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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Parks and Recreation: "The Trial of Leslie Knope"

What is there to say about Parks and Recreation? It feels like the show is well beyond my feeble attempts to evaluate it. Every time I think the show might be taking a misstep, I am presently proven incorrect. It's to the point where I now just trust that the people behind Parks and Rec know exactly what they are doing and I just enjoy the ride.

On the heels of last week's dramatic kiss, The Trial of Leslie Knope (I don't recall the show ever using a title card before. It really struck a foreboding tone) opened with Ben and Leslie confessing their impropriety to Chris. From there we proceed to Leslie's ethics hearing. The show takes the stakes seriously, but also manages to wring laughs out of the peril Leslie finds herself in. From Leslie's iMovie celebrating her first kiss, to the department looking up arcane town statutes, to asking Ron to silence the key witness against her, the show's jokes were just as top-notch as when the focus is more comedic in nature.

As far as the dramatic aspects, one sign of how well the show is written is how seriously it takes all of its characters. Chris is borderline ridiculous, with his need to pop vitamins and do jumping jacks to deal with the stress, but he has serious reasons to object to Leslie's relationship. He's not the bad guy here, there's no real bad guy here.

The show's climactic moment, when Leslie realized that she had in fact been unethical (she and Ben had bribed a maintenance worker at the memorial for Lil' Sebastian) and Ron encouraged her to own up to her mistake, reminded me an awful lot of The West Wing. When Abby Bartlet was fighting to keep her medical license, Donna Moss boldly reminded her that she had in fact done something wrong. It was a powerful scene, and it forced a character that the audience had found sympathetic to confront herself. The West Wing was a drama that could at any time make me laugh, Parks and Recreation is the even rarer creature: a comedy that can make me really care about characters and what happens to them.

This moment was maybe a little undercut by the turnabout with Ben falling on the sword for Leslie. But I completely bought that as exactly what Ben would do, and I'm sure the writers have a plan. I can't wait to see what it is.

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