Still Firing Bullets!
This week’s installment of Parks and Recreation got a lot of belly laughs out of me by going to the reliable well of Ben Wyatt being nervous. As showrunner Mike Schur has noted, Adam Scott “just says things, and they’re funny.” It’s hard to think of many other comedy straight men whose timing and phrasing gets comparable laughs (Jason Bateman on Arrested Development comes to mind), and Scott’s quietly panicked, insistent fatalism really sold a line like “If there’s anyone that can bring my parents together…it’s no one. No one can ever bring them together.”
While most of the story beats this week were fairly predictable — Ben’s parents bicker at and almost ruin the engagement party before Leslie and Ben stand up for themselves and give them a talking-to; Tom secures Ron Swanson’s investment in Rent A Swag by ending his business relationship with Jean-Ralphio, the worst business partner ever; Chris struggles with an extreme bout of happysadness in the wake of Leslie and Ben’s engagement until Andy, April, and Ann are able to balance him out — the attention to detail and general execution on the comedic end kept things from feeling too rote. Leslie’s Unity Quilt — complete with Li’l Sebastian patch! — was both a great series of callbacks and Easter eggs for longtime viewers and a simple visual/symbolic representation of the Wyatts’ family discord and its effect on Ben, Leslie, and Marlene. Although I thought that Ben’s mother Julia could have used a little more definition beyond her identity as an educator and person who hates Ben’s father, her quick descent into vindictive insulting and quilt vandalism made a lot of sense in the context of her ex-husband’s charming manners. Jonathan Banks brings the same gravel-voiced, dead-eyed gravity he’s showcased on Breaking Bad to the role of Steve Wyatt, a terrifying grouch whose physicality and bluntness go a long way towards explaining Ben’s general nervousness and fear of authority figures like cops. It’s believable that a bull-in-a-china-shop personality like Steve’s could drive Julia crazy; in terms of temperament, his cheerless (and much younger, and pregnant) girlfriend Ulani appears to be a perfect match.
I liked Steve’s unrelenting dourness (“We’re a Twizzlers family”) and Ben’s flinching reactions to him; at his best, this is a man who slaps his son in the face as an affectionate greeting. Steve and Ron’s icy stare-down over the last piece of bacon-wrapped shrimp was appropriately reminiscent of two predators circling an animal carcass. Bryan, I’ll let you address the triumphant returns of Champion and Jean-Ralphio. What did you think of the episode? Also, did you have to Google Red Vines, or had you heard of the Knopes’ favorite brand of licorice before?
Notes and quotes:
- “Let me start at the beginning.” “Uh-oh.” “In 1832, Ben’s great-great-great-great-grandfather Teodor Wyatt, a bastard, married a beautiful seamstress from Antwerp…”
- Chris’s joy at Ben & Leslie’s engagement: profound and unmatched in the modern era
- “Surprisingly, no, Larry Bird has not RSVP’d yet.”
- “Be super-critical.” “You’re short.”
- Jean-Ralphio makes it rain with customized Tom/Jean-Ralphio currency. Callback to Entertainment 7wenty?
- Knope-Wyatt Unity Quilt Patches: Julia, Marlene, Henry, Steve, Leslie, Stephanie, Indiana, Li’l Sebastian, Minnesota, Ben (w/ prominent Game Thrones logo and heart calculator) , USA (w/ tiny Joe Biden), Pawnee seal, waffle/Ulani, smallest park, Washington Monument
- “Of all my metaphorical art projects, this is by far the coziest.”
- Although Kirk would win in a wrestling match, Ben wisely prefers Jean-Luc Picard at the helm of his Sovereign-class starship.
- “There’s no more tissue…everything ends.”
- “That’s a Knope woman for you — when we see something adorable, we attack it.”
- “Ann, you are such a good friend. You are a beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox. Thank you, ox, for keeping this ship afloat.”
- “Rethink that move, son.”
- “I grabbed all of the brownies from the dessert table and four bottles of wine. Get in the car, we’re going to Australia.”
- “This lesbian nurse is right, Chris”
- Ladies and gentlemen, Jean-Ralphio: “Tommy T, you just missed the craziest of crazies: clubs, girls, dancing, naked, MOM?, argument, police, fleeing the scene, hiding in a dumpster, coming here, crashing on your couch for a week cause technically I’m hooooomeless.”
I think you are spot on with Adam Scott’s delivery being perfect this week. They haven’t highlighted Ben just delivering lines in a while, and it was awesome. It must be great writing lines for him because if you do a pretty good job, it could end up being the funniest/most memorable line in the show just cause Adam Scott said it. You mentioned his great turn of phrase to completely change a sentence, I especially liked, “Things are going surprisingly well and…pack it up; it’s over. We’re screwed.” That line is pretty good as a piece of writing, but Adam Scott makes it fantastic. It contrasts perfectly with Leslie’s eternal optimism in the face of any adverse conditions, “Slight speed bump: everything is terrible, but I’m going to fix it with my secret weapon.”
I thought they handled the secondary characters really well this week. Chris was still the least exciting (as he has been for quite some time, in my opinion). But, they managed to get Andy and April to bounce off him and be hilarious. Here is how April ended her list of sad things like this, “Snails coming out of your mouth. Snails coming out of your mouth. Snails coming out of your butt. Dave Matthews Band.” Somehow, they have managed to keep Chris being a little child still really fun. This week, he couldn’t understand why Chris was sad, so he asked Ann a series of four-year-old style questions: “Why is Chris crying? Why is he emotional? What kind of emotional stuff? Why isn’t he dating anyone?” The writers (and Chris Pratt) have managed to keep adding new wrinkles into that idea, and all the other characters are willing to indulge Andy over and over. I like the balance of actual wisdom and sincerity that they have successfully added to April’s character. She gives just enough actual criticism to Tom (despite Andy thinking it was the best thing he’d ever seen) to be helpful, but, as you pointed out, she is still snarky enough to instantaneously respond, “you’re short” to Tom’s, “Be super-critical.”
I know this is a really short response by me, but you seem to have covered just about every line of dialogue in your notesy quotesy section, so I’ll just wrap it up.
-I had heard of Red Vines before, but if I liked licorice, I’d be a Twizzler man.
- Do you think we’ll see much of Jean-Ralphio anymore? Besides watching him interact with Ron (which was stellar) I think I might be over his ridiculousness.
- But, not totally over it; the last scene with Jean-Ralphio was really awesome.
- Is there a comedy that has handled all the most potentially cheesy/cliche/terrible aspects of having two of your main characters fall in love better than Parks and Rec? I think Ann’s comments about when your “love life” (fuck that phrase, i can’t think of a better substitute right now) isn’t ideal sometimes you just hate couples who are happy, but somehow Leslie and Ben aren’t hateable at all.
- Everyone threatening Ben about not hurting Leslie was awesome. Even Jerry got in on the action!
For another $100, you can do whatever you want,