TV Time: Parks and Recreation 7.08/7.09



Title Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington/Pie-Mary

Two-Sentence Summary While on a trip to Washington, Leslie and April both find themselves facing new career opportunities. After returning to Pawnee, April and Ron embark on a scavenger hunt to find his house key, and Ben and Leslie struggle with how to handle the sexism inherent in political campaigns.

Favorite Line “The Male Men? Where are you? You’re ridiculous, and men’s rights is nothing.” (Leslie)

My Thoughts Sometimes Parks and Recreation is an idealistic, feel-good show. Other times, it’s a satirical force to be reckoned with. And on very rare, very wonderful occasions, it’s able to be both at the same time. My all-time favorite Parks and Rec episode, “The Debate,” is one of those rare episodes that was able to walk the line between satire and sincere emotion perfectly. And the second episode of this week’s double-header, “Pie-Mary,” is another.

The one-two punch of “Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington” and “Pie-Mary” had something for everyone—unless you only like Tom Haverford, and then you were probably disappointed because Aziz Ansari was absent from this hour of the show. (For as much as I love Tom, I actually didn’t notice his absence until reading some things about these episodes this morning.) All of the things that make Parks and Rec special had a moment in the spotlight: character growth and relationship development for all of its characters, supportive female friendships and male/female friendships, great guest stars, recurring characters stopping by for some fun, emotional beats, big laughs, smart social and political commentary, plenty of hugs, and more feminism on display in one half-hour than most shows are brave enough to show in entire seasons.

This pair of episodes had great moments for the whole ensemble. A personal favorite of mine was the subplot in “Pie-Mary” that had Garry and Donna taking a little trip down memory lane together. There was such genuine warmth between Jim O’Heir and Retta in those scenes. They built on the kindness Donna showed Garry at her wedding last week in such a natural way, and it was lovely to see this relationship—which was so often in the background—get its time to shine before all is said and done.

While this hour had plenty of strong ensemble moments, it really belonged to two women: April and Leslie. The first episode was centered around their relationship and April’s growth in particular, and the second episode featured both of them as focal points of the episodes A and B-plots. I know we still have a few episodes left, but I feel like these two could very well be Aubrey Plaza and Amy Poehler’s 2015 Emmy submission episodes, respectively.

“Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington” made great use of its connected A and B-plots. Watching everyone back in Pawnee work so hard to help find April a job was a testament to the fact that these people aren’t just nice to Leslie because she’s the main character; they’re that nice to everyone else, too. This is a show about good people who like to do nice things for each other and support their friends (or their wife, if you’re Andy in this episode). The B-plot also provided plenty of laughs—from April’s first resume being a picture of Alf to the discovery of Ron’s brothers. But the biggest laughs came once again from Ben’s not-so-secret admirers at the accounting firm. The humor they find in everything Ben says and Ben’s inability to accept a job from them is one of my favorite running jokes in Parks and Rec history. Making it so he had to turn them down on April’s behalf was the perfect final twist on that joke.

The reason April had Ben turn the accountants down was because she finally found her dream job, but it took a lot of soul-searching and some overreacting from Leslie to help her find it. It would have been easy for the heart of this episode to get lost amid the parade of famous Washington faces, but perhaps the most famous actually turned out to serve the episode’s main theme instead of distracting us from it. Madeleine Albright was used to absolute perfection as Leslie’s Washington waffle buddy, and her scene served to remind us that Leslie Knope isn’t a perfect character: She’s still a bit of a steamroller, and that’s okay. Perfect characters are profoundly boring. And one of the best things about Leslie is watching her grow and learn each time her flaws rise to the surface.

In this case, Leslie had to learn that people need to find their own way in life. You can love them and want to protect them by planning their lives for them, but, ultimately, all you can do is offer advice and support as they choose their own path. And that’s what April did; she chose her own path, even though it scared her to do it and to tell Leslie about it. Plaza brought such wonderfully uncharacteristic anxiety to her work in this episode, and I thought it was such a great, subtle way of showing just how much April cares about both Leslie and her future.

When April lets her inner Leslie—that part of her that’s emotional and open and affectionate—show, it’s a big deal. I thought Plaza played April’s big speech about how much she’s learned from Leslie perfectly. It was a fitting tribute to both characters—April’s growth and Leslie’s ability to inspire the best in people. And Poehler showed just enough emotion in her face as April hugged her to let us see just how much those words meant to Leslie. All Leslie wants is to make a difference in any way she can, and I love that April was so open about telling her the difference she’s made in her life. It was such a huge moment for both women and another great example of the strength of all the relationships on this show.

With Leslie’s support, April took a position with a job placement organization in Washington, which will fit in well with Leslie seemingly set to take on a new role with the Department of the Interior and Ben becoming a Congressman. Big changes are coming for these characters, and it’s been interesting to see how everyone’s favorite change-averse character, Ron Swanson, adapts to them. In “Pie-Mary,” he enjoyed a gleeful scavenger hunt with April, which ended being incredibly poignant when it was revealed that he constantly changes his locks and therefore didn’t actually need the key. It was simply a chance for Ron and April to spend some time together, which ended with these two characters—who are often so unwilling to show their emotions—opening up about how much they care for each other. As with Garry and Donna’s storyline, Ron and April’s scenes in “Pie-Mary” were a fantastic way to remind us that every friendship on this show is important and emotionally compelling in their own way.

The A-plot in “Pie-Mary” also focused on another important relationship on Parks and Rec—perhaps one of the most important ones on the show: Leslie and Ben. Yes, it gave us the return of Jen Barkley and her new poncho, but this was really a story about these two characters and their feminist beliefs. What was really unique about this episode was the way it portrayed both the husband and wife as being feminists. Ben Wyatt is the single most supportive, encouraging, and feminist husband imaginable. He showed it in his desire to bake the pie (which was really just an excuse to make one of his beloved calzones) instead of Leslie, but he showed it even more blatantly in his support of Leslie’s strong opinions and the platform he freely gave her to voice them. Leslie may have intimidated people since the fourth grade (another reason she’s my television spirit animal), but her husband loves her for all of the parts of her that might intimidate others. If that’s not a relationship to aspire to, then I don’t know what is.

While Ben provided an example of the right response to feminism by men, the Male Men provided an example of the worst response. I love that this show chose to take one of its last episodes and use it as one big middle finger to the “meninist” movement and so many other antifeminist attitudes. That included women who want to shame other women for choosing to focus solely being wives and mothers, which isn’t a stance shown often in the media. Leslie’s speech about not judging other women for the choices they make in terms of career, home, and children was one of the most perfect feminist statements I’ve ever seen on television. And it was made even more powerful when paired with her beautifully blistering takedown of all the questions political candidates’ wives and female candidates themselves get asked. I’ve always been disgusted by the way women in politics are asked questions about “having it all” and “balancing children and career,” while men are never asked these questions. So bravo, Parks and Rec, for having the guts to call attention to the ridiculously sexist nature of those questions and who gets asked them.

Both of this week’s episodes were reminders that Parks and Rec has never been shy about telling a decidedly feminist story. These episodes were about strong women making their own choices and finding support systems as they made those choices. Those are stories Parks and Rec tells often and tells brilliantly, and these episodes were no exception.

There’s a certain freedom that TV shows have in their final season, and that can often make or break a show’s legacy. For Parks and Rec, that freedom to say goodbye on its own terms has led to one of the greatest single stretches of television episodes I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. We’re already nine episodes in, and there hasn’t been a dud—or even an average episode—yet. My wish for all TV fans is that their favorite show ends with the kind of brilliance Parks and Rec is ending with.

6 thoughts on “TV Time: Parks and Recreation 7.08/7.09

  1. I am so impressed at how well this final season is going. It’s one of the best (if not the best) final season I’ve ever seen. We’ve gotten to say goodbye to running gags and recurring stars and we’re leaving each character in a good place, ready to take on new adventures.

    “Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington” was a great way to start the night. Barney and his love for Ben puts such a huge smile on my face every time he pops up. Of the deep and varied set of recurring characters, he’s in my top 3 and I’m glad we got a chance to see him one more time. More importantly, it was incredible to see Ben, Ron, and Andy team up to help April find a job she would love. Her relationships with all three of these men are wonderful and it was nice to see how passionate they were about helping her.

    But the real relationship star of the episode was between April and Leslie. Leslie is an inspiring character. She makes everyone around them want to be their best and find that passion. Over the past few seasons, it’s been clear that Leslie has been a mentor and tremendous influence on April and it made their scenes together that much more effective. Aubrey Plaza played her anxiety over telling Leslie she wanted to leave so well as well as the combination of sincerity and Aprilness that defined her speech to Leslie. I’m excited that it looks like April and Andy will get to accompany Leslie and Ben to Washington so I can imagine many future dinners and waffle dates with them.

    If that weren’t enough, we got the sheer perfection that was “Pie-Mary”. Instant top 10 status for me, even if I have no idea what episode I’d kick out. I’ll start with the B and C plots before getting to the beauty of Leslie and Ben’s feminist marriage. It’s always a joy to see Ron and April together because they are so similar in many ways and Nick Offerman’s strange excited run is always hilarious to see. I loved his delight at the unsolvable riddle, especially after the deleted cold-open. April moving is a change that will hit Ron hard and I’m glad they got this time to spend together. Garry and Donna also got a chance to show off their great friendship, which thrills me. These two characters could not be any more different but they care about each other anyway. Donna may gently tease Garry but it’s always good-natured and showing up at his door with a bag full of his things and some fresh oranges was so beautiful and the kind of scene and demonstration of friendship I’ve always wanted for Garry.

    The A-plot this week was Parks and Recreation at his best. It’s about two characters working together for the best outcome for both of them plus a biting satire of sexism during the political process. First, we have the wonder that is Kathryn Hahn as Jen Barkley. One of the AVClub commenters mentioned that she’s fit right in on Veep and now I need that to somehow happen. She always cracks me up and this week was no exception with her poncho and complete lack of faith in the American voters.

    But then you have Leslie and Ben being a beautiful example of what a modern, feminist partnership looks like. Leslie would have entered the Pie-Mary if it would have put the focus back on Ben. It may be antiquated but her support of the people she loves will always come first. But then Ben decides that they’ll buck conventions and he’ll enter the contest itself and make one of his beloved calzones. The message that they would be sending if Leslie entered was too much for him to accept (though telling her to get in the kitchen and bake was 100% hilarious). He truly is for equal rites and his role in this episode was just so good.

    Leslie’s takedown of all the stupid questions that female politicians get asked was brilliant. I especially liked the point about her children. Yes, of course she misses them because she loves them. But at the same time, sometimes she doesn’t because she loves her job and is happy she’s there. It was such an important point because it still feels like you’re supposed to say you miss your children and would always rather be home with them instead of working. But work is something Leslie loves and is genuinely fulfilled by and she shouldn’t have to pretend other wise. It was also great to see Ben chime in on that one because men bond with and miss their children too and it’s ridiculous to pretend otherwise.

    Finally, the takedown of the Male Men cracked me up. You could tell how much fun the writers had coming up with them only to point out that they were in fact ridiculous and Amy seemed like she had fun with the line. Ben’s confusion over their existence was once again perfect. Partly because Adam Scott has the best confused faces but also because we need other men to tell these guys that they are being ridiculous and ineffectual. It was just a perfect episode of Parks and it has kept me smiling since Tuesday night.

    • I think we’re going to need each other more than ever these next two weeks as we deal with this show ending. The strength of this final season is making it even harder to prepare to say goodbye.

      Like you, I’m ready to put “Pie-Mary” into my Top 10. (I’m happy I procrastinated on making that list until now because two episodes from this season have cracked my all-time Top 10 now.) It was just such an inspiring half-hour of television, and the whole hour was the perfect Galentine’s Week Parks and Rec salute to female friendships and feminism in general.

      You’re so right about the fact that women are still made to feel guilty about working while having kids in ways men never have to deal with. It really bothers me when people pressure women to state that they’d always rather be at home with their kids than at work. Some women genuinely like working. That doesn’t mean they love their kids less than mothers who have the ability and desire to stay home. No two women are alike, and I loved that this episode of Parks and Rec confronted that idea head-on.

  2. Unfortunately I got interrupted by real life a couple of times while I was watching these episodes, and even then, they were still excellent! I have rewatched April’s episode to catch the bits I missed and I think I only missed a tiny bit of Pie-Mary but I’ll probably rewatch that as well because it was so good! This season has been so excellent.

    I really didn’t get April’s character when I first started watching the show but they have added so many layers to her since then and she’s one of my favorite characters now. Her scenes with Leslie were so good and I’m happy for her that she found her dream job. Maybe I need to go to that organization and get her to help me 😉 Seeing the guys working so hard to help her was also great, as were all of Ben’s stupid accounting puns. Leslie running around Washington talking to famous people was so good. Madeleine Albright was excellent. I love to see real people poking fun at themselves (or allowing others to poke fun at them). And the idea that Leslie bullied Albright into being her friend is the best.

    And Pie-Mary. Having just read Yes, Please I could see how much of this episode reflected Amy Poehler’s personal concerns and beliefs. What a great way to shoot down all of that crap! One of my friends got asked over and over “don’t you miss your baby?” after she came back to work and it really hurt her because she did, desperately, and she didn’t need the reminder or the guilt. But she couldn’t afford not to come back to work – even if just to keep her health insurance. She took every day she could which ran out every last bit of her sick leave as well as her FMLA leave and her babe was only 2.5 months old when she had to come back. (And she was lucky to be full time because most of my coworkers weren’t even covered by unpaid FMLA because it doesn’t apply to people who work less than a certain level – even taking time off work due to pregnancy complications can make it so you haven’t worked enough hours to qualify). Men never get asked that question, or any of the other stupid questions Leslie shot down. I loved that she took down all the crap that women get from other women too. And acknowledged that women who love their jobs are not always sad that they are working instead of being home with their kids. Such good feminism, and so much of it in one episode.

    As usual they were good fun episodes with plenty of laughs and plenty of heart. I’ll miss this show so much when it’s over. I’ve already started watching old episodes. How many/few more episodes do we have before the end?

    • I loved how much of Yes, Please has worked its way into the writing this season. I first noticed it with Leslie’s love for her nanny, which mirrored what Amy Poehler said about hers. And then “Pie-Mary” seemed to take so much of Poehler’s beliefs about feminism and her “Good for her, not for me” mantra and used them in a way that felt completely true to this story and these characters.

      I’m also convinced that “Don’t you miss your kids?” is one of the single most hurtful sentences a woman can ask to another woman, and I’m so happy this show addressed how awful it makes working moms feel and how ridiculous it is that working fathers never get asked that question.

      As for how many episodes there are left, it pains me to say this, but we only have two weeks left to go. There’s another double-header this coming Tuesday, and then the hour-long series finale is on after The Voice on the 24th. I already have a sad face on my calendar to mark the date.

  3. Pingback: The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (2/8 – 2/15) | Nerdy Girl Notes

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