‘Parks and Recreation’ Review: “Animal Control”
The 'Parks and Recreation' crew face a new set of challenges this week when Ron gets sick, Ben tries to get donations for the Sweetums Foundation, and Leslie has to find a new director for the animal control department.
The keyword on "Animal Control" seems to be stubborn -- we've watched week after week and season after season as Leslie and her friends have faced and overcome obstacles, but the fun is always in watching how they do that and the ways in which they work together. On most shows, the redundancy of these challenges would start to hinder the growth of the show, but we've seen Leslie become a councilwoman and get married, Ron find love, Ann find her purpose, Chris embrace imperfection, and even Andy and April have blossomed into functioning, contributing members of society -- dare I say, they're even kind of responsible these days. And these characters have done all of these things without losing who they are and without the writing ever taking a significant dip in quality.
But back to being stubborn: Ron comes down with an illness but refuses to allow Ann to take him to the hospital, only budging inch by tiniest inch, making baby steps all the way to the end, when he acquiesces to Ann's suggestion that he eat a banana to up his potassium (he ends up putting it on a burger). Leslie and Chris fire the inept animal control employees (a delightful return from Harris, who's "down to clown") and meet resistance from the lazy city council (and the horrible councilman Jamm), who prefer to take turns nominating people for city jobs, regardless of aptitude. And while they're fighting to ensure the animal control jobs go to the right candidates, Ben, Andy, and Tom are schmoozing with fragrance entrepreneur Dennis Feinstein (returning guest star Jason Mantzoukas) to get a sizable donation to the Sweetums Foundation, but Feinstein is making them jump through some douche-y hoops to get there.
Where most sitcoms struggle with juggling multiple arcs, 'Parks and Recreation' never fails to thematically tie the plots together, even with a concept as simple as how stubborn people can be. Even April gets a little stubborn when Leslie wants her to apply for the animal control position, but she relents to help a friend in need and as a result, she offers the best solution: let the Parks department absorb animal control, thus letting April stay with Parks and Rec, and allowing her to help out with animal control since she loves furry creatures so much.
I've read complaints about Leslie and her friends always overcoming the challenges they face, but that's not true, and certainly not so when Ben is unable to get Feinstein to donate no matter what he says or does. Sometimes people aren't stubborn -- they're just jerks, and nothing you do can change that. Jamm is the ultimate jerk, but Leslie continues to kill him with integrity and reason week after week, and he's in a position where he's forced into compromise. But Feinstein isn't connected to anyone on the show, nor does he owe them anything. It seems that when faced with government obstacles, our gang can usually succeed in at least some form of victory, but when faced with someone outside of that arena, failure is much more frequent. That's why it's especially interesting to follow Ben as he heads up the Sweetums charity -- he's pretty much flying solo (with gentle assistance from Andy and Tom, who -- let's face it -- are mostly useless) and not working within a system where he has friends on whom he can depend.
Governmental conflicts on the show can get redundant, so introducing new forms of conflict that exist outside of that realm can be tricky -- you can rely on personal conflicts, but relationships are too easy, and we've seen how exploring this has often tripped up the show, especially when it comes to Ann and Chris. So the writers have brilliantly thought outside of the box by putting Ben in a new position in a new company, where there's no shortage of new conflicts, and they're the kinds of problems that aren't so easily solved.
That said, "Animal Control" continues the tradition of showing us how great writing and pitch-perfect humor can eclipse almost any shortcoming on a sitcom. 'Parks and Recreation' remains a sitcom for other sitcoms to look up to in terms of consistency and the way it mixes comedy and heart so effortlessly. What? You didn't tear up when Leslie told April she'd made that plaque the week April was hired?