I’ve discussed on several occasions Parks and Recreation’s forward thinking attitude towards gender and usually this progressive perspective yields genuine laughs as well as smart stories, but in this episode I feel that while the former was certainly present, almost entirely due to April’s sardonic patriarchal obedience and genuine fervor for privacy invasion, the latter just wasn’t there. In an attempt to demonstrate to a borderline unbelievably (even by silly sitcom standards) absurdly misogynistic city council that women possess enough upper body strength to work as sanitation agents, Leslie and April embark on a garbage truck ride-along and easily set a speedy and impressive precedent for female trash handlers. That is until the evil sanitation supervisor (who I’m pretty sure was Roy’s brother in The Office) tries to thwart the modern day Gloria Steinems by assigning them an impossible task of moving an industrial refrigerator onto a truck. The thing is, this clearly was an impossible task and should have been immediately seen as such by Leslie and April. Eventually the former owner of the fridge illuminates the ladies as to the deception for which they’ve fallen (“Fly away little canaries,”), which leads Leslie to enlist the help of some soup kitchen workers in need of a big refrigerator which apparently convinced the sanitation department to hire some female employees. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the plot, I love these characters and their writers far too much for that, but in terms of the bar set by similar stories in the past, this one just didn’t quite make the cut.
I was impressed by how seamlessly the story of Chris stressing over the ambiguity of his new personal relationship with Shauna Malwae-Tweep was integrated into Leslie’s sanitation plot. This is a great example of how a plot need not be extraneously explored on screen to be effective. Really in just three quick exchanges (Chris explaining the situation to Leslie, Chris and Shauna playing a word association game, and Leslie giving Chris some great, impossible to follow advice) the audience got a solid sense of Chris’ plight, ample opportunities to laugh at said plight, as well as a satisfactory, though simple, resolution. Though one could argue against the plot’s value for being too by the numbers, considering how gracelessly most series tend to juggle multiple plot lines in 22 minutes, I’m going to stick with being impressed.
While half the episode concerned itself with changing attitudes toward gender equity and dating dynamics, the other half was concerned with winning over those seemingly fastidious little people known as children. While Ron does everything he can to accommodate Diane’s kids while her regular babysitter is unavailable, Tom does everything he can to familiarize himself with that which his new Rent-A-Swag clientele are apparently enamored with, doing basketball. Both of these stories were less about elaborate or profound narratives and more about great visual gags like seeing Ann run away from Diane’s kids when she doesn’t immediately win them over, seeing Ron knocking back glass after glass of L-Scotch and getting his shoes painted red, or watching Ben, Andy, and Tom in their respective athletic modes, especially Andy’s unnecessary roughness. Though by the end of both plots of course everything is wrapped up in nice, neat bows (Ann eventually wins over Diane’s kids, Ron and Diane tell each other, “I love you,” and Tom realizes that he can redeem his poor athletic ability by playing to his strengths in swag), like Leslie and April’s plot, their slight and straightforward structure is more than made up for in enjoyable laughs. Despite this episode being one of the more simple of Parks and Rec’s, it still skillfully showcases its writers’ and performers’ abilities to make the most out of the characters and setting fans have come to know and love.
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