This week, NBC returned to its dual Parks and Recreation burn-off schedule as the series marches toward its finale on February 24. The first of its two offerings, “Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington,” focuses almost exclusively on April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), providing an opportunity to learn some hilarious facts about Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer.
The central conceit involves April and Leslie’s (Amy Poehler) trip to Washington, DC, to drum up support for a parks and recreation bill (complete with t-shirts reading “Gov Buds for Life”). April’s lack of enthusiasm for the task comes to a boil as Ben (Adam Scott), Andy (Chris Pratt), and Ron (Nick Offerman) try to solve the puzzle of what April’s next career step should be – a lame subplot for three talent comic actors. The best thing it has to offer (aside from exposing April Ludgate-Dwyer facts) is this jewel spoken by Ron: “Creativity is for people with glasses who like to lie.”
The episode gets a great deal of mileage out of a joke repeated several times through the episode (and through the series) – Leslie’s hurricane force enthusiasm. This unbridled force is unleashed on several Washington politicians, allowing for multiple cameos from such names as Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator John McCain, and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. The cameos, naturally, range from painful to accomplished with Albright surprisingly maintaining a charismatic rapport with Poehler.
While perhaps not a comic masterpiece of an episode, it does finally give a unique moment of emotion between April and, her mentor, Leslie set against the Washington Mall. It’s a touching, sweet sequence that gives the audience the kind of emotional connection we crave as we begin the process of saying goodbye to beloved characters. It also establishes April’s eventual exit from the series as she accepts a job helping others find jobs in national service.
What’s April’s rationale for seeking the job? As she says, “I want to tell people what to do and send them far away from me. It’s perfect.”
And, oh yeah, the fun facts about April:
- She designed her own major in college: Halloween studies.
- Craig (Billy Eichner) writes a personal testimony comparing to her Mary J. Blige.
- She could turn Leslie into a sea urchin because she’s an actual witch and she’s powerful and she hates everything.
- She is the single greatest human being ever (according to Leslie) who married a well-meaning goofball (according to Ron).
If “Washington” deals with Leslie’s ever-increasing influence in Washington, then the second episode, “Pie-Mary,” illustrates her influence as Ben’s wife on his first Congressional campaign. Leslie declines to enter the “Pie-Mary” contest, a local contest for candidate’s wives to determine who can make the best pie, and starts a firestorm of controversy. Lots of Parks and Recreation episodes satirize many aspects of local government and the overall political process, but “Pie-Mary” more outwardly focuses on the absurdness of politics than any previous episode I can recall.
By first choosing not to participate in the event, Leslie insults local women by seemingly belittling the role of the homemaker. When she chooses to participate, she insults the Indiana Organization of Women. When Ben decides to compete in the contest as his own wife, he angers the “Male Men,” a men’s rights activist group protesting the Ben’s oppression at Leslie’s hands. Toss in feminists, family values proponents, and anti-feminist women and the satire becomes exceedingly heavy handed.
Just to further illustrate political insanity before amicably resolving the crisis, the creative team trots out Brandi Maxxxx, the fictitious porn star of 69 Jump Street and 50 Shaved Old Gays.
The subplot of the episode deals with April, Andy, and Ron going on a scavenger hunt for Ron’s spare key that April hid somewhere in Pawnee. It’s a promising setup – particularly when he approaches the task with such uncharacteristic glee – but the outcome is a little disappointing and obvious. Again, it results in a touching moment between Ron and April, giving the cast further opportunities to close out their bonds before the finale. Gerry (Jim O’Heir) and Donna (Rhetta) also experience such bonding by looking for several objects that Gerry has dropped in the same storm drain over the years.
I have no issue with sentimentality in a comedy, and, given its pending end, Parks and Recreation is certainly due. I do object, though, when it comes at the expense of the great comedy that the first half of this final season has provided. It’s especially troublesome that Aziz Ansari, a sarcastic comic force that would have cut through the sentiment, was completely missing from the hour. Here’s hoping the final four episodes don’t continue wallow in such sentimentality.