Parks and Recreation 5.22- "Are You Better Off?" ReviewA tv review article by: Ben Wachtel
4.22 "Are You Better Off?"
Growing up in the Facebook era, I’ve seen my fair share of politically-related posts from friends and general acquaintances. They could not be more infuriating. I don’t know why, really, because I get uncomfortable even when they hold the same basic viewpoints as I do, and normally I’m all for voicing your opinions, because I try to keep an open mind about pretty much everything.
That’s where my mind immediately went during Leslie’s “victory lap,” which brought out many of the townspeople she’s interacted with over the past year – people whose feet she’s stepped on while promoting social change. In typical Parks and Rec fashion, most of the people who get involved in local politics are passionate but outlandish and unreasonable, and it was overwhelming, even as a viewer, to see these people attack the policies she has created. She’s not dealing with reasonable people that see things differently from the way she sees them, she’s dealing with irrational people afraid of their “freedoms” being taken away. In that respect, the device worked well, because it was frustrating and I felt like she was helpless. She’s made so much progress, but the people don’t want progress or for their lives to change at all.
Normally, I really enjoy when the show uses the public forum as a way to add spice to the main political storyline. I praise the way the show personifies Pawnee through its colorful residents almost every week, and that’s a great way to accomplish this feeling of being overwhelmed. At the same time, though, I feel like next year, having a competent challenger to Leslie’s city council seat would make her battle multi-dimensional. Having to defend against the crazed masses is one thing, but to also combat someone as passionate as she is but that also sees things differently from her would allow her political career to continue to evolve.
I tweeted about eight hours before this episode was aired a prediction for the season finale – and until the end of the episode, I really thought I was right. I thought the Internet would name me as its prophet and king. But the actual surprise ending to the episode, which I did not see coming, I think will be even more interesting than April’s child growing up to hate Ann’s child. Ron Swanson the Father has been primed by his guidance of Andy and Tom over the past five seasons, and what better role model to guide a young boy or girl through a very manly childhood than Duke Silver himself? Furthermore, I think it allows Ron to continue his evolution through his first non-dysfunctional long-term relationship.
This episode was the season finale – and, I guess, potentially the series finale, although it’s looking like Parks and Rec will get a sixth season. Because it was the last episode of the season, we had to get a look at where every major character is headed next. The result was a pretty cluttered storyline that left little room to breathe. We already know what’s in the future for Ann and Chris, and I’ve discussed Leslie (and Ben, through her) and Ron.
A storyline that really is not working for me is Tom’s relationship with Mona-Lisa, a character that was moderately amusing for one episode and unbelievably irritating since. I totally get that the writers don’t want to make every major character’s life perfect right now. He’s got his hands full with Rent-A-Swag, his first successful business venture among a graveyard of failed ones, so it makes sense that he doesn’t really have time to find someone worth his time. But the character is less funny than annoying. I contrast her with Jon Glaser’s performance as Councilman Jamm, a character that’s meant to be abrasive and annoying but that contributes positively as Leslie’s detractor and is talented enough to be both irritating and funny. Mona-Lisa functions in a similar way – we are supposed to dislike her and wonder why Tom is even dating her – but I don’t find her to be comically annoying.
An episode full of Burt Macklin awesomeness concluded not with April announcing that she’s pregnant, as I predicted, but with Andy supporting her dream of going to vet school. At least personally, I liked that they briefly showed April answering a mysterious phone call at the beginning of the episode (which was her hearing she’d been accepted to vet school) and then Andy immediately dismissing her as a suspect because she doesn’t keep anything from him. It adds a layer to the conclusion of the storyline because we get to see inside their somewhat nontraditional marriage, we see that beneath her tough exterior she has a lot of insecurities, we see how good of a match these two characters are, and this is all done in a heartwarming but fairly realistic way. Because this was all a mystery to the viewer, as well, it makes us feel included in this particular moment in a very organic way.
Ben Wachtel likes baseball, the Boston Celtics, pancakes, tacos, and swam collegiately at Purdue University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benwachtel24.