Parks and Rec Recap: ‘Operation Ann’

Holiday episodes can serve as a nice reminder that the particular holiday in question is coming up — in a couple of weeks. Parks and Rec celebrated Valentine’s Day 12 days early this year because the show’s pre-empted next week to clear way for a two-part 30 Rock episode. It’s actually kind of nice to get a Valentine’s-themed show out of the early before every other sitcom starts tackling the holiday in the coming weeks and makes audiences really sick of it.

This is Parks and Rec’s first Valentine’s episode since Season Two, but we got a return appearance from Leslie’s “Galentine’s Day” Party, the event she holds for her female friends on the day before the big holiday. During the Galentine’s lunch, Leslie realizes that Ann has hit a little bit of a romantic dry spell since breaking up with Chris last year. Leslie enlists her Parks employees to help find Ann a new man for the Valentine’s Day dance. After Ann rifles through a cavalcade of mediocre dudes, April secretly sets her up with Tom. It’s a pairing that shocks Leslie and Ben (and myself and probably you too), and that’s exactly why Tom and Ann don’t even make it more than a few minutes together before Tom screws things up.

Tom’s carried a torch for Ann since Day One — since the Pit Era of Parks and Rec, when Chris Pratt was a guest star, Chris and Ben didn’t exist, and the show was a critically-derided series that everyone thought was just a hollow clone of The Office. All of that changed in season two, but I’m glad the writers have decided to return to Tom and Ann’s relationship. I think these two could be really funny as a weird couple (albeit one that’s doomed from the start), but it’s probably best that the show doesn’t break too far from reality by having them actually get together. Season 1 Ann definitely wouldn’t have been desperate enough to ever meet Tom for a drink — even under these cautious conditions — but Season 4 Ann is in a different place. At this rate, Tom should at least be able to get Ann finish having a drink with him by Season 6.

Meanwhile, Ben is tasked with solving Leslie’s elaborate Valentine’s Day puzzle, with Andy and Ron giving him a helping hand. The complex scavenger hunt takes the three all over town and drags out an enthusiasm in Ron Swanson that is rarely seen (only scavenger hunts, meat, and jazz bring this out in him, apparently). The episode’s other subplot, about Chris feeling heartbroken over Jerry’s daughter dumping him, is oddly dropped about halfway through the episode. Letting Chris disappear is necessary for the misdirect that sees Ben and Leslie investigating Ann’s pseudo-date with Tom, but I wanted to see a little bit more of Chris lamenting the loss of the love of his life.

We had some great guest stars in the form of two comedy nerd heroes this week, with both Martin Starr and Parks and Rec writer/stand-up comic Harris Wittels dropping by for quick scenes. Starr’s scene was luckily opposite Adam Scott, giving us a little bit of a Party Down reunion. Harris Wittels reprised his role as a dim-witted animal control worker named Harris, who seems to be modeled more and more after Wittels with each appearance. Wittels’s character mentions he’s been to over three hundred Phish concerts when talking to Ann, something that is taken from the comedian’s personal life. Harris Wittels dropped an amazing new episode of his Earwolf podcast Analyze Phish, in which he tries to get Scott Aukerman to like the band Phish, earlier this week, so it’s perfect timing for him to affirm his love for Phish on national TV.

Parks and Rec will be back in two weeks with a return appearance from Louis C.K. as Leslie’s cop ex-boyfriend Dave!

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

Parks and Rec Recap: ‘Operation Ann’