It’s odd that Parks and Recreation can feel like it’s spinning its wheels because with most sitcoms there’s hardly any plot arc to spin in the first place. As the series has continued, however, progress and change has been one of the main themes of the show while dramatizing this has been a primary concern. In contrast with previous workplace dramas, episodes of Parks and Recreation are far from interchangeable. However, given that these larger story arcs take precedent over what’s happening on an episode-to-episode level, that can lead to episodes like “New Slogan,” where the show’s so busy showing us how we move from point a to point b that the material within the episode isn’t the strongest.
This week’s main story has Leslie and Ben looking to find a new slogan for Pawnee. Like pretty much all the stories concerned with the Pawnee-Eagleton merger, though, this one wasn’t terribly enjoyable as once again it had Leslie caring passionately about something borderline irrelevant. Not that this hasn’t been entertaining in the past, but this time it largely consisted of having her face off against the local shock jocks Crazy Ira and the Douche. While I find them entertaining in small doses, they’re such irritating people that spending this much time with them ends up infuriating rather than being funny. Seeing the stupidity of Pawnee’s general citizens was great as always at the end of the episode, but even Leslie seemed to know that her crusade to get Pawnee a decent slogan was rote. The idea that this will help the two towns’ reconciliation seemed odd, and as such it was mostly a misfire of a main story.
The reasoning behind this was advancing Leslie’s progress in coming to terms with moving away from her current position in the Parks Department, or even Pawnee’s local government entirely. This, too, though, felt like a stretch, and it strains credibility that Leslie needs this sort of thing “taught” to her by Ben. Her doubts, which seemed natural before, now feel forced. Leslie’s a stronger character than this, and while it’s a difficult decision to make, addressing this in little bits along several episodes doesn’t seem like the right way to do it.
It’s not much of a surprise that this is the route Parks has taken with Leslie’s decision, though, considering that seeing the entirety of processes, the step-by-step way that progress gets made, has always been important to the show. When it feels like padding, as here, Parks tends to falter. However, in a situation like Tom searching for the location of his future bistro, it can work. This was the strongest part of “New Slogan,” as it took us to new locations for reasons that made sense. Unfortunately, though, even here the episode couldn’t stick the landing, as it spent too much time underlining the way this was always about April and Donna’s trepidation about Tom, realistically speaking, leaving the Parks Department soon himself. Not that this was a bad idea, but the clumsiness of how this was shown undercut the sentiment and as a result the story felt a bit cheesy. After all, it’s not like Tom hasn’t had plenty of ventures in the past.
There was also one other very small story, with Andy finding out about Ron’s secret identity as jazz saxophonist Duke Silver. This was good for several quick laughs, but ultimately it was too choreographed, as well. Now, it would be a shock if Silver didn’t make an appearance at the upcoming concert, and that’s going to take some of the fun out of it. That being said, Chris Pratt did an exceptional job portraying Andy’s deep passion for music, and the scene between them was superb. It’s just unfortunate that this entire story is so much fan service.
I hate saying it, but the second half of Parks’ sixth season is the weakest the show’s been in a very long time, perhaps since its first (though the two aren’t remotely in the same league). Not that this wasn’t a funny episode, but Parks at its best is more than just funny. It still feels like the show hasn’t known what to do following Leslie’s removal from office and the departure of Chris and Ann from the cast. It’s been struggling to make the Pawnee-Eagleton reconciliation interesting, but so far it still hasn’t done so. Fortunately, there’s plenty of other aspects to the show that keep it entertaining while the main story continues drifting forward without really connecting.