Perhaps Parks and Recreation’s greatest strength — and there are many — is the show’s ability to continuously discover hilarious new pairings between its characters. The central cast is ten players deep, leaving the writers with a variety of match-ups to explore from episode-to-episode. What’s impressive is that these pairings never seem to fail. I can’t think of a single character combo the show’s attempted that I don’t like. For weeks, I’ve been waiting for an episode that puts fan favorite Ron Swanson together with outstanding newcomer Chris Traeger. Although the two had interacted in the past, most notably in the episode “Indianapolis,” last night’s show was the first to allow these two comedic behemoths to share the screen at length. “Soulmates” featured a B story with Ron and Chris, and it sure lived up to the hype.
The Ron and Chris storyline is an example of a perfect sitcom B plot, collecting all of the characters not involved in the main storyline and taking them out of their comfort zones for a bunch of funny scenes, while all of the story and character development are pushed to the A plot. For Ron, the visit to health store Grain ‘n Simple was a fish-out-of-water experience, and it brought us some memorable moments from him. Ron observing the hippie like an animal in a zoo, and Ron and April harassing the sample clerk together were my favorites. Andy and Chris also had some funny scenes together at the health foods store, and it was amusing seeing the contrast in their lifestyles. The whole Gran ‘n Simple sequence was the highlight of an episode that was spectacular all over.
As I said earlier, most of the episode’s character development and story arc advancement occurred in the A story, but the whole Leslie-Tom-Ben pseudo-love triangle plot wasn’t short on laughs by any means. If anything, it was funnier than the B story, with Ann cycling through a bunch of men, Joe the sewer guy making his lengthiest and funniest appearance yet, and Leslie struggling to describe herself in an appealing way on her dating profile. But it was Aziz Ansari who had the most opportunities to show off his chops with some great Tom Haverford lines. From his list of douchey nicknames for his favorite foods to his eagerness for Pawnee to move from America’s fourth to its third most obese city (“We’re coming for you, San Antonio!”) to his rant about Leslie falling for his nerdy dating profile, this was a great showcase for Ansari’s abilities. The idea of Leslie and Tom Haverford as a couple is pretty ridiculous, but it was definitely worth exploring, and I’m glad the writers found a way to do so without messing up the characters.
The buildup to the Leslie-Ben romance has been moving along ever-so-slowly since late Season Two, and it’s about time those two finally made some progress. It worked well in last week’s episode to contrast Leslie and Ben’s reluctance to rush into a relationship with Andy and April’s youthful impatience, and it says a lot about how careful Leslie and Ben are with their major life decisions; but it was satisfying to see them make a step forward after all this time. Chris Traeger’s policy against office romances is a fun obstacle to throw in Ben and Leslie’s path just as they’re starting to date. Having to conceal their relationship from Chris will keep things exciting enough that Ben and Leslie won’t go the way of so many will-they-or-won’t-they relationships of sitcoms past, becoming dull and stagnant once the two consummate things.
With a super-sized episode of Parks and Rec airing next week after Steve Carell’s Office farewell, there’s plenty more of the show to look forward to in a season that just keeps getting better and better. Parks star Chris Pratt (who plays Andy) spilled some spoilers in an interview yesterday, and all of the future plot developments he mentioned sound very promising. If the rest of the episodes this year are as consistently funny and satisfying as last night’s installment, it’s gonna be a hell of a rest of the season.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.