One of the things that I’ve loved about Parks and Recreation more than nearly any other sitcom I’ve ever seen is the show’s worldbuilding. This isn’t a surprise, given that traditionally sitcoms require the heavy use of just a couple of sets, but even within modern single-camera comedies there’s a tendency to get complacent. While it may go almost without saying that The Office will remain largely set in its titular office, that’s also part of why the show’s declined. There’s a certain sameness that’s set in there, whereas Parks and Rec feels like golden age Simpsons, set in a large world where everything is still familiar.
“Operation Ann” did more than most episodes in really bringing us back to old areas of the show, not to mention characters. The episode’s B-plot, in which Leslie has set up an absurdly difficult set of riddles and clues to solve all around Pawnee has Ben, Andy and Ron dashing across the city, visiting locations new and old while referencing many previous jokes and episodes. I’d guess that to someone just jumping in, this plotline is rather dull and not particularly funny. However, if you do know that Leslie’s favorite food is whipped cream, for instance, it works great, and their final meeting location is perfect, too: the memorial to Li’l Sebastian. It’s a lot of fan service, but this plot also shines more light on Ron, shows us that Leslie is as devoted to Ben as he is to her, and acts as a bit of a travelogue for the area. Pawnee itself has long been one of the show’s characters, and it’s fun to watch the show explore the location more thoroughly.
The bigger story here is that Ann, as revealed at Galentine’s Day (another nice return to the show’s history in and of itself), doesn’t have a date for Valentine’s Day. Leslie decides that it’s her mission to set her best friend up and enlists the rest of the parks candidates to find her men for the Parks Department’s Valentine’s Day singles gala. Unfortunately for her, the population of Pawnee is as awful as ever here, and everyone she talks to is undesirable. A lot of the episode is spent with her fielding potential dates and being immediately confronted with why they’re all terrible. Tom helps her out with this, and since April sees how much they’re enjoying each other’s company, tells Ann she should try going out with him for drinks.
This is supposed to be a surprise, considering that a couple moments before this the show edits looks between Chris and Ann, implying that she’ll be out with him instead. However, it’s just Chris realizing he’s ruining the evening for everyone else by putting on sad music at the dance. He’s still not over Jerry’s daughter, but he’s starting to realize some empathy for other people’s relationships, and perhaps finally having some guilt over the way he treated Ann.
The fan service was fun, and I appreciated the way this was a good way for Parks and Rec to reaffirm Leslie’s relationships with the rest of the cast. It was really funny, and though it felt a bit smaller than recent episodes, it was nice to have a break away from Leslie’s campaign for a while. All of that aside, my favorite part of the episode came at the very end, when Leslie and Ben peek in at Ann and Tom’s date. The pair checking this out and seeing that things inside look good is a very sitcom-y thing to do. It’s sweet, and most shows would leave us on this heartwarming note, telling us from the outside that things are going well and then ending the episode. From here it looks like happily ever after.
However, Parks and Rec actually shows us their conversation and how contentious it is. Tom and Ann aren’t instantly in love with each other, they’re still Tom and Ann. We can guess that they still had a great time together, but it wasn’t the fairytale that Leslie and Ben see from the outside. It looks from here like the show is already committed to treating Tom and Ann’s time together with the same level of realism that’s made its courtships better than those in pretty much any other TV show.
•Leslie’s people who are attractive list is an amazingly awful list.
•Yachter Otter is so cute it’s painful.
•“I know what things are” – A perfect, unconvincing line-reading here by Chris Pratt.
•Ron’s love for the puzzles and riddles seemed appropriate. Also, it meant more Ron Swanson in the show, which is always a good thing.
•Best of the paintings: “Eating the Reverend.”
•I guess I should mention that I appreciated Martin Starr showing up, and that Parks and Rec is always one step away from a complete Party Down reunion.