While Leslie Knope is certainly the show’s lead, Parks and Recreation has always gotten by on the strength of its wonderful ensemble cast. The odd thing is that as the show has aged, Leslie’s stories have been occasional drags while the activities of everyone else she knows have really shined. That was certainly the case with “The Wall,” in which Leslie’s storyline kind of meandered forward while the really entertaining parts of the episode concerned the adventures of Ron, Tom and Ben.
That’s not to say that Leslie’s attempt at reconciling Pawnee and Eagleton isn’t vital to the show; it’s just that Parks hasn’t really discovered how to make this problem particularly interesting. Both Pawnee and Eagleton are cartoonishly awful in their own, specific ways, and although Leslie cares deeply about what happens to them (particularly the Pawnee half), we the audience don’t. While her gang of planners back at the Parks Department continues working on the upcoming concert, she holds an event to destroy one of the walls between the two former cities, only to find that right behind it is a huge bee’s nest. What’s more, she has an Eagletonian deal the symbolic first blow to the wall, thereby making everyone believe that this was all a big, horrible prank.
The bees and everything were entertaining, especially with Jamm getting stung in his mouth, but it didn’t really capture the imagination. Everyone from both towns is still so horrible that they truly don’t deserve Leslie’s help, and when she’s offered a job working for the National Parks Department, it’s hard not to want her to take it. Of course, she can’t, at least not now, because the television show couldn’t deal with that, but at times it seems better than watching her struggle for another year with this problem that no one else really cares about, either in the world of the show or the viewing audience. It’ll be fun to see the concert at some point, for sure, but the step-by-step process that Parks is usually so good with seems a bit rote so far, and I’m not really looking forward to Leslie’s future storylines so long as this is the only thing she tries to get done.
The rest of the episode, though, was pretty amazing. Ben and Tom make a fantastic duo, as Tom’s constant disrespect for what Ben’s good at means they’re never quite on the same page. Their small story together was essentially to set the stage for Tom’s next crazy venture, and at this point it’s good to see other people respecting Tom’s abilities. He’s grown from being a snake-oil salesman (well, snake juice) to a truly talented entrepreneur, and it’s great to see that Parks recognizes this as well. Of course, his business sense is still passion-based, with only a small influx of reality getting in the way of his visions, so Ben is a natural counterpart. Here’s hoping that this pairing continues in the future, as every part of this story worked wonderfully.
The smallest part of the episode was Ron’s strange, quasi-nonsensical journey to the third floor of the government building the Parks Department is in, hoping to evade the questions of his co-workers about his son. It’s unfortunate we haven’t seen Diane for a really long time (come on, Lucy, come back to the show already), but that doesn’t mean Ron’s family life has ceased to exist. There have just been so many other personal things going on that it took a backseat. We’re introduced to Ron’s son, John, who “helps” Ron as he begins fixing up the office upstairs. There’s not much reason for any of this, but it’s entertaining all on its own, and it’s also nice for Parks to give Ron something more active to do than just hanging around his office in the background.
The strength of these two b-stories, and more in the future, means that Parks can take a while to find where Leslie’s story is going without losing the audience. And it’s not that her stories are filler, it’s just that they’re not as strong as Parks’ best material. The fact that the Eagleton-Pawnee problem is dull probably won’t always be relevant, either, as these things tend to spin out of control. Until then, though, we’ll have the rest of the cast still being hilarious and interesting, and that’s more than enough to keep Parks going strong.