Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Parks and Recreation - "The Treaty"

Spoilers for this week's "Parks and Rec" after the jump:

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve decided to stop covering both “Parks and Rec” and “Community”, and will instead switch to reviewing just one each week (although some weeks I may do both if I have the time). I don’t have any real criteria for determining which show to cover, so it’ll basically just depend on my mood. Usually I’ll pick the show that has the stronger overall episode, but perhaps not always.

This week is one of those “not always” weeks. I loved “Studies in Modern Movement”, and could spend a lot of time detailing why. It's one of my favorite episodes of "Community's" third season so far, albeit one that’s not quite in the same league as “Remedial Chaos Theory”. But I spend a lot of my time on this blog writing positive things. That’s mostly because I don’t generally choose to cover the shows that I’m a little less in love with on a week-to-week basis. If I did, you’d have seen plenty of venom directed towards certain “Modern Family” episodes this year. But I don’t, although maybe I should. 

So it’s rare that I get the chance to rip into an episode of television, which means that when I get a chance to do so I'm going to take it, if only to keep my negative writing muscles in shape. And it's usually kind of fun. In fact, negative reviews are generally the most fun ones to write, and in many cases the easiest. But I hate doing it to a show I adore as much as "Parks and Rec". Fortunately, I rarely have to. Usually the foundation of this series is so strong that it can mostly overcome an episode with some weak writing or a series of jokes that just don’t work, such as “Meet ‘n’ Greet”. “The Treaty” is not one of those types of episodes. Well, it is as far as jokes not landing and terrible writing goes. But in terms of the other thing I’m talking about… no.

The basic premise here is that Leslie and Ben are helping a local school conduct a model U.N., something they’re both tremendously excited for. “End of the World” was the first real interaction between the two since their break-up in the season premiere, and I thought it did a solid job of tentatively beginning the “moving on” process while clearing the way for them to still be friends. And that initially seems to be the case this week. Things go awry, however, when Leslie temporarily leaves to have some photos taken for her campaign. Ben feels slighted, and before you know it a war between their two “countries” has broken out.  

I like that the series is continuing to show that Ben and Leslie can’t just go back to normal, but the way it’s handled here is just terrible. I know some have been saying that “Parks and Rec” has been allowing its characters to become a bit too broad this season, and while that’s true in some cases (Chris, for instance) it doesn’t bother me quite as much as seeing characters I love act in a manner completely contrary to who they are. It was fine when Leslie went a little bit overboard last week about Ben possibly dating someone else because it was something I could conceivably see her doing in that situation, even if it was a little over-the-top.
This is not. The Leslie we know and love would never in a million years allow her own issues to ruin this sort of an event, and neither would Ben. Furthermore, it quickly devolves into a cringe-worthy spectacle worthy of David Brent or early Michael Scott, and that’s not what this show is. It’s unfunny, unpleasant, and just plain awful, and a case could definitely be made that it’s the worst thing “Parks and Recreation” has ever done. The resolution to the story was decent (April playing peacemaker was a surprising and nice touch), but it’s hardly anything special, and certainly not good enough to make up for everything else.
And here’s another thing: in addition to being implausible on a character level, how does Leslie and Ben’s display not immediately sink her campaign? I guess the media left before it started getting ugly, but some of these kids must have talked to their parents, and that in turn should lead to the newspapers getting wind of the story. Perhaps that will be an issue in an upcoming episode, but right now I’m betting it’s just whoever came up with this idea not taking it to its logical conclusion. This entire storyline really wasn’t well-thought out at all.  
Equally problematic is the subplot involving Chris. Here is a character that has always been rather ridiculous, but usually in a funny way. However, nothing about Chris dating Jerry’s daughter has been funny, and I mean that literally. Indeed, it’s brought out all of Chris’s annoying qualities and few of his endearing ones, and has hit the same jokes (Chris wants to talk about everything, Jerry’s uncomfortable with that, etc.) each time. And they weren’t good the first time.
This is an episode that seems headed for D-range territory, which is kind of astonishing given the consistency "Parks and Rec" is known for (up until now the show hadn't done a truly bad episode since early in season two). What saves it just a bit is the other main subplot involving Ron and Tom. After growing increasingly annoyed with Tom’s antics over the past few episodes, I found it extremely satisfying to see Ron (who spends most of the storyline trying to allow Tom to come back with his pride/arrogance intact) finally snap and literally force Tom back into his old job. Funny stuff, and also very much in character. Wish I could say the same about the rest of this installment.
Other Thoughts

- The one thing I did enjoy about the Chris subplot was that it allowed Ann to reflect a bit on how different she is now than when she was dating him. That was a nice bit of character work.  

- Best line of the episode: before saying anything else to Leslie, April states that she loved “how everything fell apart in there”. And I’m glad someone liked it, since I certainly didn't.

- The interview scenes were hilarious. Were those really the best candidates for the job, or was that just Ron trying to make Tom feel superior? (I suppose it could be both.)   
Grade: C- 

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