This is another one of those episodes that makes me feel like Parks and Rec could/should just keep making episodes for another 15 seasons. This episode seamlessly added two new Pawnee residents in Mona Lisa Saperstein (she is the worst!) and Dennis Lerpiss. Both Jenny Slate and Jason Schwartzman did a fantastic job for these characters, respectively. Neither ventured far from their wheelhouse (but as guest stars, they shouldn’t). I guess I only know Slate from sketches of the Kroll Show, but I thought she was fantastic. She even provided an excuse for just the right amount of Jean Ralphio. And, Schwartzman easily played the over-confident movie snob that I believe he might be in real life (I really don’t like it when people assume they know anything about celebrities because they have no basis of who they really are, but I’ll do it anyways right now).
Not only did we add two new solid characters to the Pawnee world (obviously, Slate will return for Tom’s storyline, but presumably, Schwartzman will not be a steadily recurring character), we also had the return of Brandi Maxxxx. I had forgotten that Maxxxx had run for city council against Leslie, but even without remembering that right away, she seemed to fit in perfectly to the world. With an ensemble show being able to handle so many main characters, it is amazing that they can easily handle so main sideline characters, even if Perd Hapley’s segment felt a little forced in this episode. Some shows would struggle to successfully establish even one new character, like Mona Lisa for example, but Parks and Rec established two brand new characters, revisited a third, and gave us two great highlighted extras at the council hearing in Wilson Gromley (leader of the Pawnee chapter of the Liberty or Die Party) and “You can just get it on the internet” guy (who is watching Iron Man 2 right now). That’s not even to mention that we had significant character development in April and Ann’s “friendship” and in Chris deciding to father a child with Ann. Just writing it out seems like there was no way that all of this fit into a 30 minute network sitcom. But, the episode didn’t even feel too overpacked. It mostly just felt great.
I haven’t really analyzed any of the actual storylines, so, sorry about that. I guess I’ll let you do that, Daniel. What do you think about Chris agreeing to be the sperm donor to Ann’s baby? How much is he supposed to be involved as the father? I assumed that he wouldn’t be carrying out the traditional fatherly duties, but am I wrong? Are he and Ann going to try and raise the child as two single individuals?
I totally hear you; um, I also don’t like what you’re saying,
I also have to tip my hat to the Parks writers for answering a question I didn´t know I had — What would Jean-Ralphio´s sister be like? — with the ideal answer: Tom´s wildly inappropriate, completely untrustworthy girlfriend (so, basically, a female version of her brother). With all due respect to Community´s Britta Perry, the perfectly-named Mona Lisa Saperstein* is definitely in the running for the title of ¨The Worst¨, although Jean-Ralphio and several other Pawneeans are contenders as well. While I share Chris´s concern over Tom´s hilariously sudden and ill-considered new relationship, I´m really looking forward to watching Tom and Mona Lisa bounce off each other** in the next few episodes.
*I recognized Jenny Slate from minor roles on Girls and Bored to Death that were, unsurprisingly, completely different from Mona Lisa. The Sapersteins are so ridiculously over-the-top that it´s luckily going to be hard for Slate and Ben Schwartz to get type-cast in that mode (although Hollywood does love a challenge!).
**Probably ought to consider revising my wording on that one.
It was also an inspired choice to have Chris treat Tom as an unwitting surrogate son as he tried to decide how to respond to Ann. Putting the fate of Chris´s decision — a torturous choice for a man whose excitement about fatherhood is at war with his paralyzing fear of harming another living thing — in Tom´s hands gave their hangout story some stakes while playing up Aziz Ansari´s adorable childlike qualities (Parks goes to this well with Andy a lot more often, but upon reflection, this is a show with a lot of man-children). Tom´s ¨small victory¨ basically amounted to following through on an immature decision — hooking up with Mona Lisa, who would probably throw a rave and give away all of Tom´s clothes if left unchecked — in as responsible a manner as possible, seems like the right degree of progress for the new small business owner.
The episode´s titular bailout plot, in which Leslie and a typical assortment of Pawnee citizens clash over whether to save the Pawnee´s snooty video store by declaring it a historic landmark, provided a chance for the show to examine Leslie and Ron´s clashing and often completely opposed ideologies in more depth than it has in a while, and the resulting story had some nice complexity to it (for a sitcom that´s not Veep or The Thick of It). Leslie thinks the video store should be saved because it has cultural value for Pawnee (in that it used to show movies), while Ron believes it´s a failed business that should be allowed to die to make place for a more successful endeavor. Ironically, the government´s bailout, along with Leslie´s innocent advice, does lead Dennis Lerpiss to take the store in a much more commercial direction by focusing exclusively on the adult content that has always sold best (in what seems like a sadly accurate portrayal of the modern movie rental market). The store´s newfound popularity ensures that Leslie succeeds in the most embarrassing way possible, right down to the porn film Brandi Maxxxx & co. make in her honor, while Ron has some of his own principles validated. I liked the show´s acknowledgment in the last diner scene that, despite their differences (Ron would never create a free, government-sponsored movie series, since he hates the government, and movies, and people) Leslie and Ron do in fact have political common ground — they both believe in capitalism; in fact, Leslie is way more competitive than Ron, and she´s already ¨won¨ lunch by picking up the bill herself.
Somewhat surprisingly, my favorite scene in the episode came in the Ann-April storyline, which I really loved in general. Parks has done several episodes where a reluctant April demonstrates her begrudging affection or compassion for another human being (like Andy, Ron, Chris, or Leslie) through a small token or gesture, in the case the baby names book she gave Ann. While that scene worked fine, and Rashida Jones was effectively winsome and endearing playing Ann´s combined nervousness about Chris´s response and gleeful determination to make April like her, the moment that really put this plot over the top for me was the scene where Ann tries to get April to sing Cyndi Lauper´s ¨Time After Time¨with her. This would a fun, goofy idea in its own right, but it was pitch-perfect in execution: first, a stress-addled Ann Perkins has written all the lyrics on a huge whiteboard as the song plays in the background; after failing to get April to sing along with her, she breaks down and admits that she´s asked Chris to be the father of her baby; April, rather than deal with any real human emotions, starts to sing along to the music, at which point DONNA SWOOPS IN OUT OF NOWHERE AND JOINS IN TRIUMPHANTLY; finally, when Ann tells April she didn´t realize she knew the words to ¨Time After Time¨, April says ¨Of course I do. That song is amazing.¨ It´s hard to be silly and gooey and laugh-out-loud funny at the same time, but moments like these are why I love Parks and Recreation. Even better, I hear you can watch it for free on the internet!
I´ll see myself out,
- Perfect placement of the creepy old guy with the mustache at the newly-converted Adult Video store: ¨I like this store now.¨
- The show´s hair and makeup folks must have a blast giving Ben Schwartz that Jean-Ralphio swagger. This is what he looks like on House of Lies — pretty similar, but still tied to a realistic, non-cartoon universe.
- I´m still trying to get my head around the title Too Big to Nail.
- Ben had an appropriately bewildered reaction to Mona Lisa´s declaration that she´s cooling on hitting that.
- Fun Mona Lisa fact: it takes her forever to get ecstasy out of her system.
- I may have missed an earlier conversation about this in the show, but I find it interesting that Chris would take as a given his involvement in the life of the child he and Ann would have. I get the impression that isn´t exactly par for the course for sperm donors; on the other hand, Chris and Ann are friends who know each other pretty well, he´s still the father, and there´s really no reason for him not to be involved unless Ann doesn´t want him to be.
- Maybe Chris and Ann´s baby will be the first human being to run to the moon and live to 150.