I feel oddly conflicted about writing reviews of Parks and Recreation episodes. As regular readers may note (I must have earned at least one creepy stalker-fan by now, right?), I typically can’t assess an episode of Parks without mentioning the series’ impeccable ability to consistently deliver solid laughs within the most textbook of structures, like a sitcom version of coloring in the lines yet somehow producing master level work. The plots in “Ann’s Decision” were entirely transparent and predictable, but to focus on this would be missing the point – if you can’t recognize the comedic gold in watching Ron, Ben, and Chris suffer from food poisoning together (why didn’t they take sick days?), then I feel bad for you, son.
It was pretty obvious from the very beginning of April’s plot of having to conduct a town hall meeting that in imitating Leslie she would inevitably find the value in just being herself; Tom learned this same exact lesson in the recent episode where he, Ben, and Andy tried to “do basketball”. But knowing the resolution here didn’t stop me once from cracking up at Leslie’s various pansuit ensembles complete with their “Team Aniston” patches, 1995 Fleetwood Mac ticket stubs, and old Sweetums condoms; or April’s dead-on interpretation of a typical Leslie Knope opening line, “As Eleanor Roosevelt once said to Betty Ford, ‘Hillary Clinton is great!’” Maybe knowing how talented Aubrey Plaza is at one impersonation in particular helped me appreciate the gag more, but either way I can never get enough of April’s begrudging enthusiasm in spite of herself or one of the few genuine emotions she publicly displays, her “meanness”. The icing on the cake here is
Andy Starlord being uncharacteristically subtle in his Machiavellian machinations to help April realize how hot awesome sauce she is just being herself.
The primary plot of Ann deciding she wants to have a baby was simultaneously the weightiest, funniest, and weakest of the episode. Despite Rashida Jones being gorgeous, brilliant, and hilarious (as well as the proposed star of the show when it was first conceived), the series has always struggled to know what to do with her character. The writers even began to embrace this trend by having Ann date a string of often nameless, sometimes completely off-screen men in between dating every other available male character on the show, even Tom. This running joke hit a new height of silliness when it’s revealed Ann has begun dating herself. Again though, the transparency of Ann’s aimlessness – because it’s embraced and not neglected – works. However, even though Ann says to Leslie that she’s been thinking about having kids for a long time and finally feels ready, the decision feels exceedingly random, especially after having only just gotten over her nearly paralyzing fear of being awkward around children a couple episodes back. Naturally, Leslie is there to provide the conflict as only she can in the most lovingly concerned and insultingly obnoxious ways. I bet any fan of the show who didn’t actually see this episode but is reading this review anyway (what’s wrong with you?) could at this point predict with 100% accuracy that the resolution comes when Ann decides to put off her whole solo baby-making process – even though this decision was even more random and unearned than her announcement to have a baby.
What fans couldn’t necessarily predict, however, was not only the appearance of Crazy Ira (Poehler’s UCB alum, Matt Besser) and The Douche, but The Douche’s apparent evidence of being an actual human being with a degree in semiotics, brilliantly portrayed by comedian Nick Kroll. Kroll’s nearly bipolar portrayal of Howard Tuttleman’s dual personality was definitely among the episode’s highlights along with the aforementioned food poisoning and Harris’ extended contributions at the town hall meeting. “Ann’s decision” may have been yet another by-the-book Parks and Rec episode, but that also accurately implies it was yet another hilarious ride through the absurdity that is Pawnee, Indiana. I just hope Jean-Ralphio isn’t incarcerated for too long after being found “definitely guilty” for counterfeiting those Euros; I really want to see his catering business and the introduction of his twin sister, the very talented Jenny Slate.