Seems a little hard to believe that Leslie Knope was once set up as the stooge of Parks and Recreation. A well-meaning, principled stooge, but a stooge. “The Flu” doesn’t just complete the show’s 180-degree turnaround, it suggests that her commitment to civic service is superhuman, perhaps fueled by waffles.
Leslie gets whomped with the flu bug that’s spreading through Pawnee, even if she’s loathe to admit it. She has to give the presentation to the chamber of commerce for the harvest festival, and refuses to let vomiting and dementia get in the way. Ben is more than capable of delivering the speech in her stead, and while it’s not that she doesn’t trust him, she doesn’t have faith in him. (He even refuses to open the presentation with a rap.) After being quarantined in her office by the rest of the parks department — Tom protects himself by wearing a motorcycle helmet and misting himself with hand sanitizer — Leslie is finally dragged to the hospital by Ann with a 104-degree fever, patently unable to perform cartwheels.
April has already been admitted, and uses her stay and what’s left of her energy to torture Ann, her sworn enemy. Ron uncomfortably brings her magazines and lipstick (“I’m not interested in caring about people”), but needs someone to fill in for April while she’s sick, replacing her unwillingness to answer the phone with his inability to. Ron sees in Andy the son he never had or, really, remotely wanted, as they bond over the Colts’ draft history and go over the finer points of libertarianism. But this bonding also brings what might be the least plausible moment of Parks and Recreation’s run: Are we meant to believe that there’s a restaurant in Pawnee that serves a burrito called the Meat Tornado and Ron Swanson didn’t know about it? Sure, it’s ethnic food, but still. This is Ron Fucking Swanson.
But this episode is stolen not by Ron or Andy for once, but by Chris. Just when you were possibly tiring of his hyperactive bionic-man shtick, even if it was inspired by childhood blood disease, the show upends it in spectacular, disgusting fashion. Chris wears a surgical mask to visit Ann in the hospital and freaks out when he sees Leslie is sick, fearing the grain of sand that could destroy the microchip that is his body. Which, of course, is exactly what happens. And while another woman might be put off seeing the man she’s just begun to date vomiting into dresser drawers, Ann is relieved by, and attracted to, Chris’s sudden vulnerability. And with two quick words mumbled into a mirror, Rob Lowe delivers the single greatest self-effacingly comic moment of his long, handsome career. At least since Class or the 1988 Democratic convention.
Leslie, meanwhile, has stolen April and Chris’s meds and sneaked out of the hospital to give the presentation, despite the fact that she’s pretty sure the wall and the floor of the chamber of commerce have switched places. Ben begs her to let him give the speech on account of her insane hallucination, but of course she refuses. She stumbles to the podium and … nails it. The face to watch during this scene is Adam Scott’s, who again proves that there’s more to playing the straight man than incredulous, deadpan stares. This is obviously the moment when Ben’s begrudging respect for her becomes something else, and while the idea that everyone in a workplace sitcom needs to be paired off romantically can be tiring — it certainly hasn’t helped The Office — at least the relationships feel earned on this show. If you watched that and didn’t immediately want to take Amy Poehler home to feed her chicken soup and/or waffles forever, I don’t know what to tell you. Bring on the inevitable, torrid Jerry-Donna-Tom triangle, we can take it.