Parks and Recreation 5.17- "Partridge" ReviewA tv review article by: Ben Wachtel
Lee Janzen is not from Partridge, Minnesota, because the city does not really exist – an accurate resource and educational tool called Wikipedia (or, as my mother referred to it this weekend, Wickopedia) tells me that Janzen is from Austin, Minnesota, home of the Spam Museum. Lee Janzen is a professional golfer. He’s pretty good. Judy Garland was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
I wouldn’t expect anyone to know those details aside from Lee Janzen, his family, and whatever overlap exists between Janzen and Garland’s sizeable fan bases. But as a snobby and discerning television viewer, I like to hear jokes that don’t seem to be thrown together at the last minute. I doubt most people got online and looked up Lee Janzen’s real hometown, or learned that Askov, Minnesota used to be a village called Partridge and that it’s the real life hometown of NBA Hall of Famer Vern Mikkelsen. But my point is that the show’s high quality is reflected in the writers’ attention to detail.
As Parks and Rec co-creator Michael Schur tweeted prior to the episode, “Partridge” contained numerous references to the David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest, which I have never read. But one time I had a conversation with fellow Comics Bulletin writer John Bender about it, and also Wikipedia exists and has information about things, so I learned that the name of pretty much every resident of Partridge (and, apparently, a few people in Pawnee) is shared by characters from the novel. The Pawnee law firm where Ron is deposed is called “Gately, Wayne, Kittenplan & Troeltsch,” Chris and Ann take the “Incendenza-Pemulis Parenting Incompatability Test,” and the doctor that treats Ben’s kidney stones and administers copious amounts of morphine to him is named Dr. Clipperton and treats him at Fackelmann Memorial Hospital. These references were lost on me, as I’ve never read a single one of the book’s 1,079 pages.
The references were so subtle that most people that don’t write a weekly review column about the show probably didn’t notice them and had no reason to even know they were included in the episode. I have no estimate of what percentage of the overall population has even heard of Infinite Jest and no real idea what percentage of Parks and Rec viewers know anything about the book, but I think it is probably a very small percentage. But by hiding these references and not making them part of the story, the show avoided alienating viewers or confusing people. And somewhere in the ballpark of eleven people were rewarded for reading a book that’s heavier than a full-grown pitbull.
“Partridge” had two main storylines that received almost equal amounts of screentime in the Leslie/Ben quest for redemption in Partridge and Ron Swanson’s legal issues in the wake of the Councilman Jamm facepunching by Ron (also known as Softypants McHuggable). The storyline provided some great Andy Dwyer moments and a great cold open but was overall underwhelming. I was hoping for a much more satisfying conclusion, and although I thought it was natural for Andy, April, and Tom to come to Ron’s aid, I didn’t buy Jamm dropping the suit so easily, especially when they handed him all of their evidence and left.
I think that is partly due to how well Jon Glaser has played the character all season – every time I see the character, I want to punch him in the face. He’s done such a good job of playing the thorn in Leslie’s side that at this point I get frustrated as soon as I see him on screen. As his role has expanded and he’s been a source of aggravation and interference for other characters, I’ve started to see him as a real character as opposed to just a function of the plot. This shows that the writers have succeeded in making him multi-dimensional, but it also means that I was unwilling to accept that he conceded so easily.
I did, however, like the way Ron handled the situation, even though these points were ultimately reduced to secondary details as Andy, April, and Ron took center stage. Ron has mentioned before that all his money is in gold (and he even has decoy gold so no one finds his actual treasure) and that detail came back, as he says he’s not sure how much money he has, but he knows how many pounds of money he has. He is also unwilling to lie – or to let others lie for him. He covets honesty and is willing to throw himself at the mercy of the court, even though Councilman Jamm is gaming the system.
A lot of shows have issues with consistency. Primary characters act irrationally, or they act in ways that contradict their very identities. It’s always important to consider what a character has been through and what they would really do in a situation, even if it’s easier to force them to act in a certain way because it’s convenient to the plot. Ron acted according to everything we know about the character, but I’m not sure Councilman Jamm did.
Ben Wachtel likes baseball, the Boston Celtics, pancakes, tacos, and swam collegiately at Purdue University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benwachtel24.