thursday and reruns of its entire Thursday block the following week. Three weeks feels like a long time with no new episodes of this great show, but if there’s anything that can be said about Parks and Rec fans, it’s that we know how to wait.
• I liked seeing Chris’s good nature pour into him comforting Ron over his steakhouse heartbreak. Throughout the season, we’ve seen Chris and Ben paired up with the other characters while the writers figure out which combinations work best. I’m really looking forward to the first episode to feature a Ron and Chris plotline, it should be amazing.
• Check out the NBC run website for the Snakehole Lounge, the nightclub for which Tom is an investor.
• I mentioned Jean Ralphio in the recap. Where has he been hiding this season? I’m hoping we don’t have to wait too much longer for a visit from this character.
Bradford Evans is thinking about buying a shirt.