Parks and Recreation Review: "Partridge" (Episode 5.17)
One of Parks and Recreation‘s biggest strengths is the way it rarely allows any story point to drop away from its universe. This has become even more prominent as the show has continued, and fans love its world almost as much as they love its characters. This also means that what begins as a joke, such as Ben Wyatt’s Ice Town debacle, has many ramifications, and is just as much about deep emotional scarring as it is a silly series of rhymes (that being said, “Ice Town costs ice clown his town crown” is the type of thing that just sticks with you). This is a lot of what separates the show from one of its spiritual predecessors, Arrested Development—both shows have an incredible memory, but in Parks this tends to not just create a bevy of jokes but also to unearth some serious issues.
All three of this week’s stories were based upon the show’s history, the most prominent of these being Ben and Leslie’s trip to Partridge, the city Ben was briefly mayor of before he wrecked the economy and was more or less run out of town. He’s supposed to be receiving the key to the city, as all other Partridge mayors except him have done prior, but before he can do so he ends up stuck in the hospital due to a kidney stone. This means he’s unable to attend the ceremony, and lucky for him because it’s all a big sham made by the current mayor in order to boost his popularity.
Ben is still hated in Partridge, and always will be. This is a good thing. Part of what separates Parks from so many other sitcoms is its stakes, and that fact that in its world not everything can be forgiven, and the pain never fully disappears. Ben will never truly be able to move past the Ice Town debacle, but he’s able to move on with that still a part of him. There’s no magical Band-Aid that can fix things in Parks, which is what makes his return to Partridge so exciting. With real stakes and no guarantee that things will turn out well, it leaves room for surprise.
While Ben and Leslie are off in Partridge, Councilman Jamm sends Ron a subpoena and he learns that he’s being sued for assaulting Jamm at Leslie’s wedding. He, Andy, Tom and April give depositions about what happened, but Ron becomes unhappy with his friends for lying on his behalf so he asks them to return and tell what Ron actually did. I do like that Jamm returned for this, although the story was resolved pretty awkwardly. The group instantly finds some flaws in Jamm’s testimony and threatens to sue him for assaulting Tom, but all of this feels very rushed. Every member of the cast, including Jamm, does great, but the episode could’ve used another few minutes to make it seem like they had to really try. There’s also a sense of “why bother?” to the end of things because of how quickly it was resolved and the loose ends instantly tied up. It was the funniest part of the episode, but it couldn’t stick the landing.
Now that Chris agreed to donate sperm for Ann’s baby, they take a compatibility test to see how they’d be as parents. They do terribly, and it’s the type of goofy, sitcom-y c-plot that’s fine enough but mostly seemed like an excuse to do something with the rest of the show’s cast. It has its moments, but it’s also heavy on slapstick and doesn’t feel necessary. I’m also very uncertain about what role Ann wants Chris to play in parenting her child, still. When she asked for donations, my assumption was that she would raise her child on her own, but now it seems that the show wants Chris to be an equal partner, a development that’s… also fine, but certainly warrants some explanation or at least conversation.
“Partridge” was a strange episode, and like a lot of Parks would really have benefited from five more minutes of screen time. It’s a show so bursting with great characters that it’s hard to contain things in 21 minutes, thus why even the credit sequence was an important scene, since the writers needed every bit of story they could get. It wasn’t the best episode, stumbling a bit when it came to telling three complete stories in so short a time, but it was nonetheless memorable and filled with some excellent jokes.
•Michael Schur worked quite a few Infinite Jest names into the episode. Not really sure why, but I’m not complaining.
•You should all be grateful, I decided not to use my “The Ice Clown cometh (home)” line. Well, until now.
•I didn’t mention it in the review, but J.K. Simmons was great, not that it should surprise anyone. As with many character actors, there’s no such thing as a bad Simmons performance.
•Ron’s happiness at a free steak dinner was delightful. The most emotion we’ve ever seen from him.
•"This lawsuit is Chronicles of Ridiculous."
•"Those are Jean Ralphio’s lawyers, they once got him $60,000 because he got too scared of a haunted house."
•"Want to make a baby, Traegger? Your hair, my everything else, that baby will be fantastic."
•"His nickname around the office is Softie Pants McHuggable."
•"There’s only one thing I hate more than lying: skim milk. Which is water that’s lying about being milk."
•"I actually don’t know how much money I have, but I do know how many pounds of money I have."