It’s Ben and Leslie’s first anniversary! Let’s lay down some ground rules: at least 100 kisses, dinner at 7:00, and no gifts. Smash cut to: “Oh, I’m getting him a gift.” The rules do not apply to Leslie. Or, I guess, to Ben. They are literally the only two people celebrating this anniversary so … not sure why we have to go through the no-gift charade. But whatever makes the Knope-Wyatts happy!
As we all know, Leslie is the queen of all things friendship: She out-thoughtfuls everyone with her incredible, heartwarming, yet also kind of compulsive and competitive thoughtfulness. One of the things that fascinates me about Leslie’s tendency to go over the top is that, while it comes from this warm place of wanting to make the people she loves feel valued and adored, there’s also this weird, dark side to it. (I know, a dark side on Parks. I realize I’m veering dangerously close to unpopular opinion territory, but stay with me.) Generosity should be enough, right? Generosity shouldn’t have to be a spectacle, or be the superlative of anything. It should just … be. But Leslie has the Hermione gene. Everything she does has to be the best she can do, which has to be better than anyone else can do, even if being better than other people is besides the point and sometimes actually takes away from the point of just basking in anniversary love and good times.
This is what leads to Ben and Leslie’s first anniversary becoming a high-stakes game of “who is the better spouse?” where the prize is not being the person who makes the stupid surprise face. We already know how this will end up: In the world of Parks, Leslie never loses, and Ben usually makes a valiant effort and fails, landing on a butt so perfect it could make an angel hang itself. This inevitability doesn’t make the ride any less fun, though, especially when the ride is in a horse-drawn carriage, alongside Larry, while Ben is dressed up like the prince from Enchanted because that score is amazing, right?
Ben tries to outdo Leslie by celebrating their anniversary a day early. Of course, Leslie is too busy with her Parks work to show up for any of Ben’s surprises, so Larry gets to be the beneficiary of the very romantic — like, super-involved though, right? And expensive-looking? But I guess everything’s cheaper in Indiana? — day that Ben planned for his beloved. They tango, they make paella, they get a couples massage, and although we didn’t see it, Ben did plan for a Hillary impersonator and a waffle buffet. Even Ben’s epic day of nonstop romance and togetherness can’t outdo Leslie’s gift for him: a replica of the Iron Throne. “Come hither, peasant.”
Meanwhile, Leslie is trying to bring together two unlikely allies: Pawnee and Eagleton, towns that have legally merged and yet personally still hate each other so, so hard. Like “a brief rash of arson and a rather large-scale brawl at the dump” hard. Leslie sees the 50-year anniversary announcement of a Pawnee-Eagleton couple, and she is going to use these miserable old people to make a point about teamwork even if they hate it more than they hate each other. Leslie was hoping for some cute, still-as-in-love-as-ever senior citizens, like something out of The Notebook. But the real reason the DeMarcos got married was because it was the Cold War and they thought they were going to die! I feel that. Happens to the best of us.
We get to visit Pawnee Public Radio and Joan Callamezzo’s set for this story, which I love, even though according to Tom, “no one listens to the radio anymore.” Leslie’s plan crumbles because these bitter old wrinkly people don’t even like each other, but things turn around when she gathers up a bunch of youngins — the return of Craig, hooray! — orders up some ’zas, and leaves them to focus on the future in a “super chill fun e-hangout.” These bright, shiny minds come up with a plan that’s a kindred spirit of Leslie’s dear Harvest Festival: the Unity Concert! Donna might be able to get Ginuwine, so Tom has a reason to live. (My biggest laugh of the night was Tom realizing, through iTunes updates, that he’s going to die someday.) Leslie loves it so much she can’t even speak.
Now for my favorite plot of the night: the one involving April, who is proving to be the most dynamic and fascinating character in the Parks universe. She has the most room to grow, and her challenges feel like the most grounded part of a show that, for purposes of delight and hilarity, can go off into impossible sitcom-fantasy-land (for instance: how did Ben make such a promising scrapbook so fast? Who cares, it’s adorable, but that’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about.)
Ron is adopting a dog for the girls, so he visits April, head of the animal adoption agency (“Legally speaking, you can adopt me”) and shows her the drawing that his stepdaughters made for him of the dog they want. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Children are terrible artists. And artists are crooks.” The dog April finds for Ron immediately is PERFECT, I say! I love his floppy brown ears and his freckly face. (It’s this little guy, right?) I look forward to many an episode with Ron bonding as man and animal with this beautiful, regal creature. But onward to the story part of this story line! April is Donna’s boss, and Donna — who, as you all know, is my best friend in my imagination — is kind of a terrible employee! Girl just leaves a note on her desk that’s all, “Why lie? I’m shopping. Back in an hour.”
Despite Ron’s excellent advice, which includes this great digression involving him using the internet to find snail-mail addresses where he can send typewritten letters of complaint to various people, industries, and countries, April decides to not speak to Donna directly about her poor work performance. Instead, she posts negative reviews of Donna on Yelp. Donna pretends to think Kyle posted it — she thought April would intervene when Donna fired Kyle; clearly Donna overestimates how much April cares about Kyle, or anyone — until April comes clean. April and Donna’s friendship is prickly and great to watch; they’re exactly the kind of people who would never be friends but for the fact that they’re colleagues, and who doesn’t understand what that relationship is like? It’s also so compelling to see April really be invested in her work with animals, which forces her to care about things she’d rather not deal with, like Donna’s work ethic (or lack thereof).
The ladies agree: “From now on, we say what we feel.” And I’m sure that will go great! For instance, April tells Donna, “Your lipstick looks weird.” Donna, grateful for this open discourse, replies: “You’re gonna shut your mouth.”
As April would say: Good talk.
Some great lines that don’t fit into the flow of the recap, but we should still cherish them:
“And I’m August Clementine, and I talked last.”
“I’m getting the epiphany sweats!”
Ben, on Larry’s supermodel wife: “Is it a hypnosis thing? ... If I say nutmeg, will she wake up and start screaming?
Ron, to fro-yo: “Dear frozen yogurt, you are the celery of desserts. Be ice cream or be nothing.”
As Leslie is watching her plan fall apart on Joan’s show, the title below her name on screen changes to: “Leslie Knope, Involved in Bribery Scandal.”
Ron, to the guy who runs the vegan restaurant: “Veganism is the sad result of a morally corrupt mind. Reconsider your life.”
A sign that Leslie really does love Ben: “Your scrapbook instincts are really good.”
Leslie, trying to play Game of Thrones with Ben: “Our starship is in trouble!”