Parks and Recreation” 5×02: Soda Tax

September 27, 2012

In week two of “Parks and Rec,” things are more serious than funny. I don’t mean that it’s not funny at all, and I don’t even mean that as a bad thing, necessarily—it’s just that, in this episode, the writers have chosen to focus on the darker sides of some of our major players. It’s a mature step that’s in line with the show’s history: clearly, these characters are going to change and grow a great deal over the course of this season.

Like last week, this episode was split between Pawnee, where Leslie is getting her feet wet as city councilwoman, and Washington D.C., where Ben is trying to be the boss to April and a bunch of spoiled college interns. There was no mention at all of Leslie and Ben’s relationship this episode, so it looks like the writers are only going to give us that in bits and pieces. That’s probably wise; it’s always good to be stingy with the relationship plot (see: Jim and Pam, millions before them).

Leslie is facing her first controversial vote, and it’s a big one: yes or no on the Soda Tax, which would, on the plus side, get rid of “child size” sodas which are, in fact, roughly the size of a two-year old child if the child were liquified. On the other hand, it may cause massive job loss if the restaurants suffer. Meanwhile, Chris and Tom are helping Andy train for his police academy physical, for which he must be able to run two miles in 20 minutes, something that he believes to be physically impossible.

In D.C., Ben is dealing with a familiar problem—lack of respect from his inferiors. After he delivers a speech about the correct font for memos (Times New Roman, across the board), he discovers a cartoon which suggests (or actually, depicts) that he might have a stick up his ass. He determines to teach the twerps a lesson, but then he finds out that the twerps are all related to really important people. Dammit.

On the track at the community college, Andy runs two miles in 29 minutes and then just strips down to his boxers and lies on the ground (the best moment of the episode, by far). This prompts Chris to motivate him by asking why he wants to be a police officer. When Andy replies that he wants to have a good job for April because April is all that matters to him, we can quickly see Chris begin to break down. That loneliness again …

Meanwhile, Leslie holds a town hall meeting to find out how much her yes or no vote on the Soda Tax will impact her popularity among Pawneeans. 50/50 split. Suddenly, she doesn’t know which choice is the right one; this isn’t like her job in the Parks Department, when she was always sure of herself. She begins to unravel.

Back in D.C., Ben decides to switch tactics and kiss everyone’s ass. This includes pizza, ultimate frisbee, and, unfortunately, him saying “no doubt, no doubt.” AHHH. Watching Ben try to be cool is one of my favorite things and also one of the most painful things ever. He’s just so un-cool! I miss Leslie and her equally un-cool ways FOR him. Anyway, he gives camaraderie a try, but still finds a less-than-flattering cartoon posted in the office. When he confronts Ellis, cool-guy-intern, Ellis insists that Ben’s daughter was the one who did it. So, turns out that everyone thinks April is Ben’s daughter, but more importantly: April is the one drawing the cartoons? This, I didn’t get. April has always been mean in a sweet-underneath kind of way, but this seemed really cruel. Even the resolution, which sees April threatening Ellis to get him to do his work (and thus supporting Ben), didn’t make me feel any better about that one. What the fuck, April?

In the police-training plot, Chris has now collapsed on the ground and decided that he needs to see a doctor. When all of his tests come back and prove he’s perfectly healthy, he’s still freaked out: “I’m going to die one day, probably.” This insane moment prompts Tom to suggest he see a therapist, an idea that Chris is really into. So we’re stripping away the overly-positive layers on that guy, it seems.

Finally, Leslie has to cast her vote. Unfortunately, she stays up all night drinking a child-size soda (remember: that’s ONE GALLON of soda, and she asked for all the sodas mixed together), so when her name is called she ends up just puking into the empty soda container. This is one of the best moments of the episode, because we get to see Sick-Leslie-Turned-British (“Mayhaps it appears that we take a recess?” – PUKES – “Can we take a recess??”). During the break, she visits Ron, who tells her that he tried to fire her four times during her years working under him. She’s horrified, until he tells her that he never went through with it she had so much conviction. Also, he gives her his compass, because “all great adventurers need one.” Oh, Ron. When the session starts again and her name is called, Leslie knows what to do and makes us proud, which is great because she’s awesome.

So, all in all, a quirky episode. I didn’t laugh out loud too much this week, but I do feel like everybody is somewhere interesting (except Donna – GIVE US MORE DONNA PLEASE). The writers have peeled back the funny and revealed some not-so-pleasant truths that we’ll now get to watch the characters deal with. And given that Leslie and Ben are handling these emotional crisis apparently without support from each other—well, that’s something we’ll have to delve into as well.

As already noted, I’m giving the moment of the week to Andy lying in his boxers on the track. ANDY, you’re always killin’ it.

Remember the season on Nuclear Salad…


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