If you’re not familiar with Orphan Black or Retta’s Twitter habits you might have been a little lost with last night’s episode of Parks and Recreation. But only a little bit. Unlike, for instance, Community, the show took inspiration from outside its own reality, but didn’t allow it to subsume an entire episode. Instead, it offered a few cute references and kept its eye on the characters and stories within it, offering up a solid episode of Parks that felt more characteristic of the show than anything we’ve seen so far this season.
The big guest star of “Gin It Up!” was Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black, who just stops by the Parks Department to reserve a park for Doctors Without Borders. If Tom wasn’t immediately infatuated with her, she would’ve left the building in about two minutes. He is, though, and after adopting a British accent as a clear reference to one Maslany uses in Orphan Black, he tries to woo her with gifts. It’s kind of painful to watch, in that special sort of “why are you possibly doing this?” Tom sort of way, but watching him shoot himself in the foot like that is part of what makes Tom so entertaining. April eventually helps Tom get a real date with her at the end of the episode, and while this seems pretty unrealistic, it’s the type of thing that you’re willing to let slide because why not. Tom could use a break, and sometimes it’s funnier if he just gets his way. Plus, it means we’ll see more of Maslany on the show in the future.
The episode’s big storyline, though, was about an inappropriate tweet on the Parks Department’s Twitter account by Donna, who had thought she was writing from her own private account. Councilman Jamm immediately turns this into a huge media scandal, and in case we thought for some reason that it’s an important issue, he spends the rest of the episode pointing out that it’s not and that he’s just trying to score political points against Leslie Knope. At least he’s honest about his awfulness. Donna’s private account is made public by her hairdresser, though, and it’s at this point that things get out of control. It’s private for a reason, and she frequently uses it to blow off steam, including at her boss and friend Leslie Knope.
Pawnee’s cartoony nature can be extreme, but reality always seems only one step behind, and with everything going on in the House of Representatives these days it was impossible not to be frustrated with Jamm and the entire political process. In contrast to the ridiculousness of Tom’s story, everything here felt so realistic it was a bit depressing at times (especially as I, too, have sent out a tweet I shouldn’t have in the past that hurt a friend). It was also an interesting way of giving Donna finally some more to do. With Ann Perkins leaving the show, there’s a question as to whether her friendship with Leslie will blossom, and we’re answered with a resounding “no.” That’s just not who Donna is, even though she likes and admires Leslie. That being said, I’m sure we’d all be happy to see Donna become more central to the cast, and this might be a signal that Parks is finally ready to let that happen. It would help make the season less of a repeat, as well as fill the growing gaps in the show’s cast.
What I suspect was most people’s favorite story was Ben’s attempt at getting Ron to create a legally binding will, rather than one he keeps in his pocket for whoever kills him to find (apparently heart disease is really good at cryptograms). Oddly, Ron has become one of Parks’ more hit-or-miss characters of late, as they’ve been having difficulty keeping him grounded. He has so much eccentricity, and there’s clearly a fan-service desire to show the audience this at every turn. But he’s best used sparingly, and his intransigence when it comes to something like leaving money for his family doesn’t make sense in the first place, and isn’t the same Ron we knew three seasons ago. Ron has always been a softie at heart who puts people before his values, which is why he’s so beloved, so it’s annoying to require entire plotlines in order to make him do that, like here or in “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip off Classic.” That being said, there were some hilarious moments, particularly with that map and the revelation of exactly how much gold and jewels he has buried.
“Gin It Up!” was a nice break from the big events and trips we’ve seen so far this season. It was a very typical episode, filled with the rabble of Pawnee and a terrible political process and all the things we love about the show without really forcing anything. Even my reservations about Ron’s story were slight, and more a worry about him becoming increasingly ridiculous in the future. Parks still moved forward with some of its inexorable momentum, but without a gimmick or a huge setpiece, and the show felt like it was back into its groove.