Parks and Recreation – “Leslie’s House”

“Leslie’s House”

January 21st, 2010

One of the things that I find so interesting about Parks and Recreation’s second season comeback is that the show hasn’t fundamentally changed its stories. I can very much see how the show, in its infancy, might have brainstormed an idea about Leslie’s house looking like a crazy person’s garage, and the idea of Leslie trying to host a dinner party and using her connections with a city program in order to pull it off feels like something that could have gone horribly wrong in the first season.

I didn’t think “Leslie’s House” was amongst the best episodes of the season, as it felt as if there were just a few too many things going on at once, but the fact that the core of the episode didn’t implode with all of those elements present is a testament to the control the writers have over the universe right now. Despite technically presenting only a single story, the episode started to weave in a lot of recurring stories to complicate things, and it resulted in quite a few fun gags and just enough resonance to keep things from seeming overwhelming.

It’s a funny episode, and an impressive one considering the degree of difficulty, but I almost feel like there’s an extra ten minutes here that could have given some of the storylines a bit more time to breathe that would have really made the episode click.

I like a lot of the setup of this episode, because it’s all really intelligent in terms of keeping things simpler than they may appear. Instead of having to show us a lot of Justin for us to understand his relationship with all the characters, the show has the characters talk about past experiences with him (in particular how he has an awesome story for every possible discussion, my favourite being his response to Mark going swimming at the Y) so that when he arrives at the party the show doesn’t have to spend time in all of those discussions. Justin Theroux is doing some nice, subtle work here, but in reality the writers did most of his character development for him in advance, and he just had to come in and act normally. I also thought the involvement of the Rec Center teachers made for both a couple of fun gags and, most importantly, an excuse for Leslie to be focused on micro-managing as opposed to actually managing the party, freeing her up for other comedy bits.

I also liked seeing how some smaller stories started to make their way through the party, as Andy and April continue their interactions with some awkwardness surrounding “betrayment” and Tom’s ex-wife shows up to reignite tensions between Tom and Ron surrounding the fact that Tom is clearly still in love with her. I like the idea behind this, and thought it made for some nice beats throughout the party, but it felt like there wasn’t enough time given to either story. We barely even saw Wendy while she was there, and we were never given any reason for April’s boyfriend and his boyfriend to show up outside of creating tension with Andy. The episode just had so much going on with Leslie that these stories felt too big for the setting, which was part of the point (that they’re not being dealt with under ideal circumstances) but which ended up feeling like we only hot brief glimpses of their potential.

Of course, the party offered plenty of comedy: Ron Swanson’s insistence on a five-course meal and his desire to bring Deviled Eggs that would only be for himself were hilarious, and I thought Amy Poehler was great throughout (in particular her list of things she wishes for in life, and her “Ann get over here!” when Ann was right in front of her), so it’s not like it ruined the party. However, when the show tried to close off the smaller stories at the end, they didn’t really have anything to go on: Andy and April’s story felt a bit uneventful, and Tom’s final moment with Justin giving him some self-confidence about Wendy was relegated to the coda. It didn’t kill the episode, but it made part of it seem unfinished, which can put a damper on the proceedings.

As a whole, though, I really liked the spin the ending put on the episode. I thought the episode was heading down a dangerous path in terms of how bored Justin seemed, and when Leslie was placed in front of the committee it seemed like the show was returning Leslie to her Michael Scott-esque tomfoolery. However, when they revealed that Justin was just super tired from a case and actually thought it was great, and that the hearing was actually at Leslie’s request so that she could force Justin to rank the date while under oath, was a nice role reversal from Leslie that sold me on the episode. She’s not so naive as to think the night went perfectly, as she pays the $1000 to resolve the conflict with the teachers, but she also knows that she can take the situation and turn it to her advantage. It was smart and clever, and put the entire episode into a stronger light for me.

While 30 Rock loves putting Liz Lemon through hell in terms of her dating life, I like that (outside of specific situations like last week) Leslie actually meets nice guys who like her, and we’re not stuck feeling like it’s the most awkward thing in the world. And while this date didn’t go perfectly, the show spread out the humour enough to keep it from being Leslie’s embarrassment, and they showed a nice command of the character to hold it all together. However, give it another ten minutes, and I think the side stories could have come into focus and we could have had a real classic.

Cultural Observations

  • I believe it was Fienberg who asked Jeff Gaspin at TCA about whether or not NBC would consider super-sizing episodes to try to fill some Leno gaps, although it seemed as if the answer was a resounding no on that front. It’s too bad, because the super-size length is perfect for large-scale episodes of Parks or The Office (whereas an hour is too long), but I guess I see how the rejiggered scheduling is more annoying than helpful in the DVR era.
  • I don’t know why, but the phrase “boy in my biscuits class” cracked me up.
  • Justin as the Pawnee equivalent of Chuck Norris was a lot of fun, and I wonder how many potential Justin stories were left on the cutting room floor.
  • I solved a murder on a train in drama class once – does that count?
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