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Parks and Recreation Review: "Leslie and Ben"/"Correspondents' Lunch" (5.14 & 5.15)

February 22, 2013  |  1:34pm
<em>Parks and Recreation</em> Review: "Leslie and Ben"/"Correspondents' Lunch" (5.14 & 5.15)

In a baffling decision, NBC aired an episode of Parks and Recreation last night that was funny and sweet and had been built up to for seasons and was everything fans hoped for… and then, following that, an excellent yet typical episode right afterwards. I’m sure Michael Schur and the rest of the show’s creators weren’t thrilled by this choice, but despite these scheduling difficulties both episodes were excellent even though, like anyone, I’m completely partial to the wedding.

Beginning immediately after last episode, the whole Parks Department gang jumps into action to get things ready for Leslie and Ben’s wedding directly after the fundraiser. The problem is that they don’t have a dress, wedding license, ring, etc. It’s the most perfunctory of stories and something the show has done many times, with each cast member first failing and then succeeding with their task, but this by-the-numbers approach felt touching rather than overused. It’s essentially the Parks and Recreation formula, so not having it here would’ve felt odd and even disappointing. When the time comes for the ceremony, though, a drunken Councilman Jamm ruins things with stink bombs so the wedding is postponed… until just afterwards, when instead of having the wedding in front of all Pawnee there’s a private and much more fitting ceremony in the department. Even Champion’s there, and seeing almost the entire cast passed out together on the floor of Leslie’s office was a perfect way to end the episode. It would’ve been a great way to end the show, for that matter.

“Ben and Leslie” was fan-service through and through, from the reappearance of “Li’l Sebastian” to Champion walking down the aisle, but it also felt legitimate. Leslie and Ben earned this through their love and sacrifices, and these touches weren’t pandering, they were just making the moment that much sweeter. As far as I’m concerned, it was the best television wedding of all time, and everything from Leslie’s dress to their rings was nearly perfect. I don’t think a single Parks fan will have been disappointed.

And that brings us to episode two, “Correspondents’ Lunch,” which was probably a little better than it seemed at the time because it had an impossible act to follow. Several weeks later (or, for the audience, one commercial break), after Leslie and Ben’s honeymoon has come to an end, Ben’s ready to really get started working directing Sweetums’ charity and finds himself a little disappointed with the set-up while Leslie attends a press correspondents’ roast only to have her speech stolen from a hacked email account. And in a small yet important story, Ann finally gets up the nerve to approach Chris about fathering her child.

The attempt at bringing current events into the show was clumsy, but the execution was still well-done. I’m also happy whenever Parks uses Jerry or Donna for more than a quick punchline, so having her be the one to help Leslie solve this problem was a nice touch. However, despite getting more screentime, it was the least important story, and Ben’s decision to help Andy was where the show’s heart really was at. Like most of Parks’s characters, Andy is always at risk of becoming just a broad caricature, but his grounding with April has helped change that, as has his short but eventful police application story. Rarely has disappointment had this much of an effect on Andy, and while his response is as goofy as anything he does, it’s also just as earnest. I also like seeing April and Andy’s marriage continue to function. I want those crazy kids to succeed, and watching how they support each other is always a bit touching.

So no, ideally these two episodes shouldn’t be watched back-to-back, and while I usually try to find common threads when networks display episodes in this manner, here there weren’t really any. But Leslie and Ben’s episode really was that good, and “Correspondent’s Lunch” was fine enough, even though it’s difficult to have too much perspective on this following the wedding. While the rest of NBC’s comedies may be a mess, if anything Parks is still getting better.

Stray observations:
•Steve Crest. – The surprising thing here was that Tom wasn’t already an ordained minister.
•”There’s some beautiful jewelry in here, and there are also nails.”
•Equally surprising was that any of the wedding dress was ready.
•”How much do you think Ann would miss this sconce?” “I don’t know, it’s kind of part of her house…”
•Amy Poehler looked gorgeous in that wedding dress. Not a funny note, I know, but it had to be said.
•Why I say “almost perfect”... I would rather they hadn’t done those flashbacks, but oh well.
•For the record, we had Champion, Li’l Sebastian (I’m with Leslie on this)... and even DJ Roomba. Everyone came to the wedding.
•”Close only counts at horse grenades.”
•And a sweet detail to close the episode with, Andy spooning April spooning Champion.
•”Aah, I just opened up a can of whoopass on myself.”
•”In conclusion, we cannot let our children live in the sewer any longer.”
•”Ummm…... Borat.” – Someone in the room did actually laugh from that.
•There’s a top 10 Ben’s Butt 2010 slideshow. That is all.

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