Leslie and Ben/Correspondents’ Lunch
In what’s becoming an increasingly common sitcom practice, “Leslie and Ben” was written as a potential finale for Parks and Recreation, in case the show didn’t get picked up for a back 9 this season. It’s not the first time Parks has been on the chopping block — the finales for Seasons 3 and 4 were both consciously calibrated to provide a sense of resolution while still leaving some loose ends open for possible future episodes — and all that practice at walking the line resulted in another stellar pseudo-finale in “Leslie and Ben,” an episode that wraps up our major Season 5 storylines up to this point, puts a ribbon on them, and celebrates with a drunken singalong. As series-enders go, you could do a lot worse than the first half of this week’s double serving of Knope & co.
If anything, the show has arguably become almost too skilled at closure for its own good, allowing its characters to evolve and achieve so much meaningful, believable progress and victory in these past 14 episodes that some viewers are beginning to ask if there’s anything left in the tank. I think there definitely is — “Correspondents’ Lunch” was a well-oiled episode of comedy that suffered only by comparison with the episode that precedes it — but I’m interested to hear your take on the issue, Bryan. Where do you think Parks goes from here, and what possible directions would you be most excited to see?
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. “Leslie and Ben” was a warm, generous, and pretty much all-around delightful* chapter of Parks and Recreation that nicely capped off this season’s Lot 48 and engagement arcs. I’d been wondering whether there were any hurdles left to clear after Leslie’s gala raised the $50,000 dollars needed to secure the lot for a new park, but upon further review, “Emergency Response” did make it clear that Paunch Burger’s primary advantage was their financial edge. In the face of Leslie’s victory, it’s no surprise that Councilman Jamm and his megaphone did not go gently into that good night, and he certainly did his vindictive best to sabotage their impromptu wedding through sheer pettiness. Jamm might not have been the best (fictional) wedding heckler of all time (that would be this person), but his total belligerence and irresistible punchability did manage to derail the event and nearly ruin Leslie and Ben’s night.
*I’m a little embarrassed about how much I’ve used this word to describe the show this season.
What followed was a pair of extremely touching scenes between Ron and Leslie that highlighted Parks’s ability to carve incredible moments of grace out of chaos and failure. Leslie spent most of this episode in her patented hyperactive crisis-management mode, playing an elaborate game of Marco Polo to avoid seeing Ben before her wedding and assigning yet another set of tasks for her friends and coworkers to carry out; however, when things fell apart, there was no way she was going to abandon Ron in jail, or let anyone else walk her down the aisle. As Ron extended his arm to her in the dimmed corridors of City Hall, we knew what was going to happen next, and it was only possible thanks to a set of relationships we’ve seen nurtured and fed over the course of the entire show by Leslie’s own optimism of spirit. In a lovely summation of Parks and Rec’s worldview, Leslie ultimately is able to win and accomplish so much because of the strength of her belief in her friends, a faith that is rewarded time and time again*.
*Obviously, Jamm believes in no one but himself, and winds up in jail with a broken tooth. We might be in the realm of fairy tale endings here, but Parks earns its wins in much the same way as a show like The Wire or Breaking Bad earns its own victories and moments of crushing defeat — by focusing on the process, the awkward mistakes and the grind and the small moments that make up each step towards the establishment of a new park or an intimate wedding ceremony in the Parks Department.
Bryan, I’ll let you pick things up with “Correspondents’ Lunch” and Leslie’s deadly Neve Campbell impression. Until next time, I hear it only takes 5 minutes to become an ordained minister online.
- I don’t know if Parks has ever come up with a moment as simultaneously beautiful and hilarious as Leslie seeing the Bucky the Lil’ Sebastian impersonator in the snow. Just perfect.
- Love the idea that Ann’s entire relationship with Leslie has just been a series of drills in preparation for Leslie and Ben’s wedding.
- So, should Ben have married Game of Thrones instead of Leslie?
- Fantastic group reactions when Leslie mentions the 70-page draft of her wedding vows
You are absolutely right. If “Leslie and Ben” had been the series finale, it would have been pretty damn satisfying as finales go. The show has invested so much time in its characters and the Pawnee community, and there was tons of payoff for the whole thing. But as we know, it wasn’t the finale (it wasn’t even the finale for the night). You asked where I think the show will go from here, and honestly, I’m not sure. I imagine that the Lot 48 storyline could have more conflict to it. They have won the ability to have the park, but there could be construction issues and stuff to fight through. Or maybe the park will be finished, and the show will pick up new storylines. I am curious to see where the rest of the season goes with the main storylines wrapped up. Leslie could keep climbing the ladder of Pawnee politics. It seems obvious to me that Leslie should be the mayor of Pawnee at some point, but who knows if the show will take us there. Besides Lot 48, there are plenty of other storylines that are still in full swing.
As we saw in “Correspondence Lunch,” Ben’s knew job running Sweetums’s charity should provide lots of fun moments. It already provided terrifying moments with those nude portraits in Ben’s office. Adding Andy as Ben’s assistant makes sense and seems like it will have good payoff, even though depressing Andy was pretty awesome. We also have Ann’s child storyline, which still feels weird to me despite the hilarious ficus metaphor. Bringing Chris into that storyline seems logical, and I wonder if Ann and Chris will be getting back together as a part of this. If not, how weird would it be for Chris to be around his biological child on a regular basis but not be involved as the father? That just seems to be a little too much ridiculous.
As for the actual “Correspondence Lunch” episode, you pointed out about how it felt weak in comparison to the wedding episode. You are absolutely right. Rewatching the episodes, it definitely is a solid episode, but against a fantastic half hour of TV preceding it, it fell short. Seeing it on it’s own, I think it would have been a slightly above average Parks and Rec episode. I particularly loved watching April literally run away from Chris twice when things were too awkward for her. Exploring Ann’s awkwardness this season (see: dealing with Diane’s kids) has been my favorite look at Ann for the whole series. It’s finally a characteristic that seems to fit Ann and also be funny. I’m looking forward to where they go with that.
The Leslie email hacking storyline was pretty solid as well, introducing a new villain from the Pawnee Sun was fun, and maybe we have new character in the Pawnee world. And, that’s always a good thing.
People who buy things are suckers,