‘Parks and Recreation’: Friends, Free Markets, and First Steps

Parks and Recreation’s “Bailout” episode applies witty humor and touching moments while posing questions about our political, social, and personal systems.

Parks and Recreation
Greg Daniels and Michael Schur

The Pawnee Video Dome is artsier than most video stores, but like all of them, it’s fast becoming obsolete. This leads Leslie (Amy Poehler), in this week’s episode of Parks and Recreation, to a decision to help the store stay in business. It also leads to a major disagreement with Ron (Nick Offerman), who believes in the free market.

Through their ongoing argument, the episode “Bailout” raises political and social questions but doesn’t try to propose the answers. When Leslie implores the townspeople to rent videos from the Video Dome, one Pawneean (Joe Mande) asks, “Why would I do that? All movies are online for free. I’m watching Iron Man 2 on my phone right now.” His question is a good one. Why would any of us want to pay for videos when they’re readily available to pirate?

The imminent demise of the Video Dome begs another, bigger, political question regarding government bailouts. In hopes of saving the store, “a place with tremendous community value where people gather to expand their horizons” at free weekly film screenings, Leslie proposes giving it historical landmark status, along with tax breaks that would allow Dennis (guest star Jason Schwartzman) to keep it open. In a rare act of political engagement, Ron publicly opposes Leslie’s call for government support for businesses with such “community value” by asserting that “the government should not prop up a failed business. That’s like feeding a mortally wounded animal instead of slitting its throat and properly utilizing its meat and pelt.”

Validating and mocking both sides of the issue, Parks and Recreation also establishes this episode’s focus on friendship. Even as Leslie and Ron make mistakes (her desire to “give the people what they want” soon has Dennis turning his business into an adult video store), they see that their argument is not personal. Unlike their real-world counterparts, these longtime friends and colleagues don’t their political differences drive a wedge between them.

Questions concerning the rewards and demands of friendship shape a couple of other storylines. As Chris (Rob Lowe) continues to contemplate his friend Anne’s (Rashida Jones) request that he be her sperm donor, he sees an opportunity to test his parenting skills. He offers Tom (Aziz Ansari) his advice regarding his hiring of Mona Lisa (guest star Jenny Slate). The twin sister of Tom’s best friend Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz), she proves to have something of a slacker attitude and a big ego, both making her a terrible employee, even, as her brother repeatedly calls her, “the worst.” When Chris worries that he’s not being a good parent to Tom, Jerry (Jim O’Heir) offers solace: “Every parent makes mistakes. Lord knows I’ve made plenty. But it’s the small victories that keep you going. When you see your little one take her first steps or graduate college, it just makes it all worth it.”

As touching as this assessment might be, the show provides laughs as well, triggered when April (Aubrey Plaza) needs a letter of recommendation from Anne, whom she notoriously detests. Long hoping to make amends with April, Anne uses the opportunity to blackmail her into being her friend for a week. The arrangement softens the resistant April as she sympathizes with Anne, who anxiously awaits Chris’ decision about sperm donorship, leading them to form an unexpected bond. And so Parks and Recreation ties the week’s several strands together, showing that even sworn enemies can become friends. Sometimes, the best encouragement comes in the silliness of belting out Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” into dry-erase markers.

“Bailout” returns Parks and Recreation to its brilliant standard. It’s filled with the witty humor and touching moments we have come to expect while posing questions about our political, social, and personal systems. As friends find a common cause and seek similar goals, even if by different means, they also find ways to support one another and move forward.

RATING 9 / 10