Thursday, April 11, 2013

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation
Episode 17: Partridge
By: Carlos Uribe

Parks and Recreation is a show about Pawnee's parks and recreation department and a town councilwoman named Leslie Knope.

Spoilers Ahoy!

The writers of Parks and Recreation are usually so brilliant that it's always disappointing when they stumble. It happens to the best of the writers as it's inevitable for any great show to have some decent episodes. Partridge is such a misstep even if you don't necessarily realize it as you're watching. The jokes are as clever as ever and I found myself laughing just as much at this episode as in others. The characters remained true to themselves which is often what's wrong when a weak episode of any show comes out. The problem with Partridge is how the narrative was structured. It makes sense that the writers are going to want to keep Leslie in the front and center. She's the protagonist of this show so she always has to be a key player in any plot she's involved in. She should always be crucial to the episode but she doesn't have to be the main character of every story she's in. The writers seemed to forget this as they forced Leslie to be the protagonist of what should have been a Ben story. They could have still kept her as a major supporting player but she shouldn't have taken the center stage. The one time you definably want to put your protagonist in a supporting role is when the plot they're in is important to another character. In the case of Partridge, it was all about confronting Ben's past so that he could get some closure. The writers don't really earn the ending where Ben decides to throw away the city key because it didn't feel like he had gone through the necessary journey. It makes sense if the writers are planning on bringing up his history in a future episode but the sense that they give out this episode is that it's closing that chapter in his life for good. Which is why it's so mind-boggling why Ben was pushed to the background in the key moments of the episode. What's worse is that his agency is robbed as Leslie has to fight his battles for him.

The plot begins with the explanation that Ben is going back to his home town to get the city key. The ceremony is supposed to be a symbol of the town forgiving him for his ice town debacle. His time as the youngest mayor of the town led to him putting the entire town's budget on a winter sports complex. It's his failure in his hometown that drove him to try and salvage his reputation by auditing city budgets. The journey led him to Pawnee where he fell in love with Leslie and became a successful campaign manager. He even got to live out his dream of helping run a congressman's election. He has since taken over a charity owned by one a large candy company. He has managed to find success and a happy life but his reputation has not following him back to his home town until now. He's excited but nervous about this symbolic apology but his body has other ideas. He gets painful kidney stones that make him think he's pregnant. He gets doped up on drugs to the point where he's not going to be able to accept the city key. This is where the plot gets annoying because it basically means he's in the background when he's supposed to be getting a symbolic gesture of forgiveness. Leslie decides to go on his behalf because that's what spouses are for. She discovers that this whole ceremony was actually a trap for the current mayor to deflect his own shortcomings by mocking Ben. The symbolic gesture was a ruse but we never get to see Ben's immediate reaction to it. He does figure out that it was a trap but he didn't seem that bothered by it. Which just makes no sense from any narrative sense. Leslie has no real stake in the matter. The one character who does is so removed from the action that his reaction is of apathy. Leslie still tries to make him move on with his past by stealing the city key from the mayor's office. Ben throws the key into a pond as a symbolic gesture that he's over the town...but it fails. If he's still bothered by it then why didn't he care when the ceremony turned out to be a joke? If this is his journey about putting his past behind him then why was he protected from the obstacle-the town that continues to hold a grudge?

The rest of the characters back in Pawnee have to deal with City Council member Jamm. The more that Jamm appears the less I'm starting to tolerate his presence on the show. I understand that he's the obstacle that Leslie is supposed to overcome in the city council and that he's an antagonist. I'm not supposed to like him but that's not what I'm getting at here. He's starting to become annoying. He sues Ron Swanson for punching him in the face during Leslie's wedding. In a brave show of loyalty, April and Tom lie for their boss to help him. Only Ron doesn't want to win because they committed perjury. He has too much honor for that so he forces them to tell the truth. This ends up hurting him and he even threatens to punch Jamm a second time. Ron isn't worried about the financial blowback because he has a lot of gold to cover him but April, Tom, and Andy decide they have to do something to make the lawsuit go away. What they do is go into Jamm's office to reveal that they know that they have proof Jamm's testimony was filled with critical errors and Tom pretends to fake an injury so they can threaten to sue him. Jamm agrees that he'll drop the suit against Ron in exchange for keeping the mistakes a secret. It's a decent plot and it was nice to see Jamm defeated once again but he was just too annoying for it to really have high entertainment value. I'd like to see a little less of Jamm and a little more of Ron getting excited at the idea of getting free steak.

The final plot has to do with Chris and Ann. The two are taking parenting tests to see how compatible they're going to be. It's basically a trope to have two characters who are together in some form take tests that show they shouldn't be together. The writers drive this point home when even Jerry gets a higher compatibility score with Ann. Ann freaks out that maybe they wouldn't be good parents together but Chris manages to make her feel better at the end. He gives her the ultimate compatibility test where he asks her a simple question: will she do anything to ensure their child is healthy and happy? The answer is yes and Chris reveals that was also his answer. It doesn't matter what the compatibility tests state-they're going to be good because they will have the best interests at heart for their kid. It's all basically what you would expect but it manages to have a bigger emotional impact than the other two plots because it related to the emotional journey the two are going on. Leslie didn't need to put ice town behind her and Jamm's presence might have had some financial stakes for Ron but it didn't mean anything beyond that. Just think about it: Ann was at first afraid she would be a bad mother until she spent time with Diane's kids. Chris was afraid he might be a bad father until he got to help Tom out with his problems. The two individually gained confidence as parents so it made sense that their next crisis would be them as a parenting team.

Partridge is about as funny as most Parks and Recreation episodes tend to be but the structure behind the narratives was weak. Leslie shouldn't have been the one going on Ben's journey because it removes any significance to the plot for the viewers and Ben. Councilman Jamm might have been a great antagonist but I feel like he's become overplayed and it really shows in this episode. The only plot to really work is the Chris and Ann trying to figure out if they would be good parents as it played with already existing fears.

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