PARKS AND RECREATION 4.08 ‘Smallest Park’

Leslie's plan to keep Ben in her life comes to a conclusion neither of them expected, as Andy goes to college.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Smallest Park"

Writer: Chelsea Peretti

Director: Nicole Holofcener

This week on "Parks and Recreation," Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) returns to Earth!

It feels like forever since we've seen the Leslie who was a likable sitcom heroine. But it really goes back to the beginning of this season when she ended her relationship with Ben (Adam Scott) to avoid a potential scandal in her burgeoning political career. The breakup was amicable, but in the intervening weeks, Ben has been an emotional mess and Leslie has treated Ben like he exists only for her eventual pleasure.

So it was no surprise when Ben finally told Leslie that he wanted to minimize their professional relationship and cut back on his time in the Parks department. But the thought of Ben slipping out of her life drove Leslie into yet another bout of madness. Last week, the two of them derailed a Model U.N. club and this week, Leslie was determined to make their current (and final) project together last until "2070."

For the world's smallest park, Leslie couldn't even count on the usual Pawnee craziness to derail it, so she made sure to manufacture some of her own. And in no time, people were protesting the park with signs that Leslie had helpfully pre-made.

Except Ben wasn't having any of it. He quickly derailed the protest by tearing up Leslie's list of activities that had riled up the citizens. Chris (Rob Lowe) practically clapped with joy as he declared Ben and Leslie to be his "dream team." However, Ben refused the definition of a team by arguing that Leslie simply steamrolls over anything that he wants… and now he just wants to get out. Although Chris is shaken by "so many negative words," he agrees to Ben's request and the dream team is dead.

This is where the lovely Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) proves her value to the show. Earlier in the episode, Leslie steamrolled over Ann's attempts to give her good advice about dealing with Ben… and it takes Ann to make Leslie understand that she really is a steamroller. Ann even has a touching scene with Ben in which she explains that Leslie once made her eat an entire cheesecake at a party to make Leslie look good. And when Ben asked why, Ann shot back that for Leslie she would have eaten ten cheesecakes.

It's the perfect encapsulation of Leslie Knope. Yes, she's overly demanding of her friends and would-be lovers, but she gives a great deal of love in return. Ben agrees to meet Leslie at the newly opened smallest park… and Leslie apologizes! It's not some half-hearted apology either. Leslie seems to have realized that she was being a huge jerk for the entire season and she vows not to be a steamroller anymore. She even asks Ben if he wants to rekindle their relationship before its too late.

Ben responds with a passionate kiss that almost makes all of the Leslie-douchery worthwhile. Neither character is complete apart, but together they're perfect. Looming on the horizon is a potential political scandal over the affair, but viewers have been teased about this long enough. It's time to keep Ben and Leslie together and explore that more thoroughly than before. That relationship works wonders for Leslie and makes her seem human again.

Back in the Parks department, returning doucebag Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) is teamed with Jerry (Jim O'Heir) to come up with a new font to update the logo for the department. Coming off of the disastrous Entertainment 720 debacle, Tom tries to make the assignment more ambitious than it needs to be. He also insults Jerry by referring to him as his "number 3" in a two man assignment.

There is actually an interesting dynamic between Tom and Jerry (and I can't believe I never noticed that name connection before), Jerry's argument that Tom should just do the job they were assigned to do is perfectly valid and Jerry has managed to construct a fairly happy life by not rocking the boat. On the other hand, Tom wants to dream up bigger and better things and its hard not to sympathize with that position… even if Tom remains the biggest jerk on the series. The solution of using the old '70s style Parks logo from Jerry's ID is actually a brilliant move.

Naturally, Tom undercuts the good will again by demoting Jerry to his fourth and minimizing his role in the project. But it's still probably the most credit Jerry has gotten in decades at the department.

In the last subplot of the week, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) proves once again that he has a huge heart when he mentors Andy (Chris Pratt) about taking some college classes. Ron may tell the cameras that Andy is simply a co-worker he doesn't actively root against, but his actions continue to show a great deal of affection towards Andy and his young wife, April (Aubrey Plaza).

For this situation, April is the devil on Andy's shoulder telling him to take easy classes that he can ace. Whereas Ron wants Andy to challenge himself. Andy's first choice is Guitars for Beginners, but he's far too bored to go over the basics again. His second class, introduction to lasers is also a disappointment… because he doesn't get to play with any lasers in the class.

To be charitable, Andy is kind of a big dumb goof. But he's really likable in his ignorance and he seems to genuinely want to explore higher education. By hilariously picking a class at random, Andy winds up in a Women's Studies class that leaves him enthralled, April wishing to be burned at the stake (in admiration of Joan of Arc) and Ron noting his approval.

And when Ron witnesses Andy attempting to work multiple jobs to afford the class he gives Andy the first ever "Ron Swanson Scholarship." And again, I have to point out that if Ron didn't love these two there is no way he would be that generous. Sometimes "Parks and Recreation" plays like it should be called "Swanson Knows Best." But I'd watch that spinoff.

It's hard to argue with a very funny and well made episode that actually seems to take the characters further than before.

Well done, "Parks and Rec." Well done.

Crave Online Rating: 9 out of 10.