Parks and Recreation: “Article Two”/”Jerry’s Retirement” (Episodes 5.19 & 5.20)

TV Reviews Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation: “Article Two”/”Jerry’s Retirement” (Episodes 5.19 & 5.20)

NBC seems determined to mess up Parks and Recreation’s airing schedule as much as possible, and as with the last time we had two episodes in one night, the first greatly overshadowed the second. “Article Two” guest-starred Patton Oswalt and, in a fashion typical of early Parks, made something extraordinary out of Pawnee’s backwards policies. The second episode, well, centered around Jerry. Oh, Jerry. Anyhow, they were both good, and although Parks no longer has the same drive it did when dealing with Leslie and Ben’s courtship, it’s no less entertaining to just sit back and watch Pawnee be its own strange self.

If you read write-ups of Parks online, it’s almost certain that you heard about or watched Patton’s improvised Star Wars filibuster, but it’s only a small part of his character. Pawnee has always been filled with eccentrics, but the show tends to gloss over what their personal lives must be like. Not so with Patton’s Garth Blundon, who begins as a typically enjoyable but flat Pawneean stereotype but grows into something more. He’s friendless and sad, and enjoys derailing the Pawneean government simply because he has nothing better to do.

Learning about this, though, requires Leslie to live as if it were 1817 alongside him, and although thematically the episode’s about friendship, it’s structured around competition. While Leslie spends the episode in hoop skirts churning butter, Chris and Ron spend the episode seeing who can best “motivate” Jerry to do work. Both halves of the episode are strong, and as much as Patton’s hilarity is what the episode will be remembered for, Chris and Ron’s friendship is more important. Leslie always has a soft spot for people, but Ron’s friendships at the beginning of Parks were few and far between. Despite Chris being in almost every way his complete opposite, the pair’s friendship has only grown stronger as the series continues, and exploring that is almost always delightful. As an odd couple, they disagree plenty, but their core humanism remains the same.

“Article Two” was a hard act to follow, especially because a lot of it focuses on Ann and Chris. Ann is the show’s least distinctive character, and whatever Parks has done to try and make her more interesting has usually slipped by the wayside soon after. Despite this, she’s an important part of the show because her overall normalcy helps offer a lens into the show’s world. After all, even Ben, the other character who’s prone to looking at the camera for audience empathy and identification, has his uber-nerddom. Ann is mostly still a cipher.

The adoption plotline hasn’t done much for her, either, unfortunately. It doesn’t help that the whole thing has been a somewhat transparent attempt to give the back half of season five some sort of narrative drive, because apparently the show’s creators wanted another long story arc after the conclusion of Ben and Leslie’s wedding. Parks has never needed this, though, and the whole conept has come off as clunky or, at times, annoying. That being said, their story in “Jerry’s Retirement” was new ground, and although it was telegraphed for the past few episodes, that didn’t make it any less interesting.

The rest of the episode was devoted to Jerry, the office whipping boy, finally retiring. Leslie can’t understand how he could be happy about his retirement, though, considering how bad he was at his job and how few memories he seems to have made. Jerry’s one of the characters who’s gained the most in these later seasons, and it was great to take another trip to his house for a view of his unique brand of domestic bliss. The episode’s about Leslie learning that there are other roads to happiness than professional achievement, and when she wants to talk to Ben about their family it’s inspired by what she saw in Jerry’s slightly creepy home.

It was an amazing episode followed by an excellent one, and in both cases Parks had a light touch. Characters learned lessons and grew, but they did so without sentimentalizing about it. The perfect scene for this came at the end of Leslie’s visit to Jerry’s family. They surrounded her for a group hug, but she slipped out of it in disgust. Yet despite this, Leslie was moved by what she saw, and her time there affected her view of both Jerry and her own life. All of that, without a big speech or acknowledgment to anyone else of what happened to her. And that, to some extent, is what makes Parks so good.

Stray observations:
•Ted was played by Brian Stack, a longtime writer for Conan O’Brien. He also came up with Nick Offerman’s recurring segment of reading tweets from young female celebrities on that show.
•Speaking of the cast and crew, “Article Two” was directed by Amy Poehler.
•Patton’s movie sounds a whole hell of a lot better than any of the prequels, that’s for sure.
•I liked the way Ben clearly thought it was possible Leslie heard him complaining about her.
•Also very happy for the return of Pawnee’s nitrous-loving pawn shop owner.
•”Weeee, look at my hoop, Leslie, look at my hoop!”
•”There’s no way a man into X-Men that much can stay away from the internet.”
•The waffle Leslie doll was creepy and… well mostly just creepy.
•Ben was wearing a Letters to Cleo shirt again. That always makes me happy.
•April’s face about Jerry’s meatloaf was perfect.
•“Ron, ask me if I’m sad.” “No.”
•Jerry’s scrapbook for work took up “nearly four amazing pages.”

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