Parks and Recreation "Leslie and Ben" / "Correspondents' Lunch" Review: I Love You and I Like You

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Parks and Recreation S05E14 / S05E15: "Leslie and Ben" / "Correspondents' Lunch"

What is it about weddings on this show that makes people want to spring them on their fellow man? April and Andy. Leslie and Ben. Ron and Tammy. Parks and Rec is obsessed with flashmob nuptials.

It's a core value of the show: In the midst of a culture of planning and counterplanning against a host of wild shenanigans, one of the most sacred events that can ever be planned is weighed against the urgency of love, and only spontaneity makes sense. Love is too important, and to be denied or to postpone that love is criminal. Not even Leslie Knope can forecast what her heart wants, and even though what can be assembled in the name of that honorable chemistry may be impossible in your real world when you try to play the home version, it's reasonable in Pawnee. That's why we love this show.

"Leslie and Ben" was an almost uncomfortable reminder of just how much we love it. Everything about it was winsome and sweet, choreographed to manipulate your invested senses. About the time we were seeing monochrome montages of Leslie and Ben's relationship and I struggled to fight off my robot tears, I started to recognize that feeling. This would've been a decent season finale. This would've been a decent series finale. Why is this happening so soon?

Let's not try to meditate on the unthinkable too long, but, if the show had ended after "Leslie and Ben," could you have made you peace with it? It had all the elements of a farewell: full-circle friendships (Chris giving Ben the mounted letter—awwwwwwww), emotional clips from the past, old characters returning to revel in a landmark event for the cast (DJ Roomba in the house!), Ron Swanson conveying his feelings. I mean, if The Office's series finale is half as good as this mid-season episode, I'll be happy. No, it'll have to be more than half as good. It'll have to be better. (The Office has a lot of making up to me to do.)

Parks and Rec even did its clips well. No need to add filler by creating an opus of darling Leslie and Ben moments. Leave that to the fans. Just give me a few tasteful moments and integrate them so they seem natural and not over-the-top. Nothing pleased me more than the star of that sequence being "I love you and I like you"; we didn't need Justin Vernon crooning over a myriad of clips so we could relive their lives over the course of three minutes. Not that I have anything against Bon Iver. I miss Chuck.

It was a sweet and perfect twenty minutes. Which is why the programming for the evening was so weird.

Immediately following the wedding episode was "Correspondents' Luch," a pretty rote installment that, because it followed "Leslie and Ben," felt terribly basic. Parks and Recreation likes to do "ripped from the headlines" kinds of stories that are kooky and that work because small towns imitating life in the outside world is funny, but sometimes they fall with a big, dull thud. "Correspondents' Lunch" was the thud-ly type.

The premise of the phone-hacking may have been dull, but Donna and Andy tried their hardest to lighten things up, even though Andy is in a pit of existential despair. I've enjoyed Donna becoming more a of a key player lately, and not remaining a Phyllis/Stanley character. She's not around just to toss in a quip or provide a reaction. I love that she set the trap. And Chris Pratt did what he's been doing for the entire length of the series, walking through a mechanical episode and dumping his pockets of bright comedy throughout. I almost wished the episode had played up his depression more. More of him lying on the ground. More of him muttering with a lack of confidence. I was almost looking for a stronger Oren joke. It's weird to see that character all sad and gloomy; why not enjoy it a little more?

"Correspondents' Lunch" wasn't an upsetting or vexing episode, just a plain and boring one. Tom's sequence at Ben's new job was fine but not necessarily very funny. That's been the story for Tom for a while now, though. Outside of his store and involvement with Jean Raphio, Haverford's been a stranger in a strange land, someone who lives outside of the chemistry everyone else seems to have. I really enjoyed the episodes where Ron tried to helped him out, where he had to become more responsible, but beyond that, I feel like Jerry has more affection from within the group. Maybe that's just a product of general aloofness in Tom's personality, since he believes himself to be different from everyone, but in a time when Donna is being better integrated, Tom is on the outside looking in.

What "Correspondents' Lunch" really suffered from, however, was airing in the shadow of the "Leslie and Ben" and the latter's saccharine season-finale-ness. Maybe that was why it was there in the first place, to demonstrate that the season/show is not over and that Parks and Rec will still be around to fill time when The Office needs it for the rest of the season. Even a bland episode of this show is better than whatever Community is doing right now. For my money, Parks and Rec is the only consistently shining star left on Thursday night.


NOTES


– "The Falcon is entering." "The Turtle Dove acknowledges." There are reasons why Leslie and Ben are perfect for each other. That moment is one of them.

– Can you believe it's been three years since Rob Lowe and Adam Scott joined the cast? Chris blew me away when he said that while delivering such an incredibly sweet present. I still have trouble remembering Parks and Rec is in Season 5. But mostly because I forget that Season 1 existed. We try to forget the bad things.

– Another suggestion of finality in "Leslie and Ben" was the come-uppance against Councilman Jamm. Ron Swanson literally delivering the knockout punch (with seemingly such little effort—fitting) to conclude Jamm's loss, of both the park space and his season arc, was the kind of tied-up loose end we'd expect for a last episode. Christmas come early, I guess.

– "I love you and I like you." The perfectly twee way to end vows. For a couple I had so much trouble getting on board with at the beginning of their relationship, I'm surprised by how dedicated I am to their marriage. I wouldn't say that their drama was on par with Jim and Pam's or Chuck and Sarah's or Casey and Dana's but the show still made this relationship troubled enough to feel like we've been on a journey to get to where we are.

– "I wish this office only had walls." Ron says that and you don't even question how he would get in and out. Obviously he would power saw his way in every day and patch the drywall. It'd be a fairly simple entrance for anyone who carries a power saw and tubs of spackle with them wherever they go.

– Redneck Ambulance is an awful charity. I know they weren't trying to sell that one to the audience so Andy's music charity would shine that much brighter but it was upsetting to watch that one get picked initially. The music charity sounds like one I would want to work for and I have zero musical talent. Every time I play an instrument, someone else in the world loses his or her rhythm. But he sold me.

– Why does no one deliver me fancy lunches on carts? I'm in the wrong business.

– I absolutely believe Nick Offerman made those rings. And the use of the waffle-maker was a nice touch.