'Parks and Recreation': Love and Loss in Indianapolis

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This week's episode finds one relationship, a dream, and a love affair with a steakhouse end as a new couple begins to blossom.

ParksandRecIndianapolis2_post.jpg

NBC

After five straight weeks of setbacks for the upcoming Harvest Festival, "Indianapolis" opens with surprisingly good news: Leslie and Ron have been invited to Indianapolis to receive a commendation from the Indiana Statehouse. For Leslie, it's a chance to get further exposure to her beloved Indiana government. For Ron, it's a chance to spend time with his own true love: Charles Mulligan's steakhouse.

It's also an opportunity for Ann to check up on her boyfriend, Chris, who happens to live in Indianapolis. According to Ann, Chris has been strangely distant since the two talked about the future of their relationship, and she's convinced that he must be cheating on her. Leslie is skeptical, but she agrees to investigate, and the evidence she discovers in Chris's bathroom (pink razor, pink shower cap, concealer) is enough to convince her that Ann is right.

Ann races to confront Chris, and discovers, predictably, that the bathroom items are his. But Chris has an even more mortifying revelation in store: he had actually broken up with Ann a week ago—she just hadn't understood him.

And then there's poor Ron, who just wants his steak. Among all the Ann-Chris drama, his plot inevitably feels slight, but there's a bigger problem at play, too. As a character, Ron is constantly on the edge of self-parody, and last night's meltdown at the boarded-up Charles Mulligan's steakhouse takes him just a little too far. Ron has always been an inherently silly character, but he's generally a more consistent one. It's been established in previous episodes that the only thing that can really rattle Ron is his ex-wife Tammy, and when he gets so worked up over the unexpected closure of Mulligan's (an apparent obsession, though he's never mentioned it before this episode), it undermines a legitimately compelling aspect of his character for a fairly standard gag.

Back in Pawnee, Tom and Ben are attending the launch party of cologne guru Dennis Feinstein's latest scent, Allergic (Feinstein's past successes include Blackout, "one of Maxim's top 100 ways to trick someone into sex," and the enigmatically-named Sideboob). When Tom tries to sell Feinstein on Tommy Fresh, a scent that he personally created, Feinstein is less than impressed ("like somebody spilled Chinese food in a birdcage"). In the end, it's a nice opportunity for the uptight Ben to loosen up a little, as he comforts the disappointed Tom (and dumps a bottle of Tommy Fresh into Feinstein's car).

Finally, April and Andy are enjoying the beginning of their renewed romance. Though they finally got together at the end of last week's episode, this is the first episode of Parks and Recreation that we've spent with them as a couple. Many of the all-time greatest sitcoms are built around relationships with a "will they or won't they" dynamic, but few of those sitcoms managed to keep things interesting after the couples actually got together (consider Frasier, which dropped dramatically in quality after Niles and Daphne began dating, or Friends, which relied on increasingly irritating contrivances to keep Ross and Rachel apart).

It remains to be seen how Parks and Recreation will continue to mine the April-Andy relationship week-to-week, but last night's episode handled the transition perfectly, with a sweet, low-stakes plotline that showed how perfect the characters are for each other. Andy's warmth and guilelessness is exactly what the cynical April needs (I suspect she smiled more in the first five minutes of this episode than she did in the rest of this season's episodes put together). And April knows and loves Andy for who he is, but isn't content to let him stay in a slacker rut. It's refreshing, for once, to see a sitcom relationship that actually seems to be built on mutual respect and honesty.

All of this adds up to a very funny, very sweet episode of a show that's been consistently great this season. Parks and Recreation is taking a brief hiatus, but when it comes back next month, it's finally time for the much-anticipated Harvest Festival.

Pawnee History:
Dennis Feinstein's cologne launch party is held at The Snakehole (dubbed "Pawnee's sickest nightclub" in this impressively comprehensive tie-in website), which both Tom and Donna became part-owners of in season 2.

Wise Words from Andy Dwyer:
On a romantic night out: "We could watch TV at Burly's house, or we could watch TV at your house. Or, I mean, we could watch TV at Best Buy."

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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