[Review based on "Bowling for Votes" (4.13),"Operation Ann" (4.14) and "Dave Returns" (4.15)]
With Louis C.K. returning to Parks this week as Leslie's former beau Dave, we were guaranteed some awkward moments. While I'm not sure this episode went in the right direction with his character, he created an opportunity to show Leslie dealing with a tough situation without turning into the hysterical caricature we've seen in the past. The B-plot brought the return of Duke Silver and continued the show's streak of poking fun (successfully and hilariously) at Ron's tough image, while the C-plot advanced the Tom & Ann dating storyline.
While the ratings may not have borne it out, Louis C.K. was the big draw this week. He played Dave, whose relationship with Leslie in season 2 ended amicably when he moved to San Diego. I remember Dave being a good presence the first time around, helping to tone down some of the cartoonish behavior that made Leslie unlikable in the early parts of the series (and drew negative comparisons to the worst parts of The Office's Michael Scott - see episodes 2.04 "Practice Date" and 2.07 - "Greg Pikitis").
"Dave Returns" turned this dynamic on its head as Dave was unreasonable and unrealistic as his efforts to win back Leslie culminated in handcuffing Ben to a urinal. This could be the writer's intention with the character, as his inability to move on from the past contrasted strongly with where Leslie is at with Ben. I would buy the idea that Leslie has grown over the seasons (and with Ben's influence) more if not for a number of episodes this season that seemed to regress to the old Leslie (see 4.08 - "Smallest Park" and 4.06 - "End of the World"). The show needs to more consistently avoid letting Leslie slip into the extra unrealistic character to be able to make a point about Leslie's growth.
However, the occasional Leslie regression is much improved from the show's first season (when Leslie's interactions with Mark Brendanawicz were nigh unwatchable). My quibbles only exist because the following seasons have raised the bar for her character. I think her relationship with Ben has been one source of this progress (which I think has surprised a number of reviewers who were initially wary). The last few episodes have shown the two of them disagreeing on a number of issues, but often doing so without making either of them seem unreasonable.
I was glad to see them deal with an issue that didn't come from the campaign this week, even if the conflict wasn't particularly original for a comedy (an old flame meeting the current sweetheart). Dealing with a typical couple problem like this helps flesh out Ben and Leslie's relationship and make it more believable. I also wouldn't mind seeing how the two of them deal with this kind of issue with their roles reversed, since Chris is the only person we've met from Ben's past.
For me, Ann and Tom are much less believable as a couple. The idea of the two of them going out on a date worked for me in "Operation Ann" as it seemed to build up the idea of her dating woes throughout the episode, and it makes sense that she'd be willing to give him a chance from that mindset. However, she's never had much patience for Tom's silliness (which was reinforced in "Bowling for Votes"), which makes it seem like an unexpected reversal when he wears her down. I'm glad the show isn't moving too quickly (a kiss between the two of them this episode would have been too much), but I'll need more convincing over the remainder of the season.
Andy's desire to come through for Leslie with the campaign song fits well with his character's past with Leslie. With April's development over the last few episodes, Andy seemed to be lagging behind in growing up. I think his feelings of responsibility that surface when Leslie depends on him could provide a similar opportunity for the character if the writers return to it often enough.
I enjoyed the gags involving Ron's secret identity as Duke Silver, whom we haven't seen in a while. The last few episodes have done a great job of tweaking his character and showing small chinks in his manly facade. This is only possible because the character is so well-defined, which makes these deviations entertaining instead of inconsistent.
- Tom's nicknames for Ann: Cookie-toosh, Winnie-the-Boo, Lady Presh-Presh, Ann-berry Sauce, Annie-Get-Your-Boo, Tommy's Girl, Annie-bananie
- I found it odd that the writers decided to make Ann's confession to Leslie about her date take place off-screen. Leslie's knowledge would have made for a funny scene (if a little trite)
- Ben's not afraid of cops, as he's never broken the law - because he's deathly afraid of cops
- "There's a flesh-eating virus going around. Yeah, it's called music. And there's only one way to get a vaccine and that's to... play it"
- "It's kind of like We Are the World, except I actually think it could have a real impact on society"
- "I've heard of him. I heard he makes mature women swoon when he plays"
- I like seeing when Chris isn't perfect - like his rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
- His reaction to finding out that Tom and Ann are dating was also good - I look forward to his recent disappointments coming to a head soon
- "I still have feelings for Leslie... in a womanly fashion"
- "Are you okay?" "Yeah. Have to pee really bad, ironically"