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Parks and Recreation Watch: Escape from Ice Town

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Spoilers for last night’s Parks and Recreation coming up:

We could talk endlessly here about the cast of characters on Parks and Recreation, but one of my favorite things about the show is how Pawnee itself has become a character. Episode by episode, it’s developed into one of the richest fictional towns since Springfield, Wherever, on the Simpsons, with a local history, culture, distinct economy, celebrities, landmarks and—as we saw on display in “Media Blitz”—a small-town mediasphere.

Coupled with a storyline that initiated Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt as a full-fledged member of the ensemble, it added up to my favorite episode so far of the season. (Though, fair warning, the show tops itself again in a few weeks.)

In particular, the interview with “Crazy Ira and The Douche” (featuring Nick Kroll of The League and Cavemen) may be the most perfect scene P&R has put together yet, combining absurdity, awkwardness, emotion and a finely tuned ear. Obviously, the morning-zoo show itself was spot on: the surly sound effects guy, the fart jokes, the Your Mom jokes, the caller saying that he was “douchin’ it over in Eagleton,” the Pac-Man sound effect to cap off Ben’s embarrassment, &c. But the way Scott played Ben’s anxiety attack—over the top and physically funny but grounded in palpable hurt—turned his past Ice Town humiliation from a funny bit of backstory into a truly humanizing burden for him to get past. And the scene also reminded us of the competence of his coworkers: not just Leslie, as she took command of the interview (“Well, The Douche…”) but even Tom, whose glad-handing and schmooziness, we see throughout the episode, actually counts for a lot in city government.

Scott’s performance throughout had to be a pleasure, if a bittersweet one, for anyone who misses Party Down. (Granted, not that many people watched the show, but I know a good chunk of them are here.) Like Henry Pollard, Ben is living with the burden of an early success that turned sour. But where Henry dealt with being the “Are we having fun yet?” guy by using defensive cynicism, Ben, we see, has dealt with his notoriety by essentially shutting down and trying to contain other people’s exuberance–the way that his own wasn’t contained when he was the boy mayor. But as Scott shows us in “Media Blitz,” as much of a disaster as Ice Town was, it came from passion, and his panic and on-air freakouts are as much from his defensive effort to contain that passion as they are from embarrassment.

The Pawnee media gauntlet he runs—the radio show, Joan Callamezzo, his delightful meltdown on Ya Heard? with Perd—is Parks & Rec at its awkward but human best. And in the process, it brings us Ben as a full person. Ben Wyatt, you belong to Pawnee now.

Quick hail of bullets:

* I wasn’t as delighted with the Ann-Chris storyline, but I thought Rashida Jones played Ann’s barely restrained anxiety well, and Rob Lowe delivered the line about the herbal tea being difficult to drink impeccably.

* How disorienting was it seeing Jones as two different characters, on The Office and then on The Office’s not-quite-a-spinoff? I’d better make sure I have all my “Anns” and “Karens” straight.

* April’s proofread of Andy’s letter to her grandmother/father had me almost in tears. “‘Enjoy the Mouse Rat CD.’ He’s deaf.” The entire subplot involving Andy’s labors of Hercules was sweet, as was Ron deciding that he could let April keep torturing Andy without saying something. (Also, Ron’s modulated distaste, combined with sympathy, at seeing Andy abase himself for April was dead-on.)

* Can never get enough encounters with the Pawnee citizenry, as with the missing-bird owner. “There’s no time. He can fly!

* “Sweetums might cancel the Fat Coaster!”