Parks and Recreation – “Woman of the Year”

“Woman of the Year”

March 4th, 2010

In “Woman of the Year,” we learn that Leslie Knope was a member of the Indiana Order of Women at the age of nine.

This is, just to be clear, not a surprising fact: we’ve always known that Leslie was a strong believer in organizations like the IOW, so the idea that she had been this way since an early age (especially considering her mother’s commitment to civil service). What this establishes, however, is that this is something which means something to Leslie, something which she values at a level which someone like Ron Swanson is not completely able to understand.

However, what has Parks and Recreation in such a good place right now is that it is unwilling to sacrifice things important to these characters just for the sake of comedy: stories like those in “Woman of the Year” are driven by people who care rather than people who don’t understand, and while there is quite a lot of humour in the episode it all comes from a place of good-natured ribbing more than spite or something similarly unpleasant.

Leslie and Ron are, without question, the best platonic relationship ongoing on television right now. The relationship is really the core of that office dynamic in that Ron fully understands that Leslie does great work but doesn’t quite share her passion for anything but breakfast food, and he’s probably not so keen on her lack of wall-hanging proof of that passion. They have very little in common in terms of how they choose to do their jobs, but there is a mutual respect which keeps them on the same page, and the Woman of the Year award is perhaps the best demonstration of this relationship yet. Ron’s talking head where he reveals that he had every intention on giving the award to Leslie until he realized this was the perfect opportunity to tease her tells the story: he knows it’s weird, he knows it’s going to drive her crazy, and since he feels that she takes these types of things too seriously he’s going to try to teach her a lesson in the most hilarious way possible.

Nick Offerman has a lot of fun playing Ron as a conspirator, as we get confirmation at various stages of his plan that it’s all a ruse; however, the important thing is that it was always a ruse for her benefit. While she has been a member since the age of nine, so it’s something that she values, Ron is right that she values it too much, and that she shouldn’t need this validation to know she’s doing a good job. And while his efforts to convince her of this are really funny, whether it’s his fake photo shoot or any of his other strategies, they are also very honest, and the episode is perhaps even better when his honesty is revealed, only to have the IOW shatter their accepted compromise by insisting that Ron receive the award to drum up media attention. It’s a fun twist that gives the show another note to play, and while Leslie and Ron’s attempt to Ving Rhames one another (wow that sounded dirty) wasn’t quite as funny as the early material it remained true to those characters, right up to the moment when Leslie grabbed the plaque from the garbage can as discretely (but desperately) as possible.

The other two stories were pretty slight, but they continue the trend of Andy as the heart of this show, which continues to blow my mind a little. April and Andy shopping for an apartment is a basic story that doesn’t really have a punchline, but when the two stories converge and Andy gives Tom his last $1000 basically just to make him happy, you get a brief moment of April realizing just how ridiculously sweet Andy is beneath his ridiculous exterior. While romantic rather than platonic, we’re seeing the same sort of understanding and observation that likely defined Leslie and Ron in their early days, characters feeling each other out in the midst of this fairly mundane life. It’s why the others are all willing to put up with Tom’s ridiculous VIP invites: not only do they want to avoid directly disrespecting Tom, but they also sort of love that there’s name cards on their chairs, and the ridiculousness of the PowerPoint presentation comes from an honest place.

Of course, Tom’s 40% of a single share is immediately overshadowed by Donna’s three shares, and Andy’s lack of an apartment is probably going to eventually come back to haunt him, so Tom would have been smart to save his money for a better opportunity, and Andy should have gotten that apartment. But, at the end of the day, Tom values nightclub ownership over financial security, and Andy values having someone’s dreams come true over avoiding roommate squabbles which could break up – checks notes – Tackle Shaft.

And rather than insulting them for their insolence, or treating their desires as one big joke, Parks and Recreation treats them seriously even when they’re being ridiculous, and finds both humour and pathos in their misguided ways. And while Leslie and Ron’s respect for one another is different from Andy’s respect for Tom, the latter being a few rungs down the sanity scale, they are part of the same universe, a universe that remains remarkably consistent in its second season.

Cultural Observations

  • Ann was absent for this episode, but the groundwork for the love triangle continues to be laid, both in subtle moments reminding us of Mark’s philandering past (“Hi…Cindy”) and in terms of drawing Andy further into the realm of “good guy” for the sake of providing a reason that someone like Ann, rather than someone like April, would be interested. That being said, Team April all the way.
  • The cold open had Leslie a little bit too clueless for my tastes, but I’m a sucker for cold opens that extend into the episode, so the coach showing up at her office and playing a role in her and Ron’s battle was enjoyable.
  • Loved Poehler’s read of the ridiculous scenario where the IOW should leave the work of feminists to real feminists like Ron Swanson.
  • As for the recent guest casting, I think Rob Lowe could be a good fit for the broad universe, while Adam Scott is a great fit for the Pawnee environment – for more on the latter point, including its impact on Party Down, Sepinwall has the details. I’m pleased that a love interest seems to be legitimately getting “added to the cast” for a change, so I’m hopeful he might stick around a while.
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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Parks and Recreation – “Woman of the Year”

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