A review of last night's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I do a photo shoot about the dangers of undercooked chicken...
When "Parks and Recreation" started, one of the show's big problems was that Leslie's exuberance for her job made her come off as sad and delusional (and/or like a female Michael Scott). Season two has very smartly recalibrated things (less in the way Leslie herself is written than in the way other characters respond to her) so that her enthusiasm becomes something to be admired, not pitied.
"Summer Catalog" told us a story about the world not matching up to one of Leslie's beliefs, but it was one about an illusion, not a delusion. Leslie assumes that all the previous heads of the Parks Department view the job as the same noble calling she does (even though she has ample evidence in Ron F'ing Swanson that not all holders of the job share her worldview), and is disappointed to learn that Ron's three predecessors are a stoner(*), a smug careerist and a sexist jerk. But Leslie recognizes how wrong she was almost immediately with each man, and it's clear by the end that this is another one of those instances where Leslie's right and the world is wrong: the Parks Department should be run by someone with as much passion for the parks and can-do spirit as Leslie Knope, not by any of these jerks (or even by Ron, who lets Leslie do all the work for him).
(*) Played by classic '80s sitcom dad Michael Gross, kind of taking the Steven Keaton character to his natural conclusion.
And what also made the picnic disaster story work was that it came in the middle of an episode where all the characters got a new look at the picture of their lives. When Ann and Mark pose as a happy couple for the summer catalog cover, Mark looks believable and Ann looks miserable. Andy and April's flirting becomes so blatant and fun (playing with food, sweater-swapping) that even Andy finally recognizes what's going on here. And though he's briefly scared off by realizing the age difference (April's still 20, Andy's somewhere in his late 20s), when he sees the catalog cover photo of them as an actual happy couple, even he can't seem to resist the inevitable.
So "Summer Catalog" was a nice character piece for most of the ensemble, but it also had a lot of good jokes, from the easy (Ron's hunger and famous obsession with breakfast foods) to the strange (Clarence's sexist ramblings) to the silly (Tom as demanding fashion photographer). All in all, a very satisfying episode.
What did everybody else think?