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‘Parks and Recreation’ Review: “Ben’s Parents”

NBC

Jean-Ralphio is back on this week’s ‘Parks and Recreation‘! Jean-Ralphio is back, you guys! Let’s dance! Oh, and some other fun stuff happened too. But Jean-Ralphio is back!

It’s a night of celebration for Ben and Leslie as they prepare for their engagement party, but Ben’s parents (guests Jonathan Banks of ‘Breaking Bad‘ and Glenne Headly) hate each other and this might just be one problem Leslie can’t solve — not even with her patented “unity quilt.” The typically diplomatic Leslie seems like the only person who could unite Ben’s parents, but their animosity toward one another is just too strong. Still, Leslie keeps at it, trying her best to distract them and appeal to their interests until things start to fall apart. And there’s really nothing more hilariously terrifying than Jonathan Banks growling at Leslie’s offer of Red Vines with, “We are a Twizzlers family.” It’s all the usual petty divorced parents stuff, but Banks and Headly are delightful to watch, and their own bitterness brings out the warmth in Leslie’s mom, giving us a side of her we rarely get to enjoy.

Eventually, Leslie and Ben ask the pair to just be decent human beings for the sake of their child and to go to their wedding without interacting with each other or causing a scene. There’s something almost suspiciously simple about the way this plot is wrapped up, but that’s sort of the humor of the situation, isn’t it? They spend all evening with complicated distractions and blowing up this idea of presenting the quilt, when really all it takes is straight forward request because everyone is an adult, whether they’re acting that way or not.

Elsewhere, Chris is feeling very sensitive from his therapy and the engagement has made him realize how alone he is, so Ann, Andy, and April all endeavor to cheer him up. Using Champion the dog seems to do the trick, until we’re treated to the pathetic sight of Champion licking Chris’ tears off his face. And not even delicious shrimp can keep him happy because everything comes to an end. Of course it’s April and Andy’s silly strategy of alternately naming off happy and sad things that do the trick to cure Chris of his bipolarity for the evening by keeping him on an even keel, shouting stuff like “beaches!” and “snails coming out of your butt!” and “Dave Matthews” (he works for both happy and sad).

Tom gets more serious than ever this week, preparing his investment presentation of Rent-a-Swag with Jean-Ralphio. Wait, did I just say Jean-Ralphio?! Jean-Ralphio Saperstein is back in the house with bigger hair than ever and lots of pink clothing items and sexy dance moves. The problem is that Tom is just now seeing that Jean-Ralphio isn’t as committed to business as he is, and he’s more of a hanger-on and hype-man than he is an actual partner. And if Tom wants to get Ron’s investment for his new start-up, he’s going to have to ditch his friend — luckily, Jean-Ralphio is okay with that. He really just likes hanging around and having fun, but he’s not a total idiot, so he goes back to the party to tell Ron that he’s been fired because Tom is all about being mature and serious about business, and that’s enough to get Ron to invest.

Ann gets the short end of the stick this week, again, with just a couple of remarks about how she’s still single and working on being with herself and learning how to be happy on her own. It’s minor, I know, but I like how easily relatable it is and how it subtly shines a light on sitcom relationship tropes, where every character must inevitably be paired off in order for the show to be satisfying. We’ve been trained to feel this way, and perhaps the writers realize they tried too hard by constantly having Ann date the available male characters. Why can’t she just be alone? Here’s a better question: Why can’t she just be alone without having to point it out in every episode? Do this, ‘Parks and Rec’ writers, and I’ll be impressed.

Best moment of the night goes to Ron, who doesn’t get too much of his own material this week, but does get into one hell of a stare-down with Ben’s dad over the last piece of bacon-wrapped shrimp. Can we have Jonathan Banks back soon? I’d love nothing more than an entire plot dedicated to Ben’s dad and Ron growling at each other.

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