Saturday, February 7, 2015

Parks and Recreation 7x07 ("Donna and Joe") [Contributor: Jaime]

"Donna and Joe"
Original Airdate: February 3, 2015

As the midpoint of the thirteen-episode season, Parks only aired one episode this week.  But, like the rest of the season, it was such a stellar episode, one that brilliantly managed to weave its three plots together while also possibly being one of the funniest episodes ever.  There’s a lot going on in “Donna and Joe,” so let’s get to it!

As you may have guessed from the episode title, Donna and Joe’s wedding is approaching, so the episode takes place over two days, featuring the rehearsal dinner and then the wedding the following day.  After the rehearsal, Donna gives her maid of honor, April, one job: keep her family from fighting.  Things get explosive when the Meagles get together, and they’ll ruin her wedding over the tiniest grievance.  So at the rehearsal dinner, April enlists Andy’s help to keep the factions of the family under control.  The ones who won’t listen?  They’re dragged off to the kitchen, where April yells at them to get it together.  And yes, this includes Ginuwine, who doesn’t seem to understand that this is Donna’s night.  Shame on you, Ginuwine.

Given the structure of the episode, and the fact that the characters are in the same place for most of the episode, there’s a lot more overlap than we usually see on this show.  It’s subtle, but it’s brilliantly done; somehow, the writers managed to strike a great balance between each storyline independently and yet letting all of the characters mingle and influence each other.  So it’s a little counterintuitive in this case to recap the episode plot-by-plot.  Looking at my notes, the storyline of Donna’s wedding had the least amount of development and events; rather than being a huge focal point, it’s moreso the setting around which everything else occurs.  It’s good that way, though – I can only imagine the sorts of drama that could occur at Donna Meagle’s wedding, so keeping it relatively low-key helps it remain a sweet, evocative event, rather than just a plot point.

And actually, giving Donna’s wedding the level of focus that it received helps create a really lovely memory of Donna’s character.  I mean, we still have six episodes to go, it’s not like this is the last we’re going to see Donna, but like Tom’s ongoing storyline with Lucy, it’s just really, really great to see these two characters, who normally are the sources of so much outrageous comedy, have these relatively calm, mature relationships.  It only goes to prove that the main fuel of the show isn’t the comedy itself, but the emotional attachments we’ve formed with these characters, and that they’ve formed with each other.

So given how these storylines are all sort of moving at the same pace in this episode, and how they come together during the rehearsal dinner and the wedding, I’ll jump to discussing Ben and Leslie and catch them up to the rehearsal dinner.  They’re planning on staying at a hotel after the dinner, their first night away since having the triplets, and while they pack, their nanny Roz (played by the amazing Rachel Dratch, who I can’t believe is only appearing on the show now) is slowly being driven insane by the triplets.

They get a call from Jen Barkley, everyone’s favorite campaign consultant, but given that they’re in the middle of packing, they elect to ignore it.  After all, Leslie says, she probably wants to approach Leslie with some opportunity to run for office, and Leslie just isn’t interested.

And then Jen shows up at their house and reveals why she’s been trying to contact them: because she wants Ben to run for a seat in the House of Representatives.  Their current representative is doing a pretty terrible job, and as the person running the largest city in their district, Jen thinks he’d have a great chance at winning the election.

I think it’s clear from my recaps that I’m loving season seven, but I think this opportunity for Ben might be my favorite thing to come out of the season.  The show kind of came under some flak in the last year or two because of how often Ben was switching jobs.  It wasn’t that they didn’t know what to do with him, but that Ben really didn’t know what he wanted after he stopped working as a campaign manager.  It was really telling that he connected so much to that job, which was the most direct involvement he’d had in politics since he was the mayor of his hometown, something like twenty years before.  But instead of continuing his career as a campaign manager, he chose to come back to Pawnee and marry Leslie – but the thing is, it’s not an either/or situation.  And I think both Ben and Leslie kind of thought that it was for a while – either they get a family or they become involved in politics.  Moreover, neither of them ever considered Ben running for office, but what’s so great about Leslie, as we see in this episode, is that just because she never imagined him running doesn’t mean she doesn’t want him to run.  In fact, she’s all for Ben running – immediately, she thinks it’d be a great idea.  And actually, they’re both immediately ready to run a campaign: as soon as they get the call from Jen and Leslie mentions how chaotic a campaign would be on top of their existing responsibilities, Ben doesn’t care.  He’s all for her running, without even know what she would be running for, if it’s what she wants to do.  And Leslie?  Please.  She’s so turned on by him acting congressional.  She’s all for it.  That’s support.  That’s love.  That’s what makes them one of the best couples on TV – because no matter what, they’re there for each other, and they’re pushing each other to be better, even if it doesn’t seem like things can get any better.

But while Leslie is all for Ben running for Congress, she knows she can’t push her opinion; this has to be something he decides on his own.  So she comes up with an idea to help him figure out what he wants to do: at the rehearsal dinner, he should act like he’s running.  Be friendly, be personable, be charismatic – just like a political candidate would be.  And then, the next day at the wedding, he should act like he’s not running, and then decide which feeling he likes better.

Turns out, Ben is pretty great at acting like a political candidate.  He’s crushing it – he has a conversation with everyone he meets, and they’re all laughing at his jokes.  What’s his secret?  He’s drunk.  That’s right, kids, Drunk Ben is back!  But this time he’s not talking about how his teeth are blueberries.  This time, he’s here to celebrate love.  So he makes a speech about Donna and Joe that wavers between being sweet, touching, and hilarious, and then once he wraps it up (“I’m Ben Wyatt and I approve this message!”), he begins dancing.

April’s eyeing him the whole time to make sure he doesn’t veer out of control, and when he starts dancing, she checks if Donna wants her to shut it down.  After all, she takes her job very seriously.

Ben’s speech is one of the moments where all the storylines necessarily come together, given the shared space and occasion of all the characters.  So while that moment is all about Ben, and how his storyline has gotten him to that point, there’s another layer added by watching Donna and April observe him.  Personally, I would have loved to see April drag him off to the kitchen but what do I know.

The third storyline in “Donna and Joe” is Tom’s relationship with Lucy.  Ron, inspired by the romantic atmosphere leading up to the wedding, is in a mood to celebrate romantic love, so he uncharacteristically tells Tom how well he thinks he and Lucy are suited for each other.  Tom agrees, saying that everything’s going well and that he’s incredibly happy with her.  Awwww, the mogul’s in love!

Basically, Tom and Lucy couldn’t be happier…until Ron then shares with Lucy how happy he is that the two are doing so well.  And happens to mention what Tom said about how he’d marry her tomorrow.  Out of context, it…doesn’t sound too great, and Lucy is clearly freaked out about it.  When Tom finds out, he demands that Ron fix the situation, and explain himself to Lucy – and until he does, the waiters aren’t allowed to serve him.

So, hungry and desperate for mini cheeseburgers, Ron goes back to Lucy and explains that Tom only said he’d marry her tomorrow as context to explain how much he likes her, not that that’s literally something he wants.  But then he says that Tom has imagined marrying her and living on an island with their kids.  It’s not really better, so much as…well, worse.  It’s just worse, plain and simple.

Now, Ron Swanson clearly isn’t the kind of person who gets involved in the romantic entanglements of others.  But the justification for it, that Donna and Joe’s wedding is inspiring him to root for romantic love, was sweet, and shows how having his own family has changed him.  Sure, he’s barely changed in the last three years (or, you know, at all), but if you were to define the arc he’s had throughout the course of the show, it would be his willingness to let people into his life, and his acceptance of what they mean to him.  But even in the first season, when he was at his most stubborn and standoffish, he always valued romantic love.  So now, when he’s actually accepted that Tom is his friend and that consequently he wants good things for his friend, of course he’s going to get involved with his love life.  For as unwilling as Ron is to get involved in other people’s affairs, I think he’s even more unwilling to inadvertently hurt one of his friends.

The next day, Ben and Leslie wake up super hungover, and, even worse, to the news that Jen has announced Ben’s running for Congress.  He’s furious, but quickly realizes that he called Jen the night before and told her he would run.  I mean, hey, we’ve all done things we regret when we’re drunk.  I’ve thrown up in like two different garbage cans.  I completely understand what he’s going through.  Waking up next to your garbage can and the news that you’re running for Congress?  Hoo.  Been there, buddy.

Leslie also called 867-5309 a hundred times, but, like, that’s a separate thing.

They meet with Jen at JJ’s Diner (which seems to be in the same location it’s always been?  I’m still not sure how it tied into their plan to set up Gryzzl’s headquarters in April and Andy’s neighborhood), and Ben angrily tells her that she should have checked with him before announcing his run.  Except, it turns out that he didn’t just call her once – he called her four separate times, and even talked about his plans for his platforms.  The main issues he wants to tackle?  Education, fiscal reform, and 867-5309.  Okay, that last one was Leslie’s contribution.

Before the wedding, Ron is living his dream – he gets to be in a beautifully constructed church, and even finds someone from the church to explain to him where the limestone from the church’s fa├žade came from.  It’s a big moment for Ron.  But then he sees Tom and Lucy awkwardly interacting with each other, and he realizes he needs to intervene and clear up this mess.  So, reluctantly, he leaves his conversation about limestone behind and tells Tom and Lucy, very simply, that there’s no shame in being honest with the people you care about, and that they need to talk about the thing that they’re not talking about.  Then, after being denied food and limestone, he heads off to embrace this public celebration of romantic love.

Finally, Tom and Lucy are honest with each other.  He explains that while he’s not trying to rush anything, and that he understands she just got out of a serious relationship, he’s all in when it comes to her.  She smiles and rests her head on his shoulder, clearly agreeing with him.  Awwwwww.

After the wedding, Leslie and Ben have to head out to their car to search for their kids’ stuffed zebras.  Apparently Roz called them to let them know that the triplets were having a zebra-related meltdown.  While they’re outside, reporters show up, asking if it’s true that Ben’s running for Congress.  When he doesn’t answer, they push him more, asking what makes him qualified, since the only other time he held political office, he was eighteen.  Ben tries to get rid of them by pointing out that he’s in the middle of a crisis, but then quickly spins it – he’s always solving crises, he says, in his role as city manager, and all of the positive changes he’s made within Pawnee prove his capability.  And then he officially announces that he’s running for Congress.  It’s probably, like, one of the top 5 greatest things that has ever happened to Leslie.

During the reception, Donna thanks April for all her hard work, and while she’s grateful that April managed to keep the Meagles under control, she wishes there had been just a little drama, just to keep things exciting.  So April and Andy get LeVondrious, Donna’s oft-mentioned estranged brother, to show up.  It turns out the source of their rift is over the ownership of a microwave – which LeVondrious brought with him.  Which he promptly picks up and smashes on the ground.

But it all has a happy ending, because Donna is thrilled that her wedding had some drama after all.  Because, come on.  Donna Meagle cannot have a perfect, beautiful, problem-free wedding.  That would be the most boring thing ever.

Some other great moments throughout the episode – and this is a condensed list, because holy crap, was this episode full of great moments and lines:
  • “Please avoid my trigger words: flowers, schedule, vows, bride, groom, food, love, happy, church, event, wedding, and Craig”.
  • “Legally, no more than three Meagles are allowed on an international flight together.  But they give great gifts.  Gotta get that flatware.”
  • We already learned that one of the triplets’ names is Sonia.  But as my lovely friend Kelly pointed out, if you watch the end credits, they list the names of the kids: Sonia, Stephen, and Wesley.  They’re probably there in every episode featuring the triplets, and mostly I’m just ashamed it took me this long to figure it out.  But the mystery is finally solved!
  • I briefly mentioned my shock that it took this long for Rachel Dratch to appear on the show, but I loved how she was used.  I love this ongoing thing that the triplets are terrors, because of course any child of Leslie Knope would have limitless energy.
  • “I love you more than Ben.  I do.  If Ben left me, I would be sad, but I would get through it.  But if you left me, I would never recover.”
  • Jen’s reaction to the triplets, and her smugness over the fact that she doesn’t have children, was one of my favorite bits throughout the episode.  “Your life is gross.  My life is amazing.”
  • “The words that they say sound passive but seem aggressive.  I feel like there should be a term for that, like…nicey-meany.”
  • “I would be a congressman.  Or woman, equal rights, but that doesn’t apply.”  Ugh, could Ben Wyatt be any more perfect for Leslie?
  • “Ben should be the royal archduke sultan emperor of all inhabitable lands on Earth.”
  • Drunk Ben: “Condifent.  Con – I feel condifent.”
  • All of Ben’s speech was perfection, but my favorite part was, “What?  It’s you!  I love you!  You’re my sexy roommate!  We love each other!”  “WOO!  He’s talking about me!”  “Yes I am, baby doll!”  Yeah, maybe I swooned when Drunk Ben called Drunk Leslie baby doll.  You don’t know me.
  • I didn’t notice it the first time I watched the episode, but when Ben checks his phone and sees that Jen announced his campaign, one of the other headlines reads, “Bellchick on ‘RobotGate’: ‘None of our players are robots.’”  Amazing.
  • It’s small, but when Leslie and Ben wake up in the hotel, they’re matching “Willy Wonka and the Policy Factory” shirts.  THESE NERDS.
  • “Knope, you’re a softie, but on the inside, you’re a straight-up boss.  April, you’re the exact opposite.  Y’all inspire me and I love you.”
  • Everything Donna said to Michelle, her childhood friend who’s one of her bridesmaids, was gold.  It was a hilarious, subtle way to point out that we don’t see any of these characters’ friends besides each other, so of course Donna is going to give April and Leslie a heartfelt speech that expresses her appreciation of them…and then not do the same for her other bridesmaid.  And yes, today absolutely is a test for Michelle.
  • “The doctors once told you you were never gonna walk again, so this should be easy.”
  • “Oh my god babe, that was so hot.”  There are fewer things in the world I love more than the recurring joke of Leslie and Ben getting turned on by each other’s political aspirations.
  • The BEAUTIFUL moment when April questioned why Terry’s place card at the wedding said Garry, and everyone’s subsequent decision to call him Garry from now on – something that Donna did on purpose.  Garry’s talking head afterwards absolutely slayed me.  “After thirty years, my coworkers are finally going to call me by my real name.  I’m blessed.”
  • Everyone needs to watch the reception scenes again and watch Ginuwine’s reactions – first when April yells at him, then when he thinks Craig is introducing him to sing.  Can we go back in time and make Ginuwine a regular on the show?
  • Questlove as LeVondrious.  I was done.
What did you all think of “Donna and Joe”?  Will you be voting for Ben Wyatt for Congress?  Let me know in the comments!  Oh, but please try to avoid any of my trigger words – they’re “show,” “Leslie,” “Parks and Recreation,” “blog,” “writing,” and “Ron”.  Thanks so much.

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