Even in Parks and Recreation's teaser this week, something felt different. The silly was back: The goofy side-characters, the wacky subplots, the visual gags. And I for one, was a happy customer. One of the things that kept me coming back to this series over the first three seasons was the out-of-left-field absurdity of the writing. Season 4, although endearing, felt less wacky and seemed to stray from that winning formula. But the goofy magic was back in “Soda Tax” with so many laugh-out-loud moments and brilliant flashes of what made me love Parks and Recreation in the first place.
“Soda Tax” also showed, again, how a comedy about small-town government can hold a mirror to larger political and social issues facing our country. Serious topics, such as the obesity epidemic, can be flayed, examined, and presented in a way that might actually help while making us double over with the giggles. Satire was in full effect last night as Leslie was faced with her first big obstacle as a city councilwoman. Should she support the titular “soda tax” or not? The evidence for support was played out hilariously with the sight-gag soda cup presentation, especially the “Child Size” being the largest at a whopping 512 ounces. Or as the Restaurant Association spokesperson so eloquently put it, “roughly the size of a two-year-old child, if the child were liquefied.” Case in point on silly/awesome/topical/amazing/funny/absurd!
The comedy mined from April and Andy missing each other paled to the comedy they've created on-screen together in seasons past. I miss seeing them together, much more than I miss Leslie and Ben. Actually, the real “couple” that re-emerged last night was the salty n’ sweet of Leslie and Ron Swanson. I don’t mean romantically, but this was the real odd couple that got the show moving. So, it seemed, that the writers are getting back to basics, which for this fan is a step in the right direction. Leslie has always been best on her own. Nothing is more boring than a couple in love. What made Mary Richards (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) great was her quest to have it all! What makes Liz Lemon (30 Rock) relatable is her search for balance of both career and personal life. And this episode let Leslie do what she does best: fight the power and do what her gut (pun intended) said was right.
The plot also involved so many great weirdos from the Pawnee peanut gallery, especially in the city council scenes. Let’s hope these become a regular feature, replacing the “town hall” meetings of seasons past. The gadfly townspeople really help round out the Pawnee universe, made it feel like a real place.
The scenes featuring April and Ben in D.C., while amusing, felt like a different show. It seemed strange to still have some of the cast in Washington. Although it was good to see April grow with her new role as Ben’s assistant, and her incredible dominatrix-like rant at the intern in the end tag was fantastic and funny. That said, I couldn’t help but think that I missed her in the Pawnee office throwing shade at Jerry and Donna. But who knows, maybe an “April” spin-off is in the works?!
To the credit of the Parks and Rec writers, it is a huge cast they need to service each week. Focus must shift and ebb to give each character a moment to shine. But Leslie is still the A story, the reason we tune in. The backbone. And as a councilwoman of Pawnee she voted her gut. Yes! The town may try to hold a recall election, but Leslie will stick to her guns. And that is something for us to be thankful for.
– How much longer do you think April can stand being away from Andy? Do you think he is still wearing that bandana for underwear?
– Do you think a recall could be Leslie’s ticket back to the Parks and Rec department?
– Who else is looking forward to seeing Chris and his therapist?
– What other social issues do you think Parks and Recreation should tackle?