All season I’ve been going pretty hard on the whole, “It’s cool, I’m still laughing,” bit when it came to Parks’ declining narrative quality. I still stand by my words of course, but the latest installments – much like The Universe is wont to do when you challenge its ability to make you look foolish by making any kind of statement – have strained their credibility. Neither “Article Two” nor “Jerry’s Retirement” were particularly bad episodes, but they each felt especially thin.
I’ll approve pretty much any conceit which ropes Patton Oswalt into a story, but Leslie’s staunch support for antiquated laws which someone else (some random Ted, no less!) knew better than she did coupled with her immediate reversal felt too contrived to invest in. For a series which has such an impressive track record when it comes to evoking the genuine absurdity of life through smart couplings of reality and the ridiculous, the bet between Garth and Leslie came off as exceedingly ludicrous as it was ill-advised – clearly Garth was going to win. And as a proponent of the belief that loneliness may be the single worst fate for an individual to suffer through (Ron Swanson and disease be damned), it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the resolution that Garth would drop his protest of Leslie’s bill after being invited into the Pawnee Historical Society (and its many social obligations), it was just far too easy – like too many of this season’s resolutions. It swooped in last minute and what’s worse is that if it didn’t, well, it wouldn’t have mattered. Plus, how was Garth not already a part of that organization?
That being said, Garth’s filibuster-pitch for Episode VII was amazing. Apparently it was completely improvised by Oswalt, but you know he had been thinking of a few of those scenes for a while. The only thing that could’ve improved the eight minute rant is if Ben was in the background to scoff and nitpick the concerned citizen’s ideas. But as much as I loved hearing about Star Wars, The Avengers, X-Men, Game of Thrones (yes, Donna, that whole show could get it), and Hannibal Lecter (I see what you did there, NBC), the pop culture references shouldn’t be the best parts of an episode, and they were in both “Article Two” and “Jerry’s Retirement” (Ben’s TOTALLY VALID Fringe reference).
Garth and Leslie’s competition was only one of three which constituted “Article Two”. The other two involved April predicting Ron and Chris using Jerry to compete for April’s soul (not to be melodramatic), and the other was between Ben and Ann (and Ros the postal worker) for a gift for Leslie. While I thought the reveal that April, the employee whose soul for which Chris and Ron battled, is actually superior to them both was fairly clever, I couldn’t really care about the waffle iron bit. The individual moments among the characters involved such as Tom’s astonishment when his fridge broke (“I just moved!”), Ron’s admitted apathy, and Ben’s neurosis (“I don’t even have time to tell you how wrong you are – actually I need to or it’ll bother me,”) still made me laugh, but I’m really starting to feel the effects of not caring. Seeing as how those lackluster plots took almost the entire season to bother me perhaps this could be seen as a testament to the series’ strength in bringing these characters to life despite less than stellar plots, but those stories are still a noticeable weakness.
“Jerry’s Retirement” had similarly enjoyable individual moments, like Leslie being moved to make-out with her husband when he reveals his plan to make mac ‘n cheese pizza for dinner, the detail of Chris holding a Brandi Maxx dvd, or Donna’s casual acknowledgement of Jerry catching fire, but again I just couldn’t bring myself to care about Chris and Ann being awkward or Jerry’s retirement – which doesn’t even matter seeing as how he’ll still be around a few days a week simply to keep Tom from becoming the new Jerry. Again, a lack of consequences and far too much easy resolution outweighed the laughter for me with these episodes. Parks is still a remarkable series with an incredibly talented staff of actors and writers, but these elements need to be in tandem with each other as opposed to one carrying the other for the series to continue its legacy of excellency.