Leslie and Ben spent the better part of the last two seasons worrying about the ramifications of making their relationship public, so it only makes sense that, when they do disclose their secret romance, it’s taken seriously. In this case, they’re at the mercy of Chris Traeger and his thorough investigation and ethics trial, with Leslie fears will ruin her career.
“The Trial of Leslie Knope,” written by Parks co-creator and showrunner Michael Schur and producer Dan Goor, is a rare Parks and Rec episode in that it only features one main storyline and is completely free of subplots. A typical episode of the show has three plots (an A, B, and C story), but “Trial of Leslie Knope” only has one overriding A story. It was a smart decision to put so much focus on Leslie’s trial as it serves as a life-changing, pivotal moment for both Leslie and Ben. Even though the episode only featured one storyline, it’s one that incorporated all of the regular characters well, even making time for a blip of an appearance from Tammy 2 (Megan Mullally) and a tour-de-force performance from aged stenographer Ethel Beavers (from the fourth floor).
Chris’s thorough prosecution of Leslie puts him in an antagonistic role – something that’s unusual for his character. Although the writers are careful to show how sad Chris is to have to go after Leslie and that Leslie understands where he’s coming from, I can’t imagine Leslie and Ben’s relationships with Chris would be hunky dory after the results of the trial. Chris never seems too villainous in the episode, as his affection for Leslie and Ben is clear throughout, but it was a little hard to watch him come so close to ruining Leslie’s life, even if he was just doing his job.
For most of the trial, it looks like Chris’s investigation will only result in a slap on the wrists for Leslie until he brings in a surprise witness, George Williams from Public Works. If you’ll recall (as I do, vaguely), Leslie and Ben bribed George to keep him quiet after he discovered their relationship in last season’s finale, “Li’l Sebastian.” With bribery now added to Leslie’s charges, her job is now on the line. Ben stands up for her – and their relationship – by taking responsibility for the bribe and resigning.
As in the last two episodes, which saw Tom Haverford returning to the Parks Department after the failure of his multimedia conglomerate and Leslie and Ben getting back together, the writers are continuing to move the chess pieces around to keep the show fresh, this time by having Ben resign from his post. It’s a major change for his character and “The Trial of Leslie Knope” doesn’t offer much of an indication of what his future plans are (besides that they involve Leslie Knope). Maybe he’ll take a job on Leslie’s campaign staff, as he already has success mounting a successful political campaign with his ill-fated mayoral run at 18. If he’s learned from that mistake, he won’t try to encourage Leslie to make the cornerstone of her campaign an expensive winter sports complex called “Ice Town.”
Join us next week for a recap of Parks and Rec’s final episode of 2011, before the show (and everything else on the primetime lineup) takes a month-long holiday break. Hopefully, we’ll get some idea of Ben’s next move, as well as what this mini-scandal means for Leslie’s campaign.
-This episode features a title card bearing the episode’s name at the start, the second time the show has done this, with the first being Season 2’s “94 Meetings.” What is this turning into, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
-For you podcast nerds, this was the episode Amy Poehler was filming when Julie Klausner dropped by the set to interview her for How Was Your Week. Klausner and Poehler ran lines in Poehler’s trailer for the scene where Leslie and company are looking thorough old lawbooks for a loophole to save Leslie.
-The tag reveals a shocking truth about Jerry’s past that may be the most pathetic thing about him yet. The old Parks Department Director got his name wrong on his first day, calling him “Jerry” instead of his given name, “Gary,” and Jerry was too polite to ever correct him and has gone by the wrong name for the past couple decades. (By the way, how were April, Mark, and Tom able to dig up dirt on Jerry in the amazing Season 2 episode “Practice Date” if they didn’t know his real name? I may have found a sitcom plothole!)
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.