Parks and Recreation has a large central cast (there are currently 10 actresses and actors in the ensemble), and the show is at its best when it’s pairing its characters up to explore the funny and unique relationships between them. Perhaps the show’s most successful relationship is that between Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson, and the show returned to that well last night by sending them each into the wilderness with their own separate youth organizations. Ron, with help from Andy, is supervising the weekend retreat for the Pawnee Rangers, a Boy Scout-like group of adolescent males, while Leslie, Ann, and April are guiding the Pawnee Godesses, a female club that Leslie created when the Rangers refused to let a fifth grade girl join.
While Ron tries to teach the boys about solitude and masculinity (the only rule in the Rangers guidebook, which Ron wrote, is “Be a man”) by forcing them to eat beans in silence around a campfire, Leslie lets her girls create art projects and eat candy inside of a cabin. One of Ron’s campers, Darren, defects to Leslie’s group, asking to become the first male member of the Pawnee Goddesses, but Leslie spurns him out of spite because the Rangers kept female members out for so long. Leslie’s Goddesses turn on her when they learn about her decision, suggesting that she’s subjecting Darren to the same discriminatory treatment that Rangers have been practicing.
Over the years, Leslie has shaped the impressionable young minds of her Pawnee Goddesses, transforming them into “a mob of little Leslie Knope monsters,” as she puts it. Because of Leslie’s influence upon the girls, the Goddesses call for a public forum to discuss allowing boys into their club. Leslie uses the forum as an excuse to try to prove her organization is better, arranging for a bunch of puppies to be delivered to the campsite at that very moment. The puppies draw the boys (and Andy) to Leslie’s side, leaving Ron sitting by the campfire alone. Ron returns to City Hall to find his office full of kids of both genders, who are there for a wilderness retreat. He assumes they mixed up the dates until he realizes that Leslie put out a thoughtful ad, looking for tough kids who share Ron’s aversion to fun and his lack of food allergies.
Tom Haverford drops by his old stomping grounds at City Hall (as he is wont to do in every single episode since he quit) for “Treat Yo’ Self 2011,” an annual tradition in which he and Donna spend an entire day treating themselves to the finest things. It’s mostly just an excuse for them to hang out at the spa and the mall all day, but the excitement and level of commitment Tom and Donna apply to their personal holiday makes it feel like something more. Donna insists on inviting Tom’s pseudo-rival Ben along, noting that Ben has been sad and stressed lately. Ben tags along on Tom and Donna’s outing, straight-manning his way through his first Treat Yo’ Self Day.
When Donna and Tom realize Ben hasn’t treated himself to anything on Treat Yo’ Self Day, only having bought a pack of plain white socks, they insist that he purchase something that he enjoys. Ben buys a dorky Batman suit from a comic book store, and, he reveals that the reason that he’s been so depressed is because of his recent break-up (without letting on about his and Leslie’s secret relationship, of course). Tom and Donna give Ben a pep talk, while he’s wearing his Batman suit in the middle of the mall.
The episode’s third plotline begins with Jerry, who’s the only one left in the department during the Rangers/Goddesses retreat and Treat Yo’ Self Day, inviting Chris Traeger to have lunch with him and his daughter. Chris rejects the offer but quickly doubles-back on his decision when he meets Jerry’s attractive daughter Millicent. At lunch, Chris and Millicent hit it off, bonding over their mutual love for charity work. Chris asks for Jerry’s permission to date his daughter when they get back to the office, offering to spend the next 2-4 days with Jerry so that he can assess whether he’s good enough to date Millicent or not and inviting him along for their first 3-6 dates. Jerry declines Chris’s strange offers, only for Chris to show up to work grinning after his first date with Millicent, informing Jerry that she spent the night at his place after their date.
The Chris and Jerry plotline offers up a character combo that the show hasn’t tried at-length yet, and Rob Lowe and Jim O’Heir have some great moments playing off one another. I’d love to see Chris dating Jerry’s daughter become a full-on story arc, as it provided for a lot of laughs last night. “Pawnee Rangers” demonstrates that Parks and Rec can still bring out new sides in its tried-and-true character duos (Leslie and Ron, Tom and Ben), while establishing new ones that work just as well (Chris and Jerry).
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.