Parks and Recreation Recap: Chemical Reaction

Photo: Tyler Golden/NBC
Parks and Recreation
Episode Title
Editor’s Rating

I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve learned a not-insignificant amount of the important things I know from reading Joan Didion. Things about memory and New York City and notebook-keeping. Perhaps most crucially, I learned this: It is distinctly possible to stay too long at the fair. Or, as the case may be, the Harvest Festival.

There are episodes of Parks that make me think, I’d watch this gang forever! And then there are episodes like last night's “Fluoride,” a nothing’s-quite-wrong-with-it half hour, that also affirm for me that this should be the last season of this show. The jokes are consistently excellent, but the plot may as well be a rerun. It’s practically color-by-numbers at this point, like Sitcom Mad Libs: Leslie is obviously right about [name of issue]. It should be smooth sailing, but then along comes [name of enemy] to act in a way so cartoonishly petulant and selfish you want to pelt the TV with [name of snack you consume while watching this show]. Though she’s clearly on the side of justice, binders, and smiley face stickers, Leslie must stoop to [type of politicking that is so beneath her] to get her way and save Pawnee’s citizens from themselves. In this episode of Parks, everything new is old again.

I’ll miss Pawnee when we leave, but I’m just not getting the sense that there are all that many stories left to tell. Unlike 30 Rock, which spent the end of its run allowing the show to get more and more insane with each passing episode, Parks feels very much like a show coming in for a cozy landing. (30 Rock is — and I say this with nothing but love — completely bonkers by its very nature; I don’t think a spiraling-into-crazy farewell season would work on Parks, but the upshot for 30 Rock was it didn’t have to deal with nearly as much of this “haven’t we been here before?” feeling.)

We are at a point where characters within the show have to be self-referential about the fact that they’re rehashing old plots just so we know they’re in on the joke. This is only medium effective. The Colts players mentioning their role in Ben’s bachelor party just highlights the fact that the Colts make cold-open cameos and never return or are spoken of again. (Later on this evening, we will see Ben literally start and abandon the exact same job he started and abandoned a year ago. But more on that later.)

In fact, Chris and Ron’s entire storyline — Ron built a crib from scratch, Chris bought his at a fancy baby store, guess which one is better? — is just a recycled version of the burger battle from season 3’s “Soulmates.” (Ron’s hamburger is 100 percent red meat, Chris’s is an organic turkey burger; I don’t want to spoil anything, but, in a shocking twist Ron’s burger is actually the one that tastes more delicious!)

Really, the highlight of Ron’s plot is his declaration that he hates metaphors. “That’s why my favorite book is Moby Dick. No froufrou symbolism. Just a good, simple tale about a man who hates an animal.”

Leslie’s no-duh proposal to use the Eagleton Reservoir to get fluoride into the Pawnee water system for the first time ever is thwarted by Jamm, of course, because he wants kids to get cavities. Sweetums gets in on the action with “Drinkums,” sugar water that could come right out of your faucet. (Why doesn’t anyone bring up how impossible that would make showering? Cooking? Wound-cleaning? Toilet-flushing? Anyone?) I mean, what’s next? Cookie-dough toothpaste? Bad example, that would be amazing. Leslie’s trash-talking of Sweetums gets Ben fired from his job there, which I guess would be sadder if I’d ever been even remotely invested in Sweetums as Ben’s place of employment.

What saves Leslie’s storyline is her IDGAF attitude and Tom’s bananas, yet also weirdly effective, marketing skills. Leslie got voted out of office; now, she can do whatever she wants! “There are no consequences to my actions anymore! I’m like a white male U.S. senator.” Tom thinks it’s time to add some sex appeal to fluoride. (Leslie’s response: “I don’t know, Tom. It’s pretty sexy already.”) The kicker scene, when Leslie renders Drinkums boring through the power of science — no offense, science-lovers! Seriously though, it’s the boringest — and Tom jumps up with his pitch for H2Flow, is brilliant. “Think of H2Flow as an app for your teeth. Get Sparkle Points so you can earn an Aqua Badge!” I just wish there had been another way to get to this ending, a way that did not involve yet another confrontation with Jamm.

Let’s celebrate some other delightful things here. We’ve got the return of crazy Craig! He needs to go lie down for 45 minutes — no, an hour. A full hour! Another thing to love: Perd’s list of chemicals: “Dirt and rust and even broken glass.”

I like to see April’s animal appreciation get some play, and her description of the pet adoption site is perfect: “If you can look at that site and not want to take home 50 dogs, you’re a war criminal.” I also love that they drop everything for an important meeting in the conference room — Barks and Recreation! — wherein they assign everyone in the office spirit dogs. Because that is so the kind of thing that you think will be harmless and then out of, like, nowhere, shit gets serious. Have you ever been doing one of those “which babysitter from the Babysitters Club would you be?” and one girl gets told she’d be Mallory? And all of a sudden she’s all “Umm, no I’m not,” and GAME OVER.

I don’t know why I’m even asking that question. We’ve all been there. It’s all fun and games until someone gets sorted into Hufflepuff.

All is well until April reveals that her understanding of Donna is shallow and considerably lacking in the understanding department: She says Donna is a poodle because she’s pretty and likes makeup. Yeesh, April. Donna’s rapid-fire answers to April’s getting-to-know-you questionnaire are all great (I especially like Donna’s choice of a favorite book, Downton Abbey) but it still takes April forever to figure out the obvious: Donna is a cat.

In case you were wondering, this is my spirit dog. Please leave links and explanations to your own spirit dogs in the comments or send them to me on Twitter @Jessicagolds. But you keep walking, 98. You’re a linebacker. Skilled positions only.