Last week's episode of Parks and Recreation ended with a high-risk proposition: if the upcoming Harvest Festival isn't a financial success, the parks department will be shut down. This week, the department faces the first of what will likely be many obstacles in pulling off the festival, as Pawnee is struck by a nasty flu epidemic that puts Leslie (Amy Poehler) out of commission.
The timing couldn't be worse. Leslie is scheduled to deliver an all-important speech attempting to convince local businesses to support the Harvest Festival, and she's committed to going through with it—no matter how feverish she gets. Poehler has always played loopy well in Parks and Recreation, and her ever-increasing delirium provides many of the episode's funniest lines ("Don't move... the wall and the floor just switched"). When it quickly becomes clear that there's no way Leslie can deliver a coherent speech, Ben (Adam Scott) sends her to the hospital, despite her protests, and takes her place.
At the hospital, Ann is trying to get comfortable with dating the almost-superhuman Chris (Rob Lowe, who's just as hysterical this week as he was in the premiere). We're only two episodes into this season of Parks and Recreation, but the relationship between Ann and Chris is already far more compelling than her last-season relationship with city planner Mark Brendanawicz (then-regular Paul Schneider). In her relationship with Mark (and before that, with Chris Pratt's Andy), it was clear that Ann was well within her comfort zone, dating men that were pretty obviously beneath her. Her relationship with Chris—the first time we've seen her without the upper hand—reveals an insecurity that's believable and endearing.
It also makes her funnier. Rashida Jones often ends up playing straight (wo)man to Amy Poehler, so it's easy to overlook how funny she can be, but this episode is a terrific showcase for Jones' natural comic sensibility. When the flu turns Chris into an ashen, quivering wreck (chiding himself in the mirror: "Stop... pooping!"), she's not disgusted, but relieved to see that he's human after all: as she cheerily tells the camera, there's "nothing like a complete physical breakdown to make a guy seem less intimidating!"
Meanwhile, when the time comes for the big chamber of commerce speech, Leslie can't resist; she sneaks out of her hospital room, wanders into the meeting, and stumbles up to the podium. Ben holds his breath, expecting a train wreck, but Leslie is, as always, a consummate professional when it counts; she shakes her feverish haze off for just enough time to deliver a pitch-perfect speech and secure the corporate sponsorship the festival needs. Even the usually-muted Ben is impressed: "That was a flu-ridden Michael Jordan at the '97 NBA finals. That was Kirk Gibson hobbling up to the plate and hitting a homer off of Dennis Eckersley. That was... that was Leslie Knope."
It's a revealing little speech for Ben—a character who's very likable but still mostly undefined (though I suppose we now know he's a sports buff). Wisely, Parks and Recreation has allowed Ben to develop in the background so far, but his affection for Pawnee is clearly growing (and, for that matter, his affection for Leslie, though the show isn't overplaying that hand, either).
Happily, the episode ends with Chris and Ben agreeing that they should probably stay in Pawnee for a while. With episodes as strong as the past two, let's hope that they're permanently transferred.
Leslie solicits a Harvest Festival donation from J.J.'s diner, her go-to greasy spoon, where she "spent over $1,000 last year on waffles alone."
Wise Words from Andy Dwyer:
On professional attire: "Do I have to tuck my shirt in? Because honestly, that's kind of a deal-breaker."