Parks and Recreation’s unfortunate rescheduling made for a particularly bad pairing of episodes, though I hasten to add that in and of themselves they were both excellent. The problem was that they were also very different, and in a way that made for an overall less enjoyable viewing experience than either episode on its own—the fact that the later of these episodes was Halloween-themed and would’ve actually landed on that exact date were it not pre-empted only makes it more frustrating. Essentially, “Filibuster” was the type of Parks episode where everything works out and watching the show is like hanging out with friends for 20 minutes, while “Recall Vote” was a downer episode about coping with unhappiness and failure. The resulting effect was to cut the good mood of the first episode almost immediately, but that’s just the way networks like to do things. .
“Filibuster” really was an almost perfectly enjoyable bit of entertainment, where the good guys win and the cute couple ends up together and everything’s happy. Theoretically the cast should be celebrating Ben’s birthday at a rollerskating rink (it’s an early-’90s themed party, with a fantastic soundtrack) together, but for convoluted reasons not really worth thinking about too much, as they ultimately make little sense, Leslie needs to filibuster to keep Eagleton’s voting rights. It’s a story obviously drawn from Wendy Davis’ heroism, and likewise Leslie is able to stand her ground against the increasingly ridiculous bullying of Councilman Jamm. We’ve seen this type of story before, but it’s so well-done here that familiarity doesn’t detract from the story.
As with other great episodes of Parks, it’s intercut with b-stories every bit as interesting as the lead. Andy returns from London to get encouragement from April; Donna and Ron bond over a hunting game, and Tom’s date with Nadia (Tatiana Maslany) goes better than he could’ve hoped. Every story was feel-good, but in clever ways that felt honest. There’s enough friction in the show’s overarching storylines that having a week where everything went right for a change was a pleasant break. If the show did this every time out it would get dull fast, but here everything felt earned and the earnesty of the entire cast sold this overly optimistic episode.
Unfortunately for Leslie, she also doomed herself at the end of “Filibuster,” though she doesn’t seem to realize it at the time, or at least ignores it. Allowing Eagleton to vote in the election assures her removal, and it arrives swiftly and devastatingly in “Recall Vote.” Leslie spends much of the rest of the episode in a funk when she should be planning Pawnee’s haunted house, ultimately culminating in her and Ben nearly getting old-school pen tattoos. It’s a story the show needs to have, but unsurprisingly depressed Leslie isn’t as fun as normal Leslie.
The rest of the cast is dealing with defeat and frustration as well. Tom learns that he needs to make a decision about Rent-a-Swag in the next 48 hours, April is depressed without her husband, and Ron is forced to put up with the newfound success of his handmade wooden chairs. It’s this last story, with the new character Annabel Porter (Erinn Hayes from Children’s Hospital) that really shines, as it’s yet another instance of Parks instantly creating a memorable character. Based clearly off of Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop lifestyle publication, Annabel is there schilling for Bloosh. She’s exactly the type of person the show loves lampooning, yet as usual the exaggeration isn’t all that much. Yet another of Parks’ over-the-top parties ensues, but with Ron there to ridicule the event’s arch-consumerism.
More importantly, “Recall Vote” does the very necessary heavy lifting of taking Parks out of a slowly growing rut. The fact that the show tends to have happy endings was causing narrative problems. With everyone succeeding, there just wasn’t that much more for the characters to do—they could hang around, sure, but the heart of the Parks has always been progress. Suddenly Tom’s no longer managing his rental store and Leslie is no longer city councilwoman, giving both characters purpose again. The fact is that Parks is driven by its characters’ aspirations, and when they’re fulfilled, there isn’t that much show left and we’re given tepid episodes (relatively speaking, as a middling episode of Parks is still one of the funniest 20 minutes of television in a given week). That’s also why it doesn’t seem like it will hurt the show for Chris and Ann to leave, as having found each other and ready to begin a family together, they appear to have no other ambitions.
It was an excellent week for Parks, just not a particularly cohesive one. One of the best parts, though, was seeing that the writers deftly make another feel-good masterpiece and then move on just as the show was starting to become, if not stale, then certainly less fresh than before. Momentum is an important part of the show, and it feels like just now the sixth season’s finally kicking into the next gear.