Parks and Recreation Review: "Soda Tax"
“For my money, Parks and Recreation made the transformation from second rate clone of The Office to one of the best comedies on television right about when it decided to embrace its main character.”
Tonight’s episode, “Soda Tax” got me thinking about how far this show has evolved since its pilot. For my money, Parks and Recreation made the transformation from second rate clone of The Office to one of the best comedies on television right about when it decided to embrace its main character. For much of the abbreviated, much maligned first season, Leslie Knope was essentially Michael Scott lite. During those first six episodes she was socially awkward, clung to obvious delusions of grandeur and was barely tolerated by her exasperated coworkers. Worse, the show seemed to treat Leslie’s enthusiasm for local politics with a winking condescension, stopping just short of having the words, “IT’S STUPID THAT SHE CARES THIS MUCH” flash across the screen in big, block lettering whenever she got worked up about a local issue. The show has come a long way since then, (who ever could have predicted that Ann’s loser boyfriend would one day marry April and aspire to be a police officer?) but the change in how the show views Leslie has been the most important. Leslie Knope is awesome and the show knows that she is awesome. She can still be awkward, she still wants to be the first female president of the United States, and she still annoys Ron occasionally, but Leslie is great and we’re reminded of why during her conversation with Ron towards the end of tonight’s episode.
The episode opens with Ann giving Leslie advice on what will be her first proposed bill as a member of City Council. It seems that the obesity problem in Pawnee is exacerbated by incredibly over sized soda cup being sold at local restaurants. Thus, Leslie’s bill would put a tax on these larger sized cups in an effort to cut down on their consumption. At first, Leslie’s soda tax seems like a great idea. After all, who would be against making the town healthier? A meeting with Kathryn Pinewood however, reveals that if Leslie’s soda tax goes through, up to one hundred jobs could be lost as a result. The moral dilemma eats at Leslie, so naturally she decides to hold a town meeting to help her decide. The meeting goes predictably awry and ends with a handful of townspeople demanding she be fired if she votes for the bill. When it comes time to actually vote, it becomes clear that Leslie has the deciding vote. Predictably she vomits.
Unsure of what to do, Leslie goes to Ron. Expecting to be given reassurance as always, Leslie instead receives a shocking piece of news: It turns out that he tried to have her fired. Not just once either. Four times it seems, Ron tried to get rid of her forever. As an employee during her first year or two with the Parks department, Leslie was abrasive, demanding, and often directly disobeyed Ron’s orders in her attempts to follow her gut. It was for the same reasons however, that Ron eventually decided to keep her on board. “I’d rather work with a person of conviction than a wishy-washy kiss ass.” Ron tells Leslie. And he’s right. Leslie’s always been assured of her convictions and just because she’s entered a new job that frightens her doesn’t mean she should change that. Ron’s words still with her, Leslie does what she knows is right and passes the soda tax.
“Even when she’s trying to be professional, April is still April.”
Leslie’s story this week contrasted nicely with that of Ben’s, who seems to be working his way towards being less wishy-washy and more kick-ass. Back in D.C., Ben’s interns are proving to be problematic. Apathetic and unmotivated, nothing Ben does not (not even lecturing them on the importance of font consistency) seems to get them to work harder. He can’t fire them either, as they’re all connected to Washington big shots. Though he initially attempts to suck up to them, he stops short when he realizes that April too has been undermining his authority. The speech he gives her regarding her lack of professionalism is a sobering one, and results in April backing her boss the only way she knows how: By threatening to scoop out and eat the eyes of a dissenting intern. Even when she’s trying to be professional, April is still April.
There’s a third story here as well, with Chris attempting to get Andy in shape so that he can pass the police fitness exam. If I have a complaint about this storyline, (and this episode in general, frankly), it’s in how familiar a lot of this material feels. How many times does Chris have to realize that he obsesses over his health so much in an effort to compensate for his loneliness? Didn’t April get a similar speech from Chris back when she was his assistant? And didn’t Leslie’s arc tonight feel awfully similar to the “Sweetums” episode back in season 2? There’s a lot of great stuff here, and obviously the show had to deal with Leslie’s uneasiness about her new job, and the dynamic between Ben and April, but I just wish it could have felt a little less familiar.
One thing I did like about Chris’s story line was its awareness of how prone Chris is to breaking down so easily. Tom calling Chris out on how quickly he can spiral into depression was a smart move on the part of the writers, and it will be interesting to see how Chris reacts to therapy in the coming weeks.
I love the town hall meetings so, so much. They’re the comedic highlight of almost every episode they’re in.
Lots of callbacks in tonight’s episode. My favorite was the reminder that yes, Ron Swanson does have an automatically closing door.
Andy, sadly resigning himself to a life of crime: “I’m never gonna be a cop. I’m gonna have to be a robber.”
“Child Size” is not at all a misleading name for almost a half gallon drink cup. “It’s roughly the size of a two year old child, if the child was liquefied.”
“Whether or not I pay income tax is none of the government’s business.”
Chris, mediating on his own mortality: ““I’m going to die one day, probably.”
What did you all think of “Soda Tax”?
By Chris Vanjonack
To catch up on Parks and Recreation, head over to Netflix Instant. The first four seasons are available to stream.