The romantic tension between Ben and Leslie has continuously simmered throughout this season of Parks and Recreation. In last night's sharp, funny "Soulmates," it finally comes to a boil, when Leslie asks Ben on a date (well, a work discussion over waffles, but a baby step is still a step). Ben stutters his way through a painfully longwinded rejection ("but you're a great person, and you have great ideas") before ducking into a stranger's office. If Emmys were awarded for Most Awkward Performance, Adam Scott would be a lock.
A discouraged Leslie sets up a profile on HoosierMate, Pawnee's hottest dating site. After Ann jazzes up Leslie's profile (turning "yellow-haired female likes waffles and news" into "sexy, well-read blonde loves the sweeter things in life"), Leslie is thrilled to find that she has a 98 percent, "soulmate-level" match. She's less thrillled, however, when she realizes that the match is the last person she—or anyone—could have expected: Tom Haverford. (Incidentally, did anyone else expect the 98 percent match to be Mark Brendanawicz, Leslie's former crush and coworker from seasons 1 and 2? I still think that he'll guest star before this season of Parks and Recreation is over.)
Meanwhile, in a slight but charming b-plot, newly crowned city manager Chris decides to kick off a health push in Pawnee by removing hamburgers from the government cafeteria. Red meat enthusiast Ron Swanson is, unsurprisingly, less than pleased. When Chris informs Ron that he'd probably enjoy a healthier turkey burger more anyway, Ron challenges him to a beef vs. turkey cook-off, with the fate of cafeteria burgers in the hands of the winner.
There's never any doubt that Ron will emerge victorious—his grilling skill is already the stuff of legend—but the plotline leads to a string of hilarious scenes, from Chris' Cheers-like reception at health food store "Grain & Simple" to the stuffed crows April purchases at the bizarrely minimalist, Ron-approved "Food & Stuff." Chris has spent the past few episodes on the periphery of the action, but "Soulmates" puts him front and center, and the many funny scenes in which he more than holds his own against both Ron and Andy—two of Parks and Recreation's most consistently funny characters—are a terrific reminder of why Rob Lowe was such a smart addition to the show's main cast.
The real star of "Soulmates," however, is Aziz Ansari, who has somehow found a way to make Tom petulant, sexist, and materialistic without ever being unlikable. As Leslie wonders how Tom could possibly be her soulmate, he unleashes a torrent of the most annoying behavior imaginable: singing "Forever Young" wildly off-key, rattling off a list of inane slang words he's invented for food, and describing his dream of starring in a remake of Point Break in which he'd play both the Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze roles (which does, admittedly, sound kind of awesome).
When Tom discovers that he and Leslie were matched as soulmates, he does exactly what you'd expect him to do: taunt her mercilessly, with real-estate listings and goo-goo eyes. But when she finally reaches her limit, Leslie fires back in the most effective way she can: she kisses him. It's a blast to see the motor-mouthed Tom finally at a loss for words, and to see Leslie assert herself so forcefully.She's certainly grown from the space cadet she was in the show's first season. When Chris witnesses the kiss, he has meeting with Leslie in which he reveals that he has a strict policy against inter-office dating—a policy that he recently had to explain to Ben.
Tom reveals that "TomNHaverford," Leslie's HoosierMatch "soulmate," is one of 26 profiles he's custom-designed to draw in as many of Pawnee's single women as possible. He also reveals that the "N" in the profile stands for "Nerd" ("his favorite movie is books!").
Tom may not have been Leslie's nerdy soulmate, but Ben still fits the bill. At some point, Parks and Recreation will inevitably bring Ben and Leslie together; the only questions are how and when. Until then, they'll have to discuss their loves of snow globe museums and wildflower murals within the walls of the parks department. Fortunately, we'll be right there along with them.
Recurring shoeshine customer Kyle appears as a judge in the burger contest (and receives a withering takedown from Jerry, who's apparently not the absolute lowest in the office's food chain).
Wise Words from Andy Dwyer
On gourmet cuisine: "I take Skittles and put it between two Starbursts... I call it Andy's Mouth Surprise."
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