Well, I wasn’t expecting that. With all of the time Parks and Rec has spent this season justifying why Leslie and Ben need to be apart, I was assuming they’d wait to get them back together until at least after her campaign. There’s only so much will they/won’t they action I can handle from Leslie and Ben. Most of the suspense to them getting back together has been gone since they broke up since it's pretty much a given that they would restart their relationship eventually and we already know what they're like as a couple. At first, I’d thought Leslie not being able to date Ben was just a plot device to keep them apart, but something this minor, like a candidate dating her co-worker, could be a real world political scandal; so them splitting up was believable. Still, the reasons behind their break-up are unrelatable for those of us who aren’t politicians, and I’m glad the writers decided to plow through the “will they or won’t they” stuff rather quickly. Leslie and Ben trudging ahead with their relationship in the face of a potential scandal should make for a much more interesting ongoing plot than the two of them pining after each other all season.
Elsewhere in Pawnee, Tom takes a small assignment from Chris as an excuse to use his Entertainment 720 savvy to give the Parks Department a makeover, going overboard to avoid turning into a boring drone like Jerry. Andy decides to sign up for community college, with Ron and April tagging along to help him find the right class to audit. After an incognito stint in a beginner’s guitar class, in which Andy refuses to admit he knows how to play the guitar, and a brief stop at a high-tech science class, Andy decides that Women’s Studies is the place for him. When Andy goes to sign up for the class, he finds that he wholly underestimated how much a college course costs. He reopens his shoeshine stand, and April lends a helping hand by selling merchandise for Andy’s band Mouse Rat at City Hall. Ron, now fully submerged in his role as Andy and April’s father figure, intervenes to save Andy from working two jobs by paying for his tuition. After all, as Ron points out at the top of the show, Andy is one of the few people in his life that he doesn’t “actively root against,” so it only makes sense for him to help the guy out.
It was sweet seeing Ron pay for Andy’s college, but I was kind of hoping Andy would have to support himself for a little while, so that he could keep his shoeshine stand open. Andy’s shoeshine stand is the element in Parks and Rec's past that I miss the most, so it was nice to see it resurrected here, along with Andy’s nemesis/most frequent customer Kyle – even if it was just for an episode.
Parks and Rec co-creator/showrunner Michael Schur has been vocal about how he intends to keep his characters moving throughout the show’s run, without leaving them in the same place. Here’s Schur discussing the changing nature of the show with The AV Club's Todd VanDerWerff earlier this year:
“my preference [is] that characters be constantly growing and changing. I hate and am afraid of stasis with any character. And a lot of the decisions we’ve made about the ways in which the characters change their personal lives or their jobs is just because I get really restless and bored if I feel like everyone’s doing the same thing all the time.”
Last night’s show was one that does exactly what Michael Schur is talking about, moving things forward for many of the show’s central characters. Leslie and Ben are back together, choosing go ahead with their relationship in a move that could cost Leslie her budding political career, while Andy has entered his next big phase in life: community college. It’s definitely a good thing that Schur is so open to moving the action forward, and I like how each season of Parks and Rec has a different feel to it, based on what’s going on in the characters’ personal and professional lives. It’s nice to know I can drop in on any rerun and easily tell where the episode lies in Parks and Rec’s chronology. With the show’s ongoing plot making a significant advancement in "Smallest Park," there’s plenty of new stories left to tell in the weeks ahead.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.