Parks and Recreation Review: "How a Bill Becomes a Law" (Episode 5.3)
It’s hard to say whether or not it’s a good thing that the title Parks and Recreation has become an increasingly inaccurate description of the show. Not that Parks has ever taken issue with sending its crew out to the rest of the world and going for long periods of time without dealing with anything that could be considered Parks Department business. That the show is so willing to allow its characters real lives, without being constricted by the artificial constraints of sitcoms, has always been part of what’s made the show so vivacious and enjoyable.
But that’s really a case of flexibility, whereas the changes in this season are a bit more cemented, with characters intentionally far away from each other and interacting in only peripheral ways. What the Parks Department did so well was keep all of the show’s characters together, even when it made (for Ann, mostly) little sense. Most of the show’s best episodes involve the entirety of its large cast bouncing off each other, whereas thus far this season has kept its characters isolated. Not that this necessarily results in bad episodes—“How a Bill Becomes a Law” was hilarious, despite its flaws—but it’s also not a trend I’m particularly fond of. I’m already anxiously awaiting the end of the campaign season when Ben and April return to Pawnee.
As such, the three storylines of “How a Bill” interacted with each other very, very little. The most important of these, and the one that gives the episode its title, was Leslie working with the local children’s swim team to extend hours at the city pool. Her nemesis in this is a local dentist named Jam who’s also on the city council (I find it odd that he’s able to continue his normal job despite this position while Leslie isn’t) and doesn’t really care about the kids. Or anything really. He just wants Leslie’s office, and maybe her parking space, and any other perks he can nab in return. Councilman Jam works as a great foil to Leslie, only concerned with how government can help him, and while Leslie’s bill won this time, I expect we’ll see a lot more of Jam and his awful politics in the future.
However, this storyline was largely overshadowed by Andy and Ron’s trip to fill in a pothole. The woman who called it in, and until Ron decided to solve the problem himself would’ve lived with a pothole in front of her house forever, was played by Lucy Lawless who, unsurprisingly, was awesome. Ron likes her enough that he agrees to join in a tea party with her children. However, when she laughs at him in his princess makeup, that’s too much for him, despite his infatuation. Due to Andy’s help, though, she confronts him and he agrees to a date with her at the end of the episode. Not only did this storyline feature Ron in full princess makeup (doing a job for two princesses), it also featured Lucy, who perfectly fit in with the show’s usual tone. So yeah, it was amazing.
The last of the episode’s storylines was about Ben and April trying, and failing, to take a road trip back to Pawnee for the weekend. However, they end up stuck in traffic, and just hang out with each other until their car runs out of gas. There were some wonderful jokes here, and I was particularly taken with the information that Ben writes Star Trek fan-fiction during his spare time, but overall it was lacking. Partially it’s because this was the second week in a row of a story about the two of them—and they’ve had several before this season, too—but also because it felt very easy. As soon as they were stuck, you knew they weren’t headed anywhere. Rather than feeling like a real story, it felt like a sitcom device, and while it worked (I laughed plenty), it just didn’t sit well.
The same was true with Leslie’s perm, and featuring both of these concepts in the same episode is a bit worrisome. They’re hackneyed devices that feel like they could’ve been featured in any network comedy since I Love Lucy, and as such just don’t feel intelligent enough for Parks and Recreation. “How a Bill Becomes a Law” was a very funny episode, but its fragmentation and hackneyed, if well-executed, plots made for a bit of a hollow experience. Certainly an enjoyable episode, but no much more than that. Still, Lucy Lawless is a wonderful addition to the show, and I think we’re all looking forward to Ron’s latest romance.
•I was very happy that the show featured one of Leslie’s constituents approaching her as she cleaned up the river.
•"Mercy me, living in this town is like living in the devil’s buttcrack."
•I was very happy about the show mentioning the Dixiecrats. Even by our country’s standards, that was a terrible, terrible party and a disgraceful part of our country’s history. Also hoping that alongside Jam, we see more of that weird, alzheimic racist guy in the future.
•“I’m not eating racist salad.”
•"You remind me of a young, beautiful Strom Thurmond."