I’ve noticed various rumblings from critics I respect calling this episode out for rehashing old storylines, offering little in the way of stakes to hold our interest, and not really clicking on the comedic level. To a degree, I can sympathize with these complaints — this is the first season of Parks that hasn’t significantly expanded the world of Pawnee, focusing instead on tying up loose ends like Lot 48 and advancing its characters’ personal arcs. That’s not an issue in and of itself; the problem is, most of those character arcs seemed to come to a natural resolution during the midseason wedding episode, and the lack of a major driving storyline (insofar as you can call the Leslie v. Paunch Burger throwdown over Lot 48 a driving storyline) in these last few episodes of the season has made them feel like arbitrary “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if?” exercises. I’m largely ok with this, in part because that’s been the typical format for sitcoms for the last half century or so, but I can understand some disappointment in a formerly ambitiously-structured show seeming to rest on its laurels in the back half of what’s already been a victory lap of a season. Furthermore, a plot featuring Leslie and Ron squaring off over budget cuts to the apparently city-subsidized Mini Golf establishment does indeed tread familiar ground — most recently covered in the “Bailout” episode — without offering anything new, as do the Andy/Mouse Rat and Tom/Mona Lisa storylines.
Even when it limits itself to a low-stakes, let’s-just-hang-out-with-the-gang entry with no interest in advancing any arcs, delving into Pawnee’s sordid past, or much of anything beyond having fun, Parks and Rec is still one of the funniest sitcoms on TV. I thought “Swing Vote” delivered very solidly on the joke front and had a winning looseness and goofiness best embodied by Chris’s “All-Time Caddy” scene. After observing at the mini golf course that he acts as caddy for pretty much everyone in his life, Chris proceeds to cheer on and compliment pretty much every human being in his vicinity; then, when he runs out of people, he praises a nearby duck (“Way to be, duck!”), turns to the camera, and gives a big thumbs-up. A lot of this episode had that quality of looking around and taking pleasure in simple moments, like the sight of an enormous gorilla statue in Ron Swanson’s office, the complete bewilderment of the flavored ice vendor, the look of astonishment on Tom’s face when Mona Lisa agreed they should break up, then roped him into a (short-lived) threesome, or Leslie’s inability to say just one word.
This isn’t to say that “Swing Vote” was wholly without substance. I enjoyed the scenes between Leslie and Ron as a skillful restatement of the show’s political philosophy — passionate disagreement between principled people is the true essence of politics and government, while cynical nihilists/narcissists like Jeremy Jamm are the real enemy. The increasingly respectful collegial relationship and competition between Leslie and Ron has always been a big part of Parks’ foundation, as have the mundane minutia of the workaday grind in government, and Leslie’s crusade to save another relatively unimportant local business is perfectly in keeping with that tradition. At the same time, it’s interesting to see Leslie actually fatigued by the amount of opposition she’s faced all year from Jamm and his ilk, as she touchingly tells Ron that she’d expected government to be more like their own work relationship. At this (admittedly low-level) stage of local government, Leslie can’t just wait for the other person to go home so she can win, and there’s no guarantee that her opponents will even believe in what they’re doing. In advance of the season (and possibly series) finale — appropriately titled “Are We Better Off?” — this episode gave Leslie some serious moments of reflection and disillusionment about her career path and the difficulty of getting anything done in politics (especially without resorting to outright bribery), and I”m looking forward to seeing this thread developed further in the finale.
Bryan, what did you think of the episode? Has there ever been a band with two lead singers?
- Mona Lisa doesn’t usually go for Puerto Rican chicks, but she’ll make an exception in the case of Ann Perkins.
- A briefly suited-up, “adult” version of Andy doesn’t know the combination to his new brief case. Ben: “That’s my briefcase.”
- I love the bizarre smugness with which Jamm reminded Leslie of his IBS. Also his double-fisted snow cone consumption.
- April’s mainly listening to German industrial horrorcore these days, which sounds a lot truer to her character than the Neutral Milk Hotel reference she dropped back in Season 3 or 4.
- Councilman Milton supports cutting off the Mini Golf establishment, reporting with horror that he once saw children of all races playing contentedly there. Leslie: “Well, at least you have a good reason.
I think you are right on about the rumblings you’ve heard/read. While the second half of this season (the stuff after the wedding episode) has been more episodic than the show usually is, it hasn’t bothered me at all. The show hasn’t been at its all time best levels lately, but it has been extremely pleasant and funny. With the show having to deal with the uncertainty of a potential sixth season (news coming in the next couple of weeks, apparently), I’m pretty amazed with how it has set up a potential ending with Leslie’s soul-searching about politics, a hopeful future for Chris and Ann and their child, Ron being able to be exactly who he wants to be, Tom is out of the terrible relationship with Mona Lisa, and even Jerry had a nice moment last week. Also, Andy, April, and Donna, but I’m not worried about them that much. Donna seems completely comfortable with who she is and where her life is heading. And hey, maybe Mouse Rat can get huge on the Swan Song (if Andy can remember it).
As for this episode specifically, it felt a little forced to have Tom and Ann at the bar with Ben and Andy (and April) celebrating the Sweetums charitable donation to that charity that Andy cared about a lot (music and kids or something, right?). Did they even try to explain why Tom and Ann were there? Regardless of the reason, Tom and Ann were fantastic. Their scene of pretending to be together to get Mona Lisa off of Tom was fantastic. It was great physical comedy from both Aziz and Rashida.
Looking forward to the season (series?) finale, I will be excited, but a little nervous. I would really like to see another season of the show, but, even as invincible as the funniness of the show seems to be, I’d rather see it go out on top than for it to falter in a sub-par final season. That’s not to say that I think season 6 would be sub-par, but I think there is something of a natural timeline for comedies sometimes. Not many shows can keep things going at a high level for more than five seasons. But, this might be one of those shows. Anyways, next week should be a lot of fun.
How much do you think I could make by selling birth control to middle schoolers if they thought it was ecstasy?