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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review: Parks and Recreation, "Are You Better Off?"



Season 5, Episode 22
Grade: B+
Verdict: The finale does a good job of summarizing Leslie's accomplishments throughout the year and demonstrating the realities of her politics, including how they may disturb the type of population she serves. There were a few missteps, like Ann's childish behavior and the fact that Mona Lisa is still on the show, but this was an overall strong finish that opens some interesting doors for next season. 


Parks and Recreation always feels very personal to me, as I grew up in Indiana, living in three very different towns and working as a journalist in a fourth. The town I lived in during middle school and high school was very much an Eagleton, while the town I worked in after college was very much a Pawnee. What both towns had in common is that they, like most of Indiana, were fairly conservative. By and large, Leslie presses very liberal issues; she is the epitome of someone who believes that a larger government can be more effective. I like her as a politician, but she's always struck me as being very out of place in a small Indiana town. (I'm also still not clear on how small Pawnee is; it has it's own TV show and radio station, after all).

In this episode, Leslie holds a public forum to ask the town "Are you better off than you were a year ago?" She expects this to be a "victory lap" in which she can celebrate her success, but the town vehemently opposes some of the measures she's taken. We go over some of the highlights of the season, such as outlawing 500 ounce sodas (it's pop in Indiana, by the way!), forcing the sanitation department to hire women, sex education, helping the failing video store by accidentally turning it into a porn store, and stopping a Paunch Burger from taking over the used lot. Things get worse when she goes to a parade and sees a float build in her image, wagging a finger and telling everyone they can't do what they want to do. The citizens tell her they're going to try to recall Leslie's election.


The secondary plot in this episode revolves around a positive pregnancy test that Andy finds in Ron's trash (while looking for a shirt he threw away). Andy decides to pull out his "Burt Macklin" FBI persona to figure out who the test belongs to. The show also throws in some funny red herrings and clues, such as April getting a surprising phone call and Mona Lisa leaving work early because her stomach hurts.

We know that Ann is trying to get pregnant, which makes her the obvious suspect, but when Andy confronts Ann, she admits that she hasn't been successful. The worst move this episode makes is making Ann join up with Andy. Acting rather childish, she says that she's the one who should be pregnant, and she wants to know who's beat her to the punch. We expect this kind of thing out of Andy, who doesn't really know any better, but if that were my pregnancy test, I'd be rather miffed with Ann for prying.

In the third and more minor plot in the episode, a secret buyer offers Tom a generous price to buy his Rent-A-Swag business (on a sidenote: I'm also not sure how an upscale, Gucci-clothing-for-kids store would survive in Pawnee, Indiana. Eagleton, Maybe?). The identity of the buyer is never revealed, and the episode ends with Tom refusing the offer. To me this feels like an interesting set up for a rivalry next season. Maybe it's the perfume guru? Or John Ralphio?

SPOILERS FOLLOW BELOW







The biggest twist to the episode comes in the pregnancy plot - April turns out to be the most likely suspect, as everyone else is ruled out, but we find out that her surprising call was actually to let her know she'd been accepted to veterinary school at IU Bloomington. I'm really glad it wasn't her; I thought the whole way through the episode that it would be, and it felt predictable. This is another big set-up for next year. I'm not sure if the actress who plays April is planning on taking some time off, or if they plan to treat it more like they did with Ben and Leslie by portraying the long-distance relationship. Frankly I'd expect April and Andy to just leave Pawnee and move to Bloomington, but it looks like that's not happening for now.

We find out that the pregnancy test actually belongs to Ron's girlfriend. Ron's just been telling Andy how much he hates change. At first I felt a little skeptical, but I think the show can really pull off this story line, and it makes me really look forward to next season. I'm not sure if the campaign to recall Leslie will also be a big part of next season or if it'll be sidelined, but I think they writers have done a nice job at setting up a lot of threads for season six.


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