“Ron and Tammy”
November 5th, 2009
“Now listen to one of mine.”
There’s nothing special about “Ron and Tammy,” except that it’s probably the funniest Parks and Recreation to date.
There’s a guest star, yes, but not one who feels overly forced into the story or on who the show relies too heavily. There’s no special event taking place in the context of the episode to make things more exciting than usual, and there’s even a B-Plot that has nothing to do with the A-Plot. And if you were to write down the plot of the episode without any context (which would read “Leslie and Ron feud with Library Services over an Empty Lot”), you would probably think this episode would be downright dreadful.
But what makes this episode so special is that this episode is less an aberration and more a sign that the momentum just isn’t going to go away, and that this sitcom has finally found its groove. The episode’s situation is one of the show’s funniest, and it features some of the best lines in the show’s short lifespan, but it feels like the show could have just as funny a scenario in the future without any trouble. It is an episode that not only convinces you that it is great, but also that the show behind the episode is just as strong if not stronger for having spawned it.
If you are for some reason still one of those people who never gave this show a chance, you need to watch this episode not because it is singularly great but because it is symptomatic of a broader greatness. You’ve been listening to the other guys, with their offices and sketch comedy shows, for long enough: tonight, listen to the genius of Ron F**kin’ Swanson.
It’s entertaining that I left this episode for last considering it was probably the night’s best, but what’s interesting is that we already knew that: critics saw the episode ahead of time, so they prepared us for its genius to the point where I was on the lookout for what Alan Sepinwall referred to as perhaps the best talking head in Greg Daniels Mockumentary history. So my delay in writing about it is not that I thought the episode wasn’t as good as they did, but rather that they already established how strong it was and thus made anything I had to say about it more chorus than solo.
But what I loved about the episode is that it didn’t really deviate very far from the show’s usual setups. I think my favourite thing about the episode is not the arrival of Tammy Swanson (played by Nick Offerman’s real-life wife Megan Mullally) but, instead, the idea that the Parks Department views the Library as a diabolical biker gang whose crystal meth is political savvy and whose guns are shushing. A lesser show might have made Tammy’s crusade to gain the park land a personal one, but on this show her actions are simply part for the course for the diabolical fiends at Library Services. When Ron gets brainwashed into believing Tammy’s strategy, Leslie tells him to listen to what he’s saying: of all of the horrible and miserable things in the world, he would build a library? To the Parks department, a library is the most worthless thing in the world, which is such a charming bureaucratic blindside that I would have laughed even if it hadn’t coincided with the genius of Ron getting tangled in his ex-wife’s complicated web of motel hookups and diner hookups and skin melding into skin.
That storyline really was all about the genius of Nick Offerman, who usually mines humour from Ron’s lack of emotional connection but here mined humour from the fact that Ron’s vitriolic anger regarding this ex-wife was all a coping mechanism to get over their intense sexual connection. The talking head that Alan referred to was, really, just plain genius:
“I’m a simple man. I like pretty, dark-haired women and breakfast food. But this stock photo I bought at a framing store isn’t real. Today, I got the real thing. A naked Tammy made me breakfast this morning. I should’ve taken a picture of it.”
Everything about the line worked, from the hilarity of the photo behind him (which was really bizarre out of context but hilarious in context) to the matter of fact way he said it (especially his realization that he should have taken the photo. And the rest of the storyline worked as well, whether it was in broader moments (like Ron and Tammy stripping off their clothes while running from the car into the motel room, or Ron coming out of Library Services with a thumbtack in his forehead) or in smaller moments (like Leslie wearing her sharpest rings or Ron’s Tiger Woods-esque tradition of post-sex wardrobe). The storyline eventually comes to a head as Ron stands up to Tammy and saves the lot after Leslie proves willing to give it up in order for Ron to keep having sex, something no woman has ever done for him and that gives him the boldness required to break things off. Ron’s character is such that he had terrible marriages but would still get married again, stating all of it in the same matter of fact way, and Nick Offerman and the writers absolutely nailed him in this episode.
And yet, it did so without narrowing things in too greatly. The episode also had a fun little subplot of Andy replacing the former shoe shine guy in City Hall and deciding to use his new job as a way to cater to the elusive “Family Shoe Shine” demographic by plastering Ann’s face everywhere. Mark’s tension with this was nicely understated by having him run to other people in the office for advice (which works with Tom, who suggests the high road so he can have the low road for himself, but backfires when female co-worker whose name I never remember decides that Andy is the better physical specimen), and overall it was just a simple little story, well told and featuring both some fun awkward moments (like the wall of photos) and some clever scenes that allowed us to take a break from the main action.
The show just works now: Poehler was great with all of Leslie’s quirks (I especially loved her outright anger that anyone would ever desire to be Cleopatra over Eleanor Roosevelt), but also got to show Leslie backed into a corner and having to fight her way out from it. And while a half-hour comedy can’t make every character have a moment in an episode, what worked about this is how aware the show was of that limitation: it never tried to do too much, or conflate Ron’s story too greatly, and the result was a focused episode that involved characters without suffocating them and just plain made me laugh.
And right now, more than any other comedy in the lineup, Parks is operating largely without complaint and with a whole lot of laughs to go with it – with this and “Greg Pikitis,” the show is on quite the roll.
- The entire Old Gus cold open was gold, especially how hilarious Andy found it all to be – the shoe shine storyline is just an excuse to keep Andy (and thus Chris Pratt) around, but I’ll take it if there’s more scenes like these.
- Leslie thinking out loud was also a major win, as the pressure of the situation made her quirks seem far more logical: she wouldn’t knowingly fall into that pattern under normal circumstances, but with her park falling out from under her (that lot won’t beautify itself) she couldn’t help but go into crazy mode.
- It was almost too easy, but I still liked the “Andy tried out for both Survivor/Deal or no Deal -> Video that logically should be Survivor audition but is actually for Deal or no Deal” gag.
- I hope some day to own a home, or have an office, and in that office I shall put up a photo of breakfast food in honour of Ron Freakin’ Swanson – and I don’t even LIKE breakfast food.