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Parks and Recreation Recap: The Spirit of Melancholy

It says a lot about the depth of Parks and Recreation’s starting lineup that the man responsible for this is relegated to the bench. Since his arrival, Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt has been the show’s resident straight man, taking the Mark Brendanawicz/Jim Halpert role of deadpan camera stares and general taking care of actual business and leaving the punch lines to pretty much everyone else. Last week, the acute Calzone Boy awkwardness around Chief Trumple showed that the otherwise calm and collected Ben is something of a basket case in social situations and around authority figures. This week we not only find out why, we find out that Adam Scott wasn’t brought in just to be a walking exposition device. Move over Albert Brooks’s flopsweat-drenched anchorman turn in Broadcast News and Jon Favreau’s answering-machine-message debacle in Swingers: America’s found the new face of aggravated neuroticism, and this time ... it’s gentile.

With awareness of the upcoming Harvest Festival at a distressing 34.2 percent, Leslie and Tom go on a full-scale media blitz, beginning with a visit to Pawnee’s top morning drive-time D.J.'s, Ira and the Douche (Poehler’s fellow Upright Citizens Brigadeer Matt Besser and The League’s Nick Kroll, respectively). Leslie stays on message, touting the festival as where fun meets awesome meets agriculture, while the newly rechristened Tom Haverfart is just happy to be in the room. But the D.J.'s just want to talk to Ben — the man whom AltaVista says was once the 18-year-old mayor of Partridge, Minnesota, who bankrupted his town with a doomed skating-rink project called Ice Town. Ben is frozen and horrified to be on the air, even before this line of questioning is fully pursued, and his painful stammering only makes things worse. Not only has Ben embarrassed Tom in front of the Douche, he has the already embattled parks department fighting to keep sponsors for the festival — why should the town trust their fiscal future to someone who bankrupted a town over an ice rink?

The next stop, at Ya Heard? With Purd, is an unmitigated disaster, full of enough meltdown moments to fill, say, a Parks and Recreation season three DVD deleted scenes reel. (More like Turd Crapley, right?) What scares Leslie the most, though, is Good Morning Pawnee, because Joan Callamezzo runs this town, and even though Ben is under strict orders not to go anywhere near the camera, he’s already the center of the scandal. Leslie brings out Ben Wyatt, Human Disaster as she fields angry calls until he finally breaks through: He didn’t bankrupt the past seven towns he went to, as is now being widely reported, but rather those towns were going bankrupt until he came in and fixed them. This seems to shut everyone up, including Joan, whose own indiscretions at age 18 were merely limited to gym-teacher-husband stealing. Leslie is clearly proud of her colleague-with-benefits. There’s just the slightest whiff of political satire — blaming a government official for a mess caused by a predecessor and ridiculing his efforts to clean it up sounds like something we’ve seen somewhere before — but not enough to make an audience feel like they’re being subjected to an agenda. This has always been one of Parks’s deftest tricks.

April decides to accept Chris’s job offer, but Ann has yet to receive her own invitation to Indianapolis. In order to prove that he’s worth staying in Pawnee for, Andy promises to do all the things April hates, for an entire month, even if it entails getting clubbed in the nuggets and arrested for kidnapping a minor in a stolen van with an expired driver’s license. Ron offers to help Andy with the list, but also tells April not to keep dragging a kindhearted fish like Andy behind her boat. She knows he’s right, so, finally, she reels him in, and if their kiss at the shoeshine stand, as expected and inevitable as it may have been, didn’t make your heart soar just a little bit, then you’re dead inside and probably just turned on NBC for Outsourced a few minutes early.

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC