Sorry for the delay, fellow Parks and Recreation fans. I hope all of you had an excellent weekend that didn’t involve chard shots!
Title Farmers Market
Two-Sentence Summary Leslie oversteps her bounds as she tries to use Ben’s position as city manager to remove a chard vendor with questionable advertising techniques from the Pawnee farmers market. Meanwhile, Ann needs an outlet for her frustrations about what pregnancy is doing to her body, and Andy finds a potential new career as a children’s party performer.
Favorite Line “Tom put all my records into this rectangle…The songs just play one right after the other! This is an excellent rectangle!” (Ron)
My Thoughts I spent a lot of time this weekend watching old episodes of Parks and Recreation as I rested a bum shoulder on my couch. I laughed and cried as I made my way through my favorites—“Flu Season,” “The Debate,” “Win, Lose, or Draw,” and “Leslie and Ben”—and I spent a lot of time thinking, too. Something has been missing in recent Parks and Recreation episodes, including this week’s “Farmers Market,” and I finally figured out what it is: a likeable protagonist. Don’t get me wrong; Leslie’s overzealous personality and steamroller tendencies aren’t out-of-character traits. But after too many episodes this season of Leslie being the antagonist in a storyline, I’ve missed those lovely days of Parks and Rec past when I could root for Leslie Knope on a weekly basis.
I know that too many episodes spent celebrating Leslie would make the show feel too sappy, but I feel like this season has spent a lot of time highlighting Leslie’s worst traits without enough time spent on her best traits to create a strong balance. And while people may argue that another episode of Leslie and her friends rallying around each other would feel repetitive, I would say that these storylines, with Leslie overreacting towards one of her friends (or in this case her husband) because she can’t get her way, are even more repetitive.
For example, we’ve already seen Leslie and Ben at odds like they are in “Farmers Market” in this season’s “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip Off Classic.” So while this storyline had some funny moments (Ben running away from Leslie to avoid conflict, Ben’s fear of dying in the fountain, and especially anything involving the actual farmers market—from the Chard Bodies to the cabbage saleswoman unbuttoning her blouse), it ultimately felt like a rehash of something we’ve already seen: Leslie overreacts, Ben gets her to see reason (because he’s literally the perfect husband for her), and they come to a conclusion that works for all involved. Yes, the laughs in this part of the episode felt original, but the emotional component—the thing that separates Parks and Rec from all other comedies—felt stale.
I’m tired of watching the warmest character on television be outlandishly petulant. Yes, Leslie can be overly forceful and ambitious in every aspect of her life, but she used to somehow manage to be those things without ever coming across as selfish. In fact, Leslie used to be defined by her selflessness, her desire to do everything she could to make the people around her happy. In “Farmers Market,” though, Leslie came across as selfish—plain and simple. And this wasn’t a kind of selfishness that could be attributed to a broken heart like in “Smallest Park” or even a sense of feeling left out like her story with Tom in “New Beginnings.” Instead, it was just another episode of Leslie being forceful without any of the warmth and kindness that used to be able to balance out her character. I may be guilty of an overreaction of Knope proportions here, but I think Leslie’s character has regressed this season; she’s lost some of the subtlety that the writers used to let Amy Poehler so brilliantly weave into her characterization.
I think the show is doing no favors to Leslie as a character by keeping her apart from Ann, especially in episodes—like this one—where Ann so clearly needed her. I’m sure it’s a scheduling problem with Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones, but separating them from the stories happening around them has done nothing but lessened my emotional response to their coming departure. In this episode, I actually got angry watching Ann desperately rant to Tom, Donna, and Jerry/Larry about needing someone to listen to her because I kept thinking, Where is Leslie during all this? Oh yeah, fighting with Ben about chard.
Leslie and Ann’s friendship was the great love story of Parks and Rec before Ben came along, and now it doesn’t even get a mention in an episode that saw Ann in need of her best friend more than ever. Leslie, the woman who loves celebrating milestones almost as much as she loves Ann, should be a huge factor in this pregnancy storyline, so it feels unbelievable to have week after week go by without an interaction between them. Like I said, I’m sure it’s a problem with scheduling rather than writing, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be frustrated with the absence of Leslie in Ann’s life and the warmth that this friendship has always added to the show—especially at a time when that warmth is needed more than ever.
When I wasn’t venting my frustrations over the lack of Leslie in Ann’s storyline, I actually really enjoyed it. I liked seeing Jones get to interact with someone besides Lowe for a change. It’s especially fun when Ann gets to share a scene with Ron, and this episode didn’t disappoint on that front (Ron calling Ann “nurse” instead of her name cracked me up). I also think this was the funniest Jones has been in a long time. He rant about wanting to be a Pac-Man with cinnamon rolls and needing a bag of mashed potatoes might go down as one of my favorite Ann moments ever. And Chris learning to just listen and say “That sucks” instead of trying to fix everything was a nice moment for his character and his relationship with Ann. Their relationship has developed into this genuinely sweet little entity, and it further proves that Parks and Rec writes a variety of stable, functional relationships better than any other show on TV.
Speaking of stable relationships, my favorite storyline in this episode belonged to April and Andy. I liked that it took a concept introduced in Season Two’s “Freddy Spaghetti” and followed through on it all these years later: What would Andy be like as a children’s party performer? It turns out the answer is: pretty awesome. Chris Pratt is so fun to watch with kids, so it shouldn’t have surprised me that his performances as Johnny Karate would make me smile. And any storyline that balances Craig’s ferocious energy with April’s deadpan delivery is going to be a winner in my book.
My favorite thing about this storyline, though, was the way April once again showed that the apathy that used to be associated with her character has no place in her relationship with her husband. She’s always helped him find and chase his dreams, and now she did it again. I loved watching her watch him perform—it reminded me of Ben watching Leslie give speeches. In an episode where I felt a surprising lack of warmth from Leslie, I found a surprising abundance of warmth in April’s role as her husband’s biggest supporter.
I don’t want it to seem like I didn’t enjoy this episode. I loved Ron’s fascination with his “rectangle,” Chris referring to nipples as “boob hats,” Ben comparing arguing with Leslie to arguing with the sun, and Mouse Rat’s disastrous rehearsal. I just felt like something was off, and I keep coming back to the way Leslie has been written for much of this season: I will always love her, but I haven’t liked her a lot lately.