December 3rd, 2009
That Parks and Recreation is a consistently funny comedy is no longer a surprise, and we’re also to the point in “The Fourth Floor” where we’re not even learning anything particularly new about these characters and their dynamics. Rather, the show has turned into what every good comedy should be: a showcase for these characters, these actors, and these writers to tell stories that make us laugh and enrich the universe without necessarily having to expand that universe.
The interactions found within “The Fourth Floor” are ones we’ve seen in the past, picking up on elements of “Greg Pikitis” in order to tell the story of Tom Haverford’s (not-so) loveless marriage coming to an end and how Leslie, and the rest of the office, react to the news. What makes it work so well is how carefully the writers control Leslie’s response to the crisis, and how use two and develop two separate locations (Jurassic Fork and the Glitter Factory) to house that drama in a way that allows the characters to learn what we already know in a way that is both funny and more resonant than it could have been.
What’s interesting about shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation is that there is an inherent element of seriality and yet the shows don’t have your now extremely common “Previously On” segment. As such, Parks requires that we remember back to Ann’s Halloween party when we, as the audience, know that Tom’s marriage is all a sham and we see that moment where he realizes how much he loves her and how much his social status is dependent on his attractive wife. It added a whole new layer to his character: while his previous claims to an open marriage felt like Tom being a douchebag, in reality it was his unhealthy response to a situation that wouldn’t be easy for anyone. And so when we see Tom leaving Divorce Court, and eventually see Ron trying to stake a claim on Wendy while presuming Tom won’t mind, we know from previous experience how wrong this is.
It’s an important memory for us as an audience because we get to spend the entire episode watching Leslie discover the same thing. Leslie is now consistently clueless but also consistently well-intentioned, and she does everything right in this episode even while not quite doing those things in the way that most people would (that’s a mouthful, but I think it makes sense). Leslie maybe shouldn’t have gotten Tom a singing Horse telegram, but the episode (especially in the coda) identifies that this is one of Leslie’s go-to forms of communication (likely because she is, in fact, so awkward when actually talking to someone). On the surface, getting together with friends for dinner is a great way to help someone out after something like this happens, and taking him to the Glitter Factory when Jurassic Fork isn’t quite working out is the sort of sacrifice that a good friend makes.
It’s a sacrifice, of course, that she makes hilariously. Jurassic Fork turns into one large sight gag where Leslie’s talking heads all have an animatronic T-Rex in the background that kept distracting me every single time, as the playfulness of the restaurant helped to keep the dinner from getting too awkward. Leslie started to realize that this was all a show until, of course, Ron twists the knife on Tom and actually makes him sad, which prompts Leslie to realize she needs to do the one she swore she wouldn’t. As such, the action shifts from a comic theme restaurant to the gritty and realistic Glitter Factory, where Tom realizes that strippers aren’t going to make his sadness goes away and Leslie starts to realize the truth of the matter.
It’s interesting to me how the Glitter Factory is portrayed here, and how Leslie reacts to it. I pondered aloud on Twitter how the decision was made to go with blurred out nudity as opposed to non-nudity in the sequences. The show is shot as a documentary, so it makes sense that the strippers would actually be naked, and conversely Tom can’t say that it’s the lack of nudity that is keeping him from being cheered up. My question was whether Leslie’s reaction, of moral standards and empowering speeches to any stripper or individual she happens to come across, is funnier if the strip club isn’t actually as bad as she thinks it is. Outside of a “Glitter Bomb” and the breakfast buffet (which is really funny thanks to Ron’s previously established love of breakfast food) the club isn’t actually a joke: it’s your normal strip club, and thus Leslie’s response perfectly fits her character and, let’s face it, a not unjustified point of view on strip clubs.
It was a story that gave us a wide range of comedy: you had Ann fretting over how the bill was going to be divided, you had Jerry’s inappropriate desire to have Tom’s body, and you had the already mentioned amazing cutaway from what we presume to be Ron’s interest in a particular stripper turn out to be his interest in an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. And yet at the heart of it all was Tom, unable to drown his sorrow in food, alcohol, or placing one-dollar bills into places that Leslie hasn’t even heard of. His green card marriage was all a sham, certainly, but it added a layer of truth to his character that has really elevated him over last season. It’s a great piece of work by the writers and Aziz Ansari, and I am really curious how they develop the character from this point on; Wendy has clearly moved on, but the idea of Tom having a love interest feels like something the show could get some mileage out of.
It wasn’t really anything unexpected or complicated thought, as there were no twists or turns beyond what we already knew. And yet it worked because of how well-executed it was, and the same goes for our B-Story of Andy’s continued quest for Ann’s love. The storyline entirely hinges on Chris Pratt as Andy, as his talking heads get progressively (but only relatively) more self-aware (admitting that it’s really easy to throw this game, and that despite owning Ann it doesn’t feel like he owns Ann) as he decides to give up his quest…if only to hope Ann runs after him. The idea of this show without Pratt right now boggles my mind, as the storyline could have felt so rote without his inspired performance.
- Interesting to have April agree with Leslie in the beginning: was she just bored, or did she legitimately think it was a good idea? With April, I never know, which is part of what makes Aubrey Plaza’s performance so enjoyable to watch.
- The depraved nature of the Fourth Floor was a very simple joke, but the “Popcorn?!” was a great bumper to the credits.
- Rondaleeza Rice is so horribly awesome.
- Jerry really is this show’s Kevin, both in terms of size and in terms of how often he’s picked on by everyone else.
- I loved the way Leslie tried to take the Jurassic puns to the next level only to be told that due to health code regulations, temperature could not be measured in roars. It was a great way to show that they weren’t going to take the theme restaurant to the level that, say, Community or 30 Rock might.
- Note to self: if I ever need to get someone to talk about their marriage, open with “how are your institutions you belong to?”