February 24th, 2011
Of the first six episodes initially sent to critics, “Indianapolis” is the most subtle. It’s a straightforward pairs of comic setpieces: a dinner party and a night out at the Snake Hole have the characters moving away from the Harvest Festival in order to get some time to focus on the characters themselves. While the commendation for the Harvest Festival technically draws Leslie and Ron to Indianapolis, the episode investigates what happens after the ongoing storylines which have dominated the show since Ben and Chris’ arrival start to come to a close.
This is actually the last episode that I screened in advance, and it’s also the last episode to air until March 17th, but I think it’s a very strong note to go out on. Without a major guest star, and without a standout “scene” of the likes of “Stop. Pooping” or Ben’s breakdown on Ya Heard with Perd, “Indianapolis” is just a very funny episode of what is clearly a very funny show.
And yes, that’s apparently the extent of critical analysis that a show in this much of a groove inspires.
There are some really delightful elements to this episode. Ron’s storyline, for example, is just a really lovely sequence: Ron’s excitement, anticipation, breakdown, revival and subsequent breakdown were just beautifully played by Nick Offerman, and the rollercoaster-esque plotting went above and beyond what was necessary. While these are very simple setups, the impromptu dinner party in particular works to upend our expectations. It allows Ron to go from stubborn steak-lover to despondent mourner and then back to stubborn steak-lover, only to bring back the sense of mourning with the Portobello mushroom reveal, leading him to drown his sorrows by cleaning a Diner out of bacon and eggs. This was just not Ron Swanson’s night, and yet at the same time the storyline didn’t have to become about Ron for it to happen. He was almost an innocent bystander, whose emotions were toyed with by Leslie’s focus on a more pressing issue.
The friendship between Leslie and Ann has really turned into one of the show’s more reliable elements, funny but also honest. It’s not that I didn’t believe they were friends last season, but it always felt as though they were friends because they had been made friends back in the first season. As the second season progressed, they obviously became closer, but watching Leslie defend Ann’s honor and then cheer her up on the ride home was a fine example of Leslie being a pretty tremendous friend. Sure, it was a bit predatory to search out evidence like she did, and her line of questioning really did feel as though she had forgotten how to have a conversation, but her intentions (as Chris realizes when her contempt begins to show through) are genuine. This isn’t Leslie being crazy, this is Leslie being crazy loyal, and that’s the kind of slightly off-kilter, incredibly charming dynamic. While cheated through the use of cuts, the gradual change in Ann’s demeanor as Leslie starts regaling her with tales of terrible breakup stories to rival Ann’s delusional misunderstanding really shows the impact that these characters have on one another, and that Leslie would miss the commendation to drive her home says a great deal about the character. Not a showcase episode for Amy Poehler, precisely, in that Leslie was not overly central to the episode’s comedy, but the episode was very representative of how well they have nailed down Leslie as the series has gone on.
As for the Snake Hole, two storylines follow through on previous developments. First, after a season’s worth of buildup, Andy and April deal with finally being a couple, and it’s quite logically not smooth sailing: April resists labels and Andy discovers that you need money when you have a girlfriend, leaving them at a crossroads. Their discovery that you don’t need money to make money through swindling was not particularly substantive, but it was nice to see their easy-going dynamic from “Summer Catalog” emerge from beneath any potential tensions. While sadsack Andy chasing after April did some good things for the character, I think fun-loving Andy just enjoying himself is equally engaging, and that little moment where he and April both decide they should give back the money they stole from the actual employees was “sweet” in a way I quite enjoyed (and was followed, of course, by Andy rolling over a table).
Similarly, Ben’s integration into the group is not exactly rocket science. While “Media Blitz” worked to make Ben more human, giving him an idiosyncratic identity to match the rest of the characters, and one could argue that “Ron and Tammy: Part Two” worked to establish his relationship with Leslie a bit further, this is the episode where Ben’s relationship moves beyond the romantic and into the realm of the interpersonal. His relationship with Tom has been budding for a while, but seeing him spending time with the gang and eventually sticking it to Dennis Feinstein was just…natural. It didn’t feel forced, like the show was trying to convince us that Adam Scott belonged in this environment: still in the same clothes he was wearing earlier, despite Tom’s incredulous response, he stands as part of the show’s ensemble (and helps facilitate a nice, kinda sad story for Tom in the process).
While I think other episodes were more memorable, I think “Indianapolis” was one of the most satisfying of the first six episodes. It doesn’t do anything big, or involve any substantial plot events, but it delivers an incredibly solid half-hour which demonstrates the versatility and quality of the show which was assembled over the course of that magical 10-12 months of filming which brought us an amazing 31-episode stretch.
- I wonder what sideboob smells like.
- Adam Scott’s retching in the coda was a thing of beauty – not over-the-top, but also plenty disgusting.
- I love that Ron appears to have not aged at all in the past fifteen years.
- As noted, we’ll be waiting three weeks before another episode of the show – I don’t know what screener availability is going to be, so this may be my last timely review for a while. Let me know, though, if you want me to try to pull them together on Thursday night rather than later on Friday – if there’s enough demand, I can make it a post-Office review habit.