Parks and Recreation Recap: “Soda Tax”–Great Adventurers

“What did you put in this sugar? It’s so good!”

Pawnee will always be first in friendship, but if Leslie Knope has her way, her town won’t be fourth in obesity much longer. In an effort to lower diabetes, Leslie has proposed a new soda tax. Look at our little Knope go—she hasn’t even had her first committee meeting, and she’s already spearheading initiatives. This tax could inspire real change in all of Pawnee’s finest dining establishments, from Paunch Burger to Big & Wide to Colonel Plump’s Slough Trough, formerly Sue’s Salads. I’d hold a moment of silence, but who would I be kidding? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Sue.

Ron resents Leslie’s interference in his God-given freedom to eat heart attacks, but Ann supports her all the way. The two of them have a meeting with Kathryn Pinewood of the Pawnee Restaurant Association, where we learn that in Pawnee, child-sized sodas are the size of actual two-year-old children (if they were liquefied). Pinewood also informs Leslie that the soda tax will result in layoffs, and our Councilwoman Knope will bear the blame.

This kind of political conundrum is different for both Leslie and Parks and Recreation, each of which has survived until now on idealism and a supportive work environment. Leslie is new to this world without perfect answers and even newer to the sensation of not being liked. She takes her problem to the people, who are as always misogynistic, unhelpful, and stashing too many pills in their purses. Implementing the tax might cost people their jobs; not implementing it might cost them their lives. What to do? Leslie is so distraught that she drinks a child-sized, six-soda concoction and promptly vomits when Ethel Beavers asks for her vote—which would have been a wasted gag if she hadn’t followed it up with a pseudo-British accent. Recess, please.

During the recess, Leslie takes her confusion to her two favorite people: Joe Biden and the owner of JJ’s Diner Ann and Ron. Ron drops a bombshell on his protégé: he tried to fire her—not once, but four times. Leslie’s good citizenship was apparently almost too much for Ron, but he admired her conviction enough to keep her around. As a peace offering, he gives her a compass, because “all great adventurers need one,” and tells her to trust in that conviction of hers. Heartwarming Ron/Leslie scenes are becoming a Parks and Rec standard; I’m worried that they’ll eventually lose their magic if they happen too often, but for now, these two can still charm the pants off of anyone. Leslie accepts the gift, but as for the firing thing, she’ll never forget, and she’ll never forgive. Does this mean it’s time for her to plan that raging surprise party for Ron?

Compass in hand, Leslie follows her original instinct and votes in favor of the soda tax. It remains to be seen whether Pinewood was bluffing about the layoffs; I’m hoping she was serious, because Leslie’s story as a Councilwoman is only compelling if the stakes are real. Still, it’s good to see her trust the instincts and optimism that have brought her this far. If Leslie could turn Ron Swanson into a friend, what can’t she do?

What can’t any of these characters do? That’s not a rhetorical question–it’s what they’re all asking themselves. In the face of so much change, “Soda Tax” questions how our irrepressible characters face up to their limitations. Andy finds his while training for the police academy; despite those impressive butt cheek clenching abilities, the guy is out of shape. He needs guidance, and Chris “The Microchip” Traeger is here to help.

But the more Chris motivates Andy, the less he’s able to motivate himself. While Andy has April’s love to keep him moving, Chris has only his quest for physical perfection. Worried that he’ll die alone, Chris starts down yet another downward spiral, and it looks for a moment like the show will be retreading the same mopey ground it covered last season. Luckily, though, Tom’s ready with the tough love: Chris needs therapy.

Although tendonitis and breakups fill him with dread, therapy thrills The Microchip. He views it as a new challenge: “I need to climb the Mount Everest of my mind!” Anything that puts a smile on Chris Traeger’s face is good for this show. Plus, wacky therapist! My vote’s on a Bones crossover with Stephen Fry.

While Chris is emotionally distracted, Tom also takes over Andy’s training, using a tricked-out pace car to get Andy up to his minimum running requirement.  MINIMUM CHAMPION! Andy does a pretty impressive job, given that he’s wearing a bandana for underwear. He sent his laundry to April, who misses him so much that she actually gets choked up—that’s love. She and Ben are struggling with their college interns in Washington, DC, where internships are only earned by apathetic, attractive Georgetown students with serious connections. Ben is upset by their inconsistent font usage until he realizes just how connected they actually are, at which point he decides to suck up to them instead. When Ben tries to be cool, he bumbles endearingly around modern colloquialisms and ends up saying things like “What’s up, my male?” No, Ben. No.

Even after a morning game of Ultimate, with a score of 1000 to seven, Ben still finds disturbing caricatures of himself around the office.

April turns out to be the culprit, shocking no one but Ben. Well, the interns are shocked, but only because it turns out April is not actually Ben’s daughter. She is his friend, though, and she’s smart, and her workplace performance leaves a lot to be desired. Ben gives her a pep talk in which he demands at least a 15% effort; after pouting and attempting to bargain it down to 12%, April agrees.

After seeing her at 15%, I’m terrified of what 100% might look like. April accosts Ellis, the Ultimate-playing intern, for his lack of productivity. Her motivational tactics include calling him “Smellis,” telling his friend that he has herpes, threatening murder, threatening to scoop his eyes out with a melon baller, and kissing him on the forehead. Has April ever been better?

Last week’s season five premiere was a fish-out-of-water story, and “Soda Tax” continues that trend. Everyone is in unfamiliar territory; even back in her hometown, Leslie can’t seem to find her bearings. With her job as Councilwoman, Andy’s career aspirations, Ben and April’s new jobs, and Chris’s existential crisis, the characters feel unmoored, and the show follows suit. But this sort of disorientation is not necessarily a problem—if we feel what the characters are feeling, we identify with them. The real trick is in keeping that community feeling intact even when the group is fragmented. While this episode could have benefited from a bit more overlap between the storylines, it reinforced the point that these people genuinely like each other. They might be confused, but they’re still looking up, and that’s the Parks and Rec brand of comedy.

And Jerry super glued his hands to something, so clearly not everything changes.

Soda Tax Snaps:

“These college interns really need to be whipped into shape. But don’t worry, because they call me Devo, ‘cause I can whip ‘em good.”

“I’m never gonna be a cop!…I’m gonna have to be a robber.”

“My husband started drinking those diet sodas, and he’s gained a hundred pounds in three months. Consequently we haven’t had sex in ten years.”

“It’s a perfect replica of Han Lue’s Nissan in Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Weirdly, so far no one has noticed.”

“Someone please tell me we Kodaked that moment.”

“I think we should tax all bad things. Like racism. And women’s vaginas.”

“Nothing. The silent killer.”

“Ellis hates you. And he has herpes.”

So do you support Leslie’s vote? And how excited are you for the inevitable Andy Dwyer training montages? And when exactly are we going to get an entire episode set in a town meeting? Do it, Mike Schur. Do it soon.

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