‘Parks and Recreation’ Review: “Fluoride; The Cones of Dunshire”
Tonight brings another double dose of ‘Parks and Recreation‘ with two all-new episodes to prepare us for next week’s holiday absence. In “Fluoride,” with Leslie’s time coming to close on the city council, she sets about trying to tackle some goals, like teaming up with the Indianapolis Colts and putting fluoride in Pawnee’s water supply. And in “The Cones of Dunshire,” Ben discovers a new hobby, while Tom, April, and Donna join forces to help Ron sell his beloved cabin. Meanwhile, it seems the city council isn’t quite done with Leslie yet when she has to square off with Jamm once again.
Taking Leslie’s position on the city council away was, as I expressed last week, the best possible decision ‘Parks and Rec’ could have made. The newest batch of episodes have been so consistently hilarious and delightful, and tonight’s two are no exception — and that’s not to say that this season hasn’t been great; it has, but this latest batch has been ‘Parks and Rec’ firing on all cylinders. Maybe the brief hiatus helped?
In “Fluoride,” Leslie tries to tackle as many goals as possible, first by teaming up with the Colts to help some local kids get into shape, and then by trying to get fluoride into the drinking water. Of course this bothers Jamm, who makes money off the backs of unhealthy Pawneeans, so he colludes with Sweetums in a similarly minded venture to put sugar in the drinking supply. This leads to a hilarious re-branding venture with the help of Tom (you know, like Snoop Dogg — I like Tom’s idea that he might some day call himself “Snoop Laser Snake”), and Leslie winds up getting her way.
Meanwhile, Crazy Craig returns (!!!) and he spends the afternoon with April and the rest of the gang, choosing their “spirit dogs” from photos of shelter pups, leading April to realize that she doesn’t know Donna at all. Out of all of the characters, these are probably the only two that haven’t had a bonding experience, so it’s nice to see them pair up and share a moment, especially given their similar stand-offish qualities. Also bonding: Ron and Chris, who spend the episode building a crib together for Chris and Ann’s incoming baby, though Ann sits both episodes out this week.
But then Leslie’s fight against Sweetums leads to Ben getting fired, which also leads into our second episode of the night and my favorite kind of Ben: Unemployed Ben. In “The Cones of Dunshire,” the Letters to Cleo t-shirt returns and Ben makes up his own roleplaying board game called “The Cones of Dunshire” … obviously. He also returns to that accounting firm, which is great for some amazingly awkward laughs. We’ve only seen glimpses of the quirky possibilities within, and this week we get full access to what Ben’s life would be like if he’d accepted a job there. (There are calzones!) There’s a clever bit of writing here that I’ll come back to — but first!
April, Donna, and Tom try to help Ron sell his cabin because he’s purchased a bigger one for his expanding family. Donna and Tom give it a makeover and try to woo townies, while April works her magic with a hipster couple (which is pretty stellar), but Ron doesn’t care about money — he just wants someone to buy it who will cherish it the way he did. In the end, he sells it to April for eight bucks, Jerry’s (or Larry, whatever) asthma inhaler, and some cough drops.
Leslie spends the whole episode fighting Jamm over the funds for Pawnee Commons. She wants to ensure the money is kept in a lock box, earmarked for the park so she can begin construction as soon as she returns to the Parks department, ensuring that Jamm and the other councilmen don’t spend it on a bunch of crap. So she and Chris kiss his ass, eating his fake Japanese food, going out to karaoke with him (where Leslie is forced to sing the male part in “Summer Nights” from ‘Grease’), and pretending to be his friends — and in the end, she still doesn’t get what she wants.
But then Chris does something pretty heartwarming and amazing, and it’s kind of the best sendoff possible — if this is the way Chris and Ann leave the show, I’d be okay with it. Chris, knowing he’s leaving and not renewing his office as City Manager, offers Jamm five massive IOUs in exchange for Leslie’s lock box fund for the Commons. And the oblivious Jamm takes the deal. It all works out in the end: Ben will take Chris’ City Manager job, keeping him close to Leslie and friends, and Leslie will return to the Parks department, where she gets to build the Pawnee Commons, finally.
And that clever bit of writing? Ben once again quits that accounting job, but this time he leaves his nerdy friends with the Cones of Dunshire and instructions on how to play. It’s pretty damn cute. I do wonder, however, how Ben will work as City Manager and what sort of new conflicts this will present with his marriage to Leslie, but I continue to be impressed by this show’s insane capacity to keep things fresh without ever really betraying what makes it so great (looking at you, ‘The Office.’)