Since Chris and Ann left the show, Parks and Recreation has struggled to figure out both its new character dynamics and a relevant overarching plotline. “Galentine’s Day” could do little to make the Pawnee/Eagleton merger more interesting in and of itself—and that’s not going to change anytime soon—but instead of wheel-spinning stories about that, it put the spotlight back on its characters’ emotional states. This was the first time in a while where it felt like real change was being acknowledged and coped with by the characters, and as such it felt like a return to form.
That isn’t to say that the Pawnee/Eagleton merger wasn’t still moving forward, just that it wasn’t an end unto itself. The friendship between Ben and Larry has been developing slowly but steadily for a long time, and it’s also been one of the few recent high points of the show. There’s been a tacit acknowledgment with this that Larry is actually a pretty smart, hard-working, nice guy who also happens to be a complete klutz and prone to some nasty farts. He’s the consummate schlemiel (or, as Ron at one point noted, both the schlemiel and the schlemazel), and it’s been extremely refreshing to see the show take him from being a joke and into a full-bodied character. Oddly, in some ways he’s even the most realistic member of the cast, and the necessity of giving him a bigger role has only made Larry shine.
That Ben underwent this gradual epiphany while searching for tents made for extra hilarity, as the tent salesman was another example of Parks instantly creating a memorable and fascinating new character. Every aspect of the tent story became increasingly ridiculous in all the right ways, and while it was a cartoonish series of events, Ben, Tom and Larry kept all of it grounded. For a while, Parks has relied on the same go-to cast, which is always fascinating, but can lead to a same-ness. That’s part of the trap The Simpsons and, to a certain extent, its followers Family Guy and South Park fell into, as once you’ve got a big enough cast your tendency is to give every role to someone who’s already known, even when that’s not the funniest or most logical way for things to work. Continually meeting strange new people is one of the joys of good sitcoms, and I couldn’t have been happier about how all of this played out.
Speaking of recurring characters, there is, however, a time and place for them. The actual Galentine’s Day part of the episode wouldn’t have worked had Leslie gone with completely unknown characters. Instead, we learned a little bit more about these recurring characters, while also watching Leslie deal with another bout of the emotional fallout from Ann’s departure. Unlike her recent questions about leaving Pawnee, this felt like Leslie was back in character, with her attempts at quantifying her friendships soon angering everyone involved, particularly April and Donna, who she actually is friends with. We’ve seen very similar plots in the past, but between this and Ann’s return with her child, it still made for a fulfilling story. I hope Parks allows Leslie to really move on from here in the future, but as one last plot about trying to replace Ann locally, it was pretty decent.
The smallest and silliest story came with Ron babysitting Andy while he goes surveying. Ron’s life at home is so loud he just wants to spend the day alone outside, but Andy almost immediately injures himself and Ron has to take him to the dentist to replace a tooth. Andy is, as always, completely childlike, so this ends up reflecting Ron’s relationship with his family (a point which is underlined too heavily). Parks still seems uncertain about what to do with Ron now that his personal life is figured out, and his pairing with Andy was certainly entertaining, but it still felt a bit slight and obvious. This was the funniest part of the episode, but also the least fulfilling, as the few minutes of screen-time it gave us offered very few surprises (besides, perhaps, that Ron did end up making Andy deal with the dentist after all). It’s such an entertaining pairing that I simply wish Parks hadn’t felt the need to give us such a by-the-numbers story.
Even here, though, it was a plot that really mattered to the show’s characters, so it had a fair amount of relevance. There were no parts of “Galentine’s Day” that could’ve been completely removed without it mattering, which hasn’t been true all that often for Parks lately. I still don’t think the show completely knows what to do with its current cast situation, but at least there are finally signs that this problem is resolving.