Well, it’s been four long weeks since NBC last allowed us to visit Pawnee, Indiana, disrupting the very young sixth season of Parks and Recreation so they could screw around with their schedule after the quick cancellation of Welcome to the Family, which followed it in the network’s newly revamped Thursday night line-up. And instead of just doing the polite thing and bringing back Community, they put Parks on a three-week hiatus for extra episodes of The Voice, because that’s sensible. And that is why we got a Parks Halloween episode two weeks after Halloween.
But enough of the complaining—the good news is that this week and next, they’re catching up by giving us two new Parks per week, and this week’s episodes are very good indeed. The stronger is the first, “Filibuster,” directed by Morgan Sackett and written by the very funny Harris Wittels, one of the show’s rock stars (his credits include “Women in Garbage,” “Road Trip,” and “Dave Returns”). Continuing the season’s politically-savvy streak, Wittels’s script references the current nonsensical vogue for voter ID laws, with Councilman Jamm attempting to pass a bill that would disenfranchise former Eagletonians; Leslie’s protest recalls the celebrated filibuster of Texas’s Wendy Davis. Davis did it in pink sneakers; Leslie does it (well, starts it) in roller skates.
The true accomplishment of “Filibuster” is not its echoes of current events, but the sheer business of the script; Wittels works up four juicy plotlines (the filibuster, Ron and Donna and the deer hunting game, Andy’s very short visit from London, and Tom’s attempts to win the giant stuffed bear for Nadia) and a wraparound event (Ben’s early-‘90s themed skating rink birthday party, Wyatt Ben Can’t Jump), and juggles them beautifully, keeping the pace brisk while giving none of them short shrift.
“Fillibuster” is full of little, perfect touches: Cliffhanger on VHS as an old rink prize that no one wants, Ann’s teen crush on Cockroach from The Cosby Show, Leslie’s pee dance, Ben’s “thing for women in skates” (which would seem to indicate that his love for the ‘90s includes 1997’s Boogie Nights). But, as is so often the case with Parks, what’s most important here are relationships: Tom and Nadia’s courtship is, thus far, sweet and believable, and as far as I’m concerned, the more Ron and Donna pairings we get, the better. Only one complaint: not near enough of that synchronized couples skate to “Losing My Religion.”
After an episode that strong, “Recall Vote” was bound to suffer in comparison—but not by much. Directed by Wendey Stanzler and written by Aisha Muharrar (another long-timer, who wrote one of my favorite episodes, the birther send-up “Born & Raised”), this one finds Leslie distracting herself on recall vote day by working on the City Hall Haunted House (and, obviously, Kevin Pollak’s birthday), only to end the day getting roundly voted out.
Confession: this viewer was a little blind-sided by that turn. I frankly expected her to pull it out in a squeaker—she is our protagonist, after all—so hats off to the show for having the stones to go in that darker direction without blinking (or pulling out some sort of eleventh-hour reversal). It may not be the easy way to go, but it allows the show to take some interesting turns: by giving us Depressed Leslie, declaring “Nothing matter any more” between bites of her early morning Paunch Burger and penning a concession speech that is, well, pointed (“Eat my shorts, Jabronies. Knope out!”). Even a paper mache Lil’ Sebastian can’t cheer her up.
Yet though we feel bad for Leslie, her spiral allows her to pull Ben down with her (“Oh God, did I peak when I was 18?” “There it is! Drink up”) and to give us the hilarity of the utterly hammered couple declaring their love for each other and going for tattoos (“Tattoos? This is a pawnshop. But yeah, I can do that”).
The B- and C-plots, concerning Ron’s sudden endorsement from the local lifestyle blog Bloosh and Tom’s attempt to ride that train to a last-ditch Rent-A-Swag save, are funny (even if insipid Annabel’s dopey “picks” are a parody of Ophah’s “Favorite Things” that was done, and better, clear back in 30 Rock’s third season). Yet the heart of this episode is Leslie’s fall, and her inevitable rise from the ashes. Ann’s real talk scene with Leslie is warm and lovely, and a reminder of what we’re losing when she takes off in a few episodes (I’m starting to rethink my blasé attitude about that exit). Without her, the Leslie Knope Emotional Support Task Force will be down to only one member, and let’s face it, no one can handle that job alone.