Thursday, January 21, 2010

Parks and Recreation, "Leslie's House": Party girl

I got to see tonight's very funny "Parks and Recreation" back at press tour when my mind was still fresh, so a review coming up just as soon as you guarantee fridge space...

I talk a lot in these reviews about the tone of "Parks and Rec," and about how the show needs to be rooted in a very mundane level of reality for most of the comedy to work. Some characters, like Andy and Ron F'ing Swanson, get to bend those rules a little, but we have to believe in Leslie's behavior, or else... well, you saw most of season one, didn't you?

So the series employing a farce structure for an episode like "Leslie's House" could have been disastrous, since farce typically involves a heightened level of reality. ("Frasier," much as I loved it, was always more than happy to trade believability for a good joke, so that show's periodic farce episodes fit in nicely.) But what makes "Leslie's House" fit into the framework and tone that this season has established is that it's a very Pawnee kind of farce.

Yes, Leslie's dinner party spirals out of control, thanks to her fixation on creating the perfect evening for Justin, and thanks to her moral weakness in letting the rec center teachers provide all the food and entertainment. But I believe that Leslie would try too hard, because we've seen so many examples of that in her work life, and I believed that the rec center teachers would get sucked into things based on the way small town politics and gossip works. Once Leslie had her moment of weakness and called the cooking teacher, it was only a matter of time before the bartender, belly dancer and even the accounting software guy would find out and try to pitch in. There was never a moment in Daniel J. Goor's script where it felt like things were spiraling too far out of control, too quickly, just for the sake of a laugh.

And I loved the idea that Leslie would then insist on a disciplinary hearing even after she had paid to keep all the rec center teachers employed, just so there would be an official government document in which Justin said the party was great. In a way, that's just as much an abuse of power as the party itself, but it's also an incredibly Leslie thing to do, and a nice punchline to the story that kept them from dragging the party on too long.

"Leslie's House" also offered some nice movement on the Ron/Tom/Wendy triangle, and on the Andy/April/April's gay boyfriend and his boyfriend triangle (quadrangle?), and it gave Paul Schneider some rare funny moments as Mark tried to cope with his jealousy of Justin. (Andy's jealousy was, of course, funnier, because Andy is the more innately broad and silly character.)

All that, plus Ron Swanson bringing his own plate of deviled eggs to a dinner party and making sure no one else gets to have any. As we know by now, Ron + breakfast food = gold.

What did everybody else think?


Between the Panels said...

It was great to see Bonita Friedericy (who plans General Beckman on Chuck) appear in the episode. I also the fact that the writers keeping referring to the fact Tom is from South Carolina, considering Aziz Ansari is also from SC. Nice little in joke for fans of Aziz, and I'm glad to see it's continuing to be repeated.

Great episode! Parks and Rec has really been killing it this year, and I'm so glad I gave the show another chance.

TC said...

The Ron f'ing Swanson method of answering each question with a question is awe-inspiring.

Scott said...

People eat deviled eggs for breakfast?

Captain Insano said...

I don't know if I've ever laughed as hard as when Tom sang "This is how we eat it" to the tune of Montel Jordan's classic song

Alan Sepinwall said...

People eat deviled eggs for breakfast?

Eggs are technically a breakfast food, even if the deviled kind isn't automatically thought of in that way. It's a stretch, but it's Ron F'ing Swanson.

Jobin said...

Seeing General Beckman threw me for a loop. I didn't love the episode, but even an OK ep is still entertaining. I did enjoy the payoff at the end with Leslie having Justin admit under oath that he was impressed.

I thought the idea of Ron + hot peppers = ridiculousness, but alas, it was a short-lived moment.

Jim said...

Justin's exotic adventures had a bit of a Nick-at-Nite feel, somehow, but other than that it was a great episode. Somehow Leslie being a hoarder just felt right. Ron Swanson is fast becoming one of my favorite TV characters ever.

It was great to see Bonita Friedericy (who plans General Beckman on Chuck)
Was that the organizer lady? Wasn't she also Dwight's date/babysitter in the Dinner Party episode? I meant to watch the credits but forgot.

amyp3 said...

Even a funny but not perfect P & R illustrates the things about 30 Rock I don't like. These characters are so much more 3D, the stories more cohesive.

I liked the awkward moment when first Ann, then Andy, realized when Mark had previously seen Leslie's house. (I must think a lot about this show because it had already occured to me we'd never seen Knope's place.)

Oh, and Ron and his deviled eggs.

(btw As a Michigander, I'd like to know where in the Midwest there are green deciduous trees at this time of year.)

Andrew K. said...

Thank you to Scott for asking the question I wanted to, and thanks to Alan for answering. I know Ann and Mark are cool but I really liked Schneider and Poehler together, but I'm so invested it's not about the romance: it's about the funny. And the bring that.

Jack Gibbs said...

Jim: No. Dwight's date/babysitter was playe by Beth Grant. Do you get all your redhead character acters confused (kidding)? There is a kind of insane "random roles" interview with her on the av club website here:,36950/

There were some typically brillinat P & R lines in this episode: "I don't have the heart to tell them what happens to Kurt Cobain in 1994."

"You're underage. I could lose my liquor license"

The Ron F'n Swanson-Nope negotiation about how many courses there would be (and of course the deviled eggs)

etc. The fact that The Office was a clip show tonight only highlights how much funnier this show is. As I said before, the closest thing to NewsRadio since it went off the air. Clearly Ken Tremendous is smarter and funnier than anyone who currently writes/wrote for The Office.

dez said...

The Ron f'ing Swanson method of answering each question with a question is awe-inspiring.

I've seen that in action with some government workers, too. They really nail how government works sometimes (particularly a Parks & Rec dept).

Oaktown Girl said...

Since the pilot did not draw me in and my TV time is limited, I only began watching this series in the past few weeks via On Demand and online. I must say I've really enjoyed it. (From what Alan said, I take it this season is better than the first?) I really liked tonight's episode as well and thought the plot line was quite cleverly done, farce and all. Also, that Leslie's house was a disaster was a nice character twist on what one would have expected from someone who's so fastidious at work.

Anonymous said...

I think the P/R writers should give Paul Schneider more opportunities to be funny. I also love the Andy/April flirtation. And Ron Swanson.

Trilby said...

Leslie is a hoarder! Who knew.

I'm still not getting the Justin storyline because the guy is SO unattractive to me. WHAT IS WITH HIS HAIR? Not just the off-center widow's peak (more like asymmetrical balding) but the too-long sideburns, the close-cropped-ness, the too black-ness. The painted on look of the whole thing. Ewwww. How is he attractive? To both men AND women? He looks like a grown-up Pee-Wee Herman.

I was right last week-- it's a case of TV getting it wrong on who is an attractive man. TV, let me instruct you: attractive man = George Clooney. Nuff said.

Brian said...

What did everyone else think?

Do you expect me to have a strong opinion?

Lane said...

isn't Pee Wee Herman the grown up Pee Wee Herman?

LoopyChew said...

Yay General Beckman! I thought that was her, but I didn't get the chance to double-check the credits sequence. Man, I thought she was short before, but standing next to Amy Poehler just further reinforces that--it's almost kicking someone while they're down.

I loved the fact that this episode managed to be the extremely believable kind of insane that last week's wasn't. I love anything involving Tom and Wendy, and found Justin's intervention for Tom to be hilarious (although I was expecting a followup to the ex/re-foliation joke; maybe it got cut).

And the bit where Leslie explains that she wanted documented evidence under penalty of perjury that her party was awesome? I cackled loudly at that. Fantastic punchline.

Carrie said...

Trilby, I think it's just a personal preference thing. Justin Theroux is a very attractive man to me.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't the funniest episode of the season, but what a tour-de-force for Ron f'n Swanson.

He confounded the questioners and negotiated Leslie up to five courses and fridge space with little more than a few meaningful grunts.

However, he was truly masterful in how he was able to show off to Wendy by eating the hot pepper, then only reacting by saying "Hot."

He then helpfully advised Tom not to try it but did so gently enough so that Tom did it anyway, making a fool of himself, and prompting Wendy to start in about his "frail colon."

It's like I'm eight years old again, and Ron Swanson is The Fonz.

MC said...

I just about wet myself from excitement when I saw Bonita Friedericy come on my screen. It was can I say wierd to see her smile and have a hair out of place? Great little guest role and I'm surprised Alan, being the huge Chuck fan you are, that you didn't point it out.

Anyways, once again Ron Fing Swanson stole the show for me again and the pure look of glee he had on his face explaining to us how he was going to answer his hearing questions was just magical. Also died when Tom asked April to shake his hand to see if he exfoliated properly. Glad to see they were able to make Jerry the butt of one joke atleast once. I think that's necessary to any outstanding P&R episode.

Jen said...

I'm with Carrie. I find Justin Theroux attractive as well. Though this may be residual good will from his other characters and just how generally awesome he is.

Bryan Murray said...

I don't really have a strong opinion of Justin Theroux's attractiveness but Ron F'ing Swanson and Andy are destroying the rest of tv comedy every week. Somehow the writers have found a perfect balance for Mr. F'ing Swanson between the absurd and a naturalistic boss. And everything Andy does is hilarious right now – I definitely shared his laugh when the accountant told the “there’s no accounting for taste in accounting software” joke; and then I laughed even harder when Andy chuckled. The ensemble is really funny right now and I hope the show sticks around for awhile.

I disagreed and thought the farce aspect was pretty brutal but the characters saved any of the plot shortcomings. P & R looked even better in retrospect when it was followed by an Office clip show – a clip show! The Office is shown on three or four different channels every single day plus Hulu and; there is no reason for a clip show in 2010 ever.

belinda said...

I think this episode had the potential to be really awful, but they've been doing such a good job of writing these characters for the past year that everything all came together really well in a really funny manner. It almost felt like a test to the show and its characters, and they most certainly passed!

And my favourite part was when Leslie says to join Justin and Mark and just cuts off in the middle of saying it (and proceeds to get to Justin).

I was right last week-- it's a case of TV getting it wrong on who is an attractive man. TV, let me instruct you: attractive man = George Clooney. Nuff said.

To be fair, Leslie would prefer Clooney's brain in Biden's body. So I can see why Leslie is so enamored with him.

I kind of like that Justin is kind of an asshole AND kind of amazing at the same time - it just depends on how you're perceiving his stories.

flem snopes said...

"That's the best Manhattan I've ever tasted." - Ron F'ing Thompson

As he hoists a Double Old Fashioned glass full to the brim with whiskey.

Oskar said...

For the record, a general four-edged polygon (i.e. a four-edged analog to a triangle) is called a quadrilateral. Repeat after me, class, quadrilateral. It is the general shape of which special cases include squares, rectangles, parallelograms, kites, trapeziums, etc.

Sorry, just couldn't help myself. It's just that I've seen too many tv-recaps that refer to love quadrilaterals as love quadrangles, and it annoys the crap out of my delicate math sensibilities.

Billiam said...

But quadrangle is a funnier word.

(Also a funny word: my verification was "dischnet").

Susan said...

I agree that Leslie being a hoarder was perfect. Also, that Ann had never been to her house seemed believable, too. I think Leslie thinks Ann is a super cool friend and wants to impress her, so it was natural that she would keep her away from her very scary house.

Justin is not conventionally "George Clooney-handsome," but many times men don't have to be and people still think they are attractive and awesome and all. For women it usually doesn't work that way.

Mike said...

@Oskar, as a math grad student and a lexicophile both at once, I feel the need to correct you here.

Quadrangle is a perfectly acceptable word to be used in this context. Don't believe me? Believe one real reference site and one debatably real one.

Note, of course, in the Wiki link, that "quadrangle" can take on either the same meaning as quadrilateral or a much more specific meaning in architecture. Nobody's saying Alan's usage has to refer to the geometric shape. For all I care, a "love triangle" could be referring to the musical instrument.

And Alan, I'm actually a huge Chuck fan (and am with everybody else who was happy to see General Beckman in this episode) but find myself making my first comment on your blog in an article on P&R. This seems weird to me, though I credit you for making me give the show another chance after season 1 had me skipping the 8:30 spot altogether.

Anonymous said...

The party got a little too cringe-ey and awkward for a while, but the end, with the government hearing, was hilarious. And the twist revelation that Leslie initiated it solely to put Justin under oath about the date was just perfect, and caught me completely off guard.

Oskar said...

@Mike: Honestly, I'd never heard quadrangle used in that context, I've always heard it called a quadrilateral, but it seems I stand corrected. Nicely done.

I do still think that quadrilateral is a much better (and much more common) word, and I'm going to continue to annoy people who disagree :) Then again, I'm only a computer science student, so what do I know about geometry (except, you know, computational geometry. I know alot about that...)

Anonymous said...

Ron did say "Old Fashioned." And it's Swanson, not Thompson.

Another outstanding episode from the best comedy on TV.