Parks and Recreation
Episode 22: Are You Better Off?
By: Carlos Uribe
Parks and Recreation is a show about Pawnee's parks and recreation department and a town councilwoman named Leslie Knope.
When Ronald Reagan ran for President, he asked a very simple question: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” It was a safe question to ask as the country had fallen under a recession under Carter. He knew that the answer for most people would be no and with that he could get people to vote for him through this question. Leslie Knope has been on the city council for a year. She's passed government laws to make citizens healthier and has fought to provide government services that people will use. She might have made a few enemies in the process but she's pretty glad of her achievements. She thinks that the people will agree so she holds a press conference during Founder's Week: “Are you better off than you were a year ago?” She hopes for a positive answer but she quickly finds that a lot of people in the town have had problems with her laws. They resent the government regulation that stops them from being able to easily buy Paunch Burgers for breakfast or that she banned restaurants from using cups you could fit a child in. They believe that she has largely enroached on their freedoms while supporting the pornographic industry. She actually gets the majority of her public support from the porn business. Leslie is distraught but Ben is there to remind her that this is politics. The more she accomplishes, the more people she's going to alienate. As long as she can stand behind her victories and she believes in what she's done then she can hold her head high. The plot for her in the sixth season is laid out as the citizens who aren't happy with her plan to hold a recall election for her. She decides to fight the recall by hoping that enough people are satisfied with her work to vote for her. She's standing with her record. The recall election is good in that it puts her position in jeopardy but I'm worried it's just going to retread the successful election plot. On the other hand, Parks and Recreation has been missing a global goal for all the characters and this recall might provide the show the focus it has needed for a while now.
Leslie Knope is not the only one with a question. At the beginning of the episode, she had gathered her group of allies to discuss the plans for Founder's Day. This is basically a way to bring all of the women on the show into one location. This way Andy can accidentally find a positive pregnancy test at the trash can. The question: whose pregnant? It drives him to bring back his old Macklin persona to solve this case. His first suspect is Ann but she's not pregnant. She is trying to have a baby so she becomes jealous to figure out who it could be. She joins Andy's investigation by offering to buy him lunch and allowing him to have as many burgers as he wants. The two quickly question all of the characters. Donna is too careful to get pregnant, Mona Lisa takes too many pills to have a human child, and Leslie rejects it in front of a town hall. All of these reveals are great. Donna has the perfect attitude to reply to the question. Tom freaks out that he's going to be a father when Mona Lisa pretends the test belongs to her but is relieved when he finds out she's not going to spawn a demon child. He might have no power in that relationship but he definably doesn't want to be tied down to her forever. Leslie is asked this question just after she tries to calm down the town by stating she's not a sex-obsessed councilwoman. The only person left is April but she has different news. So whose pregnant? The answer comes at the end when it's basically implied that it's Ron. The greatest thing about this? Ron had just answered Leslie's question if he's better off by stating that he doesn't want that to happen. If he's better off then that implies change. What he wants is for him to stay the same. Finding out that his life is about to change because he's going to be a father is definably a great place to take the character. His relationship with Diane has already helped him develop as well as trying to adjust to being some kind of parental figure to Diane's daughters. Now he's going to have an actual child with her and that is going to call for further character development.
So Leslie is facing recall and Ron's life is about to change because he's going to be a father. What was April's news? She's going to go to veterinary school. She's always wanted to work with animals and she got accepted. She doesn't know if she should go because it would separate her from Andy. She has such a great husband who as soon as he finds out that it's been her dream to work with animals he decides to support her one hundred percent. He admits that it's going to be tough on him but he wants her to pursue her dream. We've basically already seen that April cares for animals. She loves her dog and she's been made Deputy Director of Animal Control for this reason. It makes sense that she would seek a career as a veterinarian. It's the natural path course for her character to take but it's going to be interesting to see how the next season will follow her education and how this impacts her relationship with Andy. He might support her and be cool with it but he still has to live away from his wife for periods of time.
Rent-a-Swag has managed to become a pretty successful store. It's making enough money that Tom will soon be able to leave the Parks and Recreation department and he's thinking of expanding. He gets an offer from an anonymous source to purchase a controlling stake in the store. Tom has to think about this. This offer is basically an easy way for him to double his investment. He'll have made his money back but he would lose control over the store. He decides to stick with the tough choice of having to continue to work on the business. This is the more difficult option but it's a sign that he's grown since Entertainment 720. He does find out that his decision to say no might cost him as the buyer is going to have to go with plan B. Tom is going to find himself facing a competitor right across the street from him. It's nice to allow characters to succeed and the show has allowed this to happen. Leslie has become a councilwoman, Ron has a stable relationship, April has found herself moving up in her career, and Tom has a growing small business. Now it's time for them all to face new obstacles and hardships. Leslie is going to have to fight for what's hers, Ron is going to have to deal with the new pressure of being an expectant father, April will go after her dream, and Tom will be facing competition. In other words, the show isn't happy to allow the characters to be in stasis. It's going to keep challenging them. Which is good because that was a problem with the Office for a few seasons so it's nice when writers learn from the mistakes of other shows.
The fifth season of Parks and Recreation has been a pretty great one. There might have been some stumbles now and there along with a few weak episodes but it's largely remained a consistently great show. Parks and Recreation started out terribly but it drastically improved during the second season. The third season cemented this show as the best comedy currently on the air and I believe it still deserves the title. The Middle might be more consistent and could arguably be considered better but I still think Parks and Recreation makes me laugh more. New Girl is really the biggest threat to Parks and Recreation's “Best Comedy” title but I think that it should be safe until next season-depending on how strong New Girl's finale is. Whatever the case, Parks and Recreation remains a comedy you should be watching.
Are You Better Off? Is an episode that primarily sets up the sixth season for most of the characters. Ron will be a father, April will be studying at veterinary school, and Leslie will be facing her recall election. Tom will be facing some competition as well. It's an episode that largely succeeds at this point and makes me quite excited to see what season six will be able to accomplish....a season that will exist as the show was renewed today.