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‘Parks and Recreation’ Review: “How a Bill Becomes a Law”

NBC

On this week’s episode of ‘Parks and Recreation,’ Chris starts a 311 program that leads Ron to a new love interest, Ben and April spend hours stuck in the car together, and Leslie fights to turn her first bill into a law.

The best thing about this week’s episode, “How a Bill Becomes a Law” is without a doubt Ron’s pothole plot. Chris is feeling extra positive thanks to his recent visits with a therapist, so he decides to start a 311 phone service where the Parks & Rec department will direct callers to the appropriate department when they have an issue.  When a concerned citizen named Diane (guest Lucy Lawless — ‘Battlestar Galactica’ fans rejoice!) calls to complain about a pothole on her street and can’t get through to the public works department, Ron drags Andy out to take care of the problem themselves. This leads to a delightful run-in with two little girls, who Andy gleefully plays princess dress-up with while Ron takes care of the manly work, catching the eye of Diane.

It’s always delightful to see Ron feel genuine emotion about something, from last season’s declaration of his love of riddles to his affection for breakfast foods, but there’s nothing like the rare moments when Ron’s affection for a person shines through. The little smile he cracks this week at the end of the episode when Diane asks him out on a date is the kind of rare treasure from a beloved character that reminds us how strongly invested we are in the characters here, and it’s effective stuff that works on such a simple, almost subliminal level.

Leslie has a rough go of things this week — she’s promised the local swimming team that she’ll pass a bill to keep the public pool open longer each year for their practices, but one of her fellow councilmen isn’t going to give her the vote she needs unless she gives up her office with its cushy private bathroom. “How a Bill Becomes a Law” makes an obvious, but entertaining point here, showing how small government doesn’t differ that much from big government when it comes to getting what you need — there’s always a trade-off, and while Leslie wants to fight to get things done the right way and stay true to herself, she might have to budge a little. Leslie’s budging isn’t about saving face, as evidenced by her willingness to go in front of the city council and the local press with a ridiculous, half-permed head of hair — it’s about fulfilling a promise to young kids and not backing down from what she believes in. This isn’t as simple as typical government bribery, and it’s impressive how the writers this week use such a silly sight gag to remind us that Leslie isn’t losing herself in the bureaucracy anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Ben and April have decided to take off early and drive to Pawnee to surprise Andy and Leslie, but a presidential motorcade keeps them trapped in a stuffy parking garage. There’s a big to-do about how Ben is low on gas, but he keeps the car on to stay cool; the Ben/April thread this week is obvious, but provides for some fun, smaller moments between the two of them, like having Ben read April his agonizing ‘Star Trek’ fanfic or April uncovering Ben’s embarrassing “summer jamz” mix CD (but really, how is Salt ‘N Pepa embarrassing?). Mostly, this thread allows for April and Ben’s bond to deepen, which is really fine in the scheme of things, considering we aren’t sure how much longer the pair of them will be sequestered in DC. In a way, this plot calls to mind the arc on ‘The Office,’ when Jim went off to Stamford. We got a whole new host of supporting characters there (including Rashida Jones), and we got a glimpse of some of the guys in the DC office on ‘Parks and Rec’ last week — hopefully we’ll get to see a little more of them if Ben and April are going to be stuck there for a while because there really aren’t that many ways to keep pairing them up alone or getting them back to Leslie and Andy, realistically.

One more thing about this week: Of course Donna is reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’

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