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RECAP Parks & Recreation: ‘Soulmates’

April 22, 2011

Members of my generation probably remember Rescue Rangers, the cartoon that (if you lived in mid-Michigan in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s) eased the de-gression each weekday from the awesomeness of Ducktales to the mediocrity of Tailspin. Rangers wasn’t up to the same level of quality of Ducktales, but it did have one thing that kept our pudgy little eyes watching: Gadget. Smart, sexy, and sporting a dynamite purple jumpsuit that no girl ever dared try pull off, Gadget was ashamedly appealing, and Disney gets a lot of credit for screwing up our concepts of attractiveness and sexuality. My college roommate’s predilection for redheads stems from seeing The Little Mermaid at a birthday party when he was seven (that same friend also took my “Who’s Your Ideal Cartoon Woman” quiz and, oddly enough, ended up with Gadget, which he reasoned was actually an ideal choice).

So what does this have to do with Parks & Rec? Outside of mindless filler and the hope of scoring more hits from the nostalgic crowd, I think I’ve nailed down what makes Leslie Knope so fetching: She’s the human equivalent of Gadget. “Mousey” would certainly be a good adjective to describe her—she’s petite and generally shy, regarding the opposite sex; she’s blonde; and she’s scatterbrained yet curiously competent at what she does (and in both cases it’s implied that their work is a substitute for social interaction).

However, once in a while someone comes along who wants to break them out of their shells, and it’s to the latest installment of Parks’ credit that it skirts the tiresome convention of whether Leslie and Ben (the Ranger equivalent of Dale) know the other likes them and makes their affections known (though when did Leslie start liking Ben?). The strange thing is that Leslie’s the one to ask Ben out, an offer he awkwardly declines, leading Leslie to seek (with a push from Ann Perkins, who’s become something of a tramp) romance through an Internet match-up…and discovering that her ideal mate is Tom.

Leslie surreptitiously asks Tom out for a lunch date to confirm her suspicions that the match-up calculator is bat-shit insane. Tom figures out/is told Leslie’s intentions and immediately goes from weirded-out mode to total sex-creep (Aziz Ansari, whom I think is overrated overall, is in his element here)—grinning like a child who’s just torn the legs off a kitten, dropping inappropriate hints of his delusional “relationship” at a meeting, and, finally, snagging some snog from Leslie (which, granted is initiated by her, but he makes it look sleazy). Chris catches them and informs Leslie that inter-office relationships are forbidden, hence why Chris declined her dinner date, and the whole Leslie/Ben tension is back on. (Likewise, given the show’s dark view of romance and the new forbidden-love element, how long will it be before the two are making out in a park dumpster?)

While the A plot advances Leslie and Ben’s characters, the B has a lot of fun pitting Ron against Chris, who wants to outlaw burgers from the commissary cafeteria. Ron protests, and Chris (who’s, yes, growing on me) launches into an infomercially-inspired defense of turkey burgers, which spurs Ron to challenge him to a burger-off: Chris’s hippie-shit-laden turkey versus Ron’s from-the-local-whatever-mart beef. If Ron wins, the cafeteria keeps serving real food, if Chris wins, he gets, “the rarest jewel of all: victory over me, Ron Swanson.” After a quick stop by the health-food store, the showdown begins (the highlight of which is, ironically, meeting the one person in Pawnee who’s disliked more than Jerry)—no need to guess who wins. Similarly, I figured out why Tom and Leslie were matched up, too. Maybe I’ve watching the show too much.

I say this a lot, but each time it’s true: another stellar episode—Ron comparing the health-food-store shoppers to zoo animals, Ron sampling vegan bacon, Leslie’s ideal man being the Phantom of the Opera, Forp, Joe from Sewage referring to his department as “The Toilet Party” and ogling women in House & Style (and is it intentional that he looks like Luigi?), Tom’s douchey code words for food—brilliant.


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