PARKS AND RECREATION “Are You Better Off?” Finale Recap
Let’s just say that no one is hedging their bets that there won’t be a season 6. It’s been a year since Leslie Knope became City Councilwoman, and she has turned Pawnee into an uninhabitable place where businesses have to sacrifice a second men’s bathroom for one women’s bathroom, where napkins are considered a vegetable because they are made from plants, and where a new, beautiful park forces one to travel 20 minutes for a triple decker pancake breakfast pizza. But seriously the outrageous food items that this show makes up sound heavenly. There is really nothing about “Are You Better Off?” that indicates that it’s a season finale other than it’s apt title, and the cameos by Shawna Malwae-Tweep, Jean Ralphio, and Brandi Maxxx.
Have we seen the last of Rent-A-Swag? A mysterious wealthy entrepreneur, who may or may not be but definitely isn’t Diddy, has adopted/stolen every facet of Tom’s business, including the name Tom, but except the term “swag.” Good move. And Tom’s about to get an expensive free lesson on capitalism. Well, that’s about all what’s important to take away from Tom this week. Suffice it to say I’m glad they are (probably) axing this storyline. At first I coiled a bit at Jean-Ralphio’s sister, Mona Lisa (a painfully annoying, but magnetic Jenny Slate), but she is finding a nice place for herself on the show, just as boyfriend Tom is finding a nice place for himself in her pocket. In Season 6 I would love to see a more personal relationship between the trio, rather than one grounded in horrible business practices. Tom dodges the bullet of being a father, but he reveals a praiseworthy side of his character when he offers to sell his business to not-Diddy and buy a house.
But who is pregnant? A question that Parks and Recreation heavily social networked this episode with. In case you are one of the millions of people who watch the show online after it’s TV debut (take note Nielsen…), I won’t reveal that spoiler here. Burt Macklin is on the case, and he interviews suspects Ann (the frontrunner given the whole father-a-child-with-Chris extravaganza), Leslie, and Donna. Mona Lisa is also a suspect, but insists that with all the pills she takes, it is impossible for her to berth a human being. And April is immediately out of the equation because she would’ve told Chris. Which, given the brief way he dismisses the possibility, makes for the obvious possibility of a surprise ending. One of the best moments in the episode come when he intrudes on Leslie’s press conference just as she is being painted as a sex-loving maniac to ask if she is pregnant. He leaves, “Is that Brandi Maxxx?” Chris Pratt leads the way through much of the season finale–he is doing Emmy-quality work here. He probably won’t win any time soon because Parks and Recreation doesn’t have the words “modern” or “family” in the title, but he is nevertheless proving himself as one of the funniest actors on TV.
We aren’t left with much of a solution for the town’s rebellion against Leslie. In fact, when Season 6 rolls out, it will probably pick up with Leslie still fighting for the town’s approval. She repeats the question that failed to help 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, “Are you better off?” And in a confusing display of Parks and Rec‘s bipartisanship, Pawneeans declare that they are not. Well, they aren’t better off if the measure of a town is the number of Paunch Burgers per square mile. She didn’t help her case by imitating (unknowingly) the giant scrunched-face, finger waving float 10 feet behind her. Ben isn’t as concerned; the more she accomplishes the more heat she is going to get. That’s politics, my friend. For me, what made this episode such a success was how the ensemble cast was used, truly, as an ensemble cast. That is, of course, including the guest stars and excluding Jerry. Parks and Rec hasn’t been The Amy Poehler Show since Season 2, so when Leslie has too much happening at once, it never really works well. But when she allows things to happen to her, rather than try to make something happen, the audience is rewarded. This case just remained interesting.