I’ve written a lot lately about progress in Pawnee, but it’s been because right now, even more than usual, it’s one of the main focuses for Parks and Recreation. While It’s important to the show thematically, it’s also that this is why its repertory cast works so well. A much lazier show sets up that Jerry fails at everything at work and uses that as a baseline for many episodes, but once Parks has that established, it’s a joke but it can’t be the storyline. Part of why Chris Traeger’s character has at times been the least interesting one on the show has been because he was one-note, and his growth was moving too slowly, causing repetition. But with “Ron and Diane,” we see that progress is possible even for the most neurotic of the show’s characters.
This episode split the cast in two halves and then within them gave each two sub-stories. Probably the funniest part of the episode was about Tom, April and Andy watching Jerry’s party, but it was the smallest story (though still important). Inside, though, we had Chris facing a real gauntlet with Jerry’s family. This begins with the small stuff, aging and eating food with fat in it, and leads up to the return of his ex-girlfriend, Jerry’s daughter. And while it’s simple to say that his 15 therapy sessions a week worked, it’s a much bigger thing to see in action. Soon, he’ll be able to move down his number of sessions as he makes more progress, and I look forward to seeing what Chris is like when he moves past this.
I don’t know how realistic any of this is, but if anyone has the determination to meet miniscule odds, it would be Chris. And the realism isn’t important, it’s the hope that a person who’s admitted a problem and is seeking help can fix it. Chris heading to therapy is making him much more of a person, taking away his cartoonish nature and giving us a person instead. What I really appreciate about this is that when Chris was introduced, the show effectively said that this neurosis would be his character, his status quo, and now that’s leaving.
This happened with Tammy 2, Ron’s ex-wife, as well. She was introduced as Ron’s status quo, possibly the woman he would always end up with, and at the very least a constant returning presence in his life that would screw up any new attempts at romance. But through his own commitment and a little support from Leslie, this is thrown away and he’s moved past her. The Duke Silver reveal at the end of the episode was funny because anything with the Duke is hilarious, but it was meaningful because it showed real change and trust. Not even the Tammys know about this part of Ron, but he’s willing to show it to Diane. It’s another one of those changes that we assumed wouldn’t ever happen, but here it is, in its own small way as important as Ben’s proposal to Leslie.
Let’s go back to April, Andy and Tom again. Jerry’s been one of the show’s biggest jokes since he was introduced, but it’s taken until now for anyone to acknowledge that sure, he’s klutzy, but they’re also being mean to him. Tom and April have done nice gestures before, but they’ve never really acknowledged their side of this relationship before. Giving him the money was a bigger gesture than the earlier fundraiser for his fart attack; it was a real apology. While I don’t think the Jerry jokes will stop, it’s still a Christmas miracle in those two characters doing something genuinely nice for Jerry.
•I have a lot of fondness for Christmas episodes that don’t make a big deal about Christmas, doing something other than telling us Christmas values or parodying specials. This was an excellent example of that, and its Christmas-ness was mostly subtle. Other shows, please take a cue.
•They made a Zagat’s for Pawnee?
•”This time the giant spider got caught in my web.” – This dream sounded awesome.
•Leslie has a good point: how often does Ron pick a winner?
•”I made my first chair when I was five.” – I’ve always liked Ron’s backstory of working in a factory since he was seven. I always wondered what made him leave it.
•I had to really fight myself not to write an entire paragraph about how beautiful Lucy Lawless is. And I never even watched Xena.