Early in Parks and Rec’s run, when it was revealed that Tammy was the name of both of Ron Swanson’s ex-wives and also his mother, it created more questions than answers. Two years later, we finally got to meet the last of the important Tammys in Ron’s life. Going off past episodes with Megan Mullally’s Tammy 2 turning Ron into an id-indulging deviant, I was prepared to see Ron hit some new lows in last night’s show, but nothing prepared me for the polite, moustache-less nerd Tammy 1 causes him to morph into.
In her second appearance as Ron’s ex-wife, Tammy 1, Patricia Clarkson fills her role well in an episode that offers up the biggest look at this character we’ve gotten yet (as well as the most extensive account of Ron Swanson’s past so far). Ron has known Tammy 1 since birth. She was the candy striper who helped deliver him, but she also served as his Sunday school teacher, his middle school math teacher, and his driver’s ed teacher. Tammy 1 has been an authority figure to Ron Swanson throughout his entire life.
The reason Tammy is back in Ron’s orbit is that she’s with the IRS and he’s being audited. For someone full of Libertarian ideals like Ron Swanson, this is his worst nightmare. Luckily, he has Leslie, April, and Andy to rescue him from being incarcerated for sticking to his anti-bureaucratic beliefs. They quickly find, though, that Ron’s Tammy 1 problem extends far beyond the audit. She made up the audit completely and has used it as an excuse to plant herself back in Ron’s life. In barely any time at all, she moves in with Ron, convinces him to add her onto his bank account, and worst of all, makes him shave off his trademark moustache.
The strange, clean-cut geek Ron becomes when he’s under Tammy 1’s spell is a version of him we haven’t seen yet on the show, and it was a delight seeing Nick Offerman sink his teeth into a new shade of Ron. To win Ron back from Tammy 1, Leslie and company turn to his other ex, Tammy 2. As Leslie puts it, “In order to beat Mothra, we need Godzilla.” They quickly realize that even Tammy 2 is powerless to Tammy 1, who was also her Sunday school teacher. Andy comes up with the brilliant idea of bringing in Tammy 0: Ron Swanson’s mother.
Tammy 0 (played by former SNL head writer Paula Pell, who is right around Nick Offerman’s age but wears quite a bit of makeup for this role) is exactly the kind of gun-toting lunatic you’d expect to be Ron Swanson’s mother. She decides to settle Ron’s future by challenging Tammy 1 to see who can drink more of the Swanson family mash liquor, holding up a homemade jug of booze that April says “smells like jet fuel.” Tammy 0 reveals that, if she wins, Ron will have to return to the family farm with her. Leslie, not wanting to lose her spiritual mentor and boss, has no choice but to enter the drink-off herself.
While both Tammys are in the drinking competition for the long haul, Leslie is put out of commission after just a little bit of the Swanson family moonshine. April subs in for her but quickly forfeits too, only for Ron Swanson to save himself by chugging a half-jug full of the family liquor in a triumphant act of victory that may well be the most cartoonish Ron Swanson moment in the history of the show.
While Leslie, April, and Andy helped out Ron with his taxes, Tom Haverford sought out the help of Ben Wyatt for his financial dealings for his carelessly-extravagant new company Entertainment 720. Tom and Ben were one of the best new character duos Parks and Rec discovered last season, and it was great seeing the show return to it here. Tom and Ben’s relationship seemed to be defined a little better this time around, with it turning into an unrequited friendship on Ben’s side. Tom has always thought Ben was a geeky loser, but Ben so sincerely wanting to be friends with him – only to be constantly shut down – puts a funnier, new spin on things.
The Tom and Ben plot was also featured the return of Jean-Ralphio (played by Ben Schwartz). One of the show’s best recurring characters, Jean-Ralphio doesn’t pop up nearly as often as he should because of Schwartz’s busy schedule. Tom and Jean-Ralphio showing their wasteful company off to Ben was well-executed, and it was great seeing just how extravagant the Entertainment 720 operation has grown. The episode’s C-plot, involving Chris and Ann filming a diabetes PSA, was funny and a nice showcase for Rob Lowe, but the story arc was a little predictable and it was overshadowed by the two larger plotlines that feature events that we’ve been waiting to see for a while.
In an interview last year, Louis C.K., who was a recurring guest on Parks in Season 2, justified his decision to only feature one regular character on his show Louie by saying this:
I remember when I was on the set of a show I was working on, some time ago—I don’t want to name anybody. There is a scene being shot of two characters talking that made no sense. It was just useless. They kept shooting it over and over again, because they couldn’t get it to work, because it didn’t need to exist. And I asked one of the writers, “Why are you doing this?” And he said, “Because they don’t have anything to do in this episode, these two. So we just have to do something with them.” It was so depressing, and it took way more time than it did to shoot the valid dialogue between the main characters.
It’s possible that C.K. was speaking of Parks, but it very well could have been a different show. The Ann and Chris storyline was pretty far off from what C.K. was describing because it made perfect sense for the characters to be in this situation and it was funny, but in an episode that was packed to the gills with greatness, it was a little disappointing cutting to a story that was just plain old good. It’s a nitpicky criticism, and if the worst thing I can say about an episode of Parks and Rec is that a good storyline took a little bit of time away from two great storylines, then I’d say it’s still a damned fine half-hour of television.
Ron Swanson’s moustache had better be back next week.
Bradford Evans guesses that Entertainment 720 will shut down within two episodes. When do you think the inevitable is going to happen?