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Thursday Comedies: Parks and Recreation 5.02

Parks and Recreation, Season 5, Episode 2, “Soda Tax”
Written by Norm Hiscock
Directed by Kyle Newachek
Airs Thursdays at 9:30pm ET on NBC

In this episode, Leslie Knope attempts to address Pawnee’s obesity problem by borrowing a page from Michael Bloomberg’s notebook and taxing soda. It fares significantly better than last year’s attempt to address the birther controversy in “Born and Raised.”  It uses New York’s controversial legislation to emphasize the fact that if Leslie is going to stand up for what she believes in, she’s going to have to be okay with pissing some people off along the way.

Leslie’s reaction at the city council meeting recalls last year’s “Bowling for Votes” in which she couldn’t stand to let one potential voter’s irrational bias go, risking damage to her campaign in the process. This being Parks, Leslie’s turmoil is evoked in a town hall meeting and assuaged by a heart-to-heart with Ron Swanson. We get a brilliant joke about a 512 oz. “child-sized” soda that is “roughly the size of a 2-year-old child if he were to be liquefied” along the way.

The Ben & April, and Tom, Chris & Andy subplots bear little connection to what is happening with Leslie but provide more than their share of the laughs. The latter actually turns up one of the episode’s best scenes. Tom, with an assist from Andy, suggests Chris looks into therapy. One of many criticisms leveled at season 4 was that Chris’s behavior, without a strong purpose like the one he possessed in season 3, became increasingly erratic. This is some clever retconning that both makes a lot of sense—i.e. Tom is reacting as a rational human would around someone behaving like Chris—and opens many potential doors for the show.

This is another strong but unassuming episode that highlights all the things that make Parks the best comedy on network television: richly detailed characters with strong personal motivations that inhabit themselves in plots that serve to reveal new aspects of these characters in heartwarming but hilarious ways. In this episode, Chris, Ron, and Leslie were the standouts in this department, but I don’t think there’s anything more heartwarming and hilarious than April threatening someone’s eyes with a mellon-baller as an attempt to show loyalty to Ben. It’s good to be back in Pawnee (and DC).

Justin Wier