April 29th, 2010
At the heart of Parks and Recreation are relationships which tend to swing between mutual tolerance and undying admiration. There is no relationship in the show that is entirely without complication, but there are also few relationships on the show which are outright hostile. The show has given just about every character on the show a chance to interact with another character in a sobering fashion, showing them something that goes beyond their comic persona to their true humanity. And yet, at the same time, their personalities continue to clash, which allows the show’s comedy to keep going even with a certain level of respect between the various people involved.
“94 Meetings” is an episode filled with tension, including continued tension in the show’s two romantic couplings, and when it overflows into something more than just your usual workplace personality clashes the show acknowledges it. There’s a point where characters go too far, and so long as the episode is willing to back them away from that cliff, and as long as we understand why they were there in the first place, then the show can continue balancing heartwarming friendships with undeniable conflicts for the foreseeable future.
Let’s get it out of the way first: Leslie’s story didn’t really work this week. It wasn’t Amy Poehler’s fault, but it really felt like a throwback to Season 1′s Leslie in terms of her behaviour. Yes, the show is doing a better job of making these sorts of over-the-top displays of town spirit the result of her intense love for Pawnee history as opposed to her inability to read social situations, and they even throw in the “Gazebo is Mark and Ann’s friendship” metaphor in there to keep it from seeming disconnected. The problem is that the metaphor felt forced at the end of the day, and the return of the hilarious Town Hall murals wasn’t enough to keep the story from seeming awfully superfluous. Tom’s womanizing is my least favourite shade to that character, and while Ansari played it pretty well there just wasn’t (naturally) the same depth to this story as there was to the other.
The actual “94 Meetings” story was one of those comedy stories that gets extra credit for solving a logical problem: we know that April isn’t really serving as Ron’s secretary so much as his appointment evader, so it would make sense that she would have some sort of strategy of keeping people out of his office. That her plan would be poorly devised fits her work ethic, and when everyone shows up on the same day it allows the show to tell a very situational story which feels like it stems from situations we’ve seen in the past. It helps that it centers on Ron Swanson, who lives to avoid situations like this and is forced to grin and bear it as a parade of complainers makes its way through the office. That parade is largely throwaway humour: some of it works fine (Andy and April’s interviews, in particular), but it’s mainly an excuse to get more characters involved in the story, which works even with Ann since she refuses to lie and ends up diagnosing melanomas instead.
But the story really hits home when Ron brings the three into his office and tears April apart for letting this happen. We know Ron has a temper, but he’s usually more frustrated or aggravated than downright angry. April is clearly hurt, and she’s not in the best place right now: the episode establishes that Andy continues to rebuff her advances due to the age difference (and because he’s scared he would have killed her had they hung out when she was a baby), so April feels like she’s all alone. For Ron to chew her out like that crosses a line of their usual mutual tolerance, and it forces April away. Sure, Ron was right to point out the error, but he was the one who was trying to avoid all appointments, and sometimes he just has to suck it up and deal with the consequences. If she had ruined his breakfast order or something serious, I could see his anger, but there was a double standard at play here.
And the show called him out on it: Andy put him on the right path, we met April’s parents (who very clearly have no understanding of their daughter(s)), and Ron is eventually able to bring April back into the fold. The idea that April has known about the Duke Silver connection all along really works for me, as it’s part of their mutual understanding. There are two characters who see the world the same way, except that one is in a leadership position and the other is not. Just as Ron understand that Leslie has qualities he lacks which make her better suited for her job and Leslie knows that Ron’s lack of enthusiasm is sometimes necessary, Ron and April know how the other person works, and can continue to operate on that wavelength. It’s a nice scene that again creates a character relationship which is just really fun to watch, and the coda (with April turning away a meeting as Ron carves a duck) captured it beautifully.
The other small thread, which never really played out, was the news that Mark intends to ask Ann to move in with him as part of a long-term plan that involves marrying her. It’s really unfortunate that we know too much about the show’s casting situation to believe this to be true, but the show never really treats it seriously: we know how ambivalent Ann is about this relationship based on past behaviour, so as soon as Mark speaks so confidently about it our reaction is pretty similar to Leslie’s hilarious combination of facial contortions and drawn out “Ahh” noises.
I though the Leslie story felt like it took up more time than it really deserves considering its lack of impact, but the actual “94 Meetings” stuff was really nicely designed, and spoke to the kinds of things I really enjoy about the show, so it’s another solid entry for the series.
- I enjoyed the title card at the start of the episode – that doesn’t always happen, and while fans tend to know the titles of episodes going into them nowadays (through the internet, or through their cable listings) it was important in this case as they created the mystery of “What is the 94th Meeting” by contradicting the title early on. It’s a neat little structural element to the episode that worked really well, so the title card was necessary to establish that.
- One touch I really loved about the episode is how many small bits from past episodes came into play: the gold digger was one of the Pageant judges, the reporter from the Pawnee Journal returned, and Andy brought back his FBI persona from “Greg Pikitis.” It’s a small thing, but continuities like that really speak to the small town feel of the show.
- I might not have dug the Leslie story overall, but the urgency with which Leslie announced that they were trying to ALTER a Gazebo cracked me up – also, “unfortunately they were both horses” slayer. The show wasn’t any worse writing wise, they just weren’t really taking the characters anywhere particularly great in the process.