On paper, I think that “Soulmates” wasn’t a good episode of Parks and Recreation. It featured two of my least favourite stock television plot lines: 1) a series of romantic misunderstandings, 2) a character acting like an ass and then getting rewarded for it.  But television is all in the execution, and Parks and Recreation somehow managed to pull off both plot lines with some degree of success.

Let’s start with the second plot line. Ron’s immaturity and stubbornness have occasionally been pushed a little too far, and this week’s episode was an example of that. I don’t have any trouble believing that Ron would compete in a cook-off with Chris to see who could make the best burger. But I don’t think that Ron’s obstinate behaviour and total dismissal of Chris’s point of view spoke well of his character. What saved this plot line, though, was that Chris needed to be cut down to size. His obsession with perfection and self-improvement often blinds him to the simple pleasures in life, and the fact that Tom, Donna, Jerry, and Kyle1 preferred Ron’s burger provided a reminder to that effect.2 There were also some good jokes sprinkled throughout, especially coming from April, her general disinterest in the competition, and her contempt for cooked food.3

The episode’s more salient point of discussion is the A-story, involving Leslie, Ben, and Tom. The signs of a Leslie/Ben romance have been visible for a while, even if they’ve mainly been on Ben’s end. However, because it’s been a while since the show has explicitly focused on Leslie’s love life, it felt strange that Leslie’s love life received so much attention here. In fact, it was kind of jarring how little this episode focused on Pawnee politics. But like the other storyline, this one featured some truly hilarious moments, like Leslie’s dislike of turtles or Tom’s list of slang terms for common things, and good execution trumped the weak idea behind it.

What unsettles me a bit is that there’s now a “forbidden romance” aspect to Leslie and Ben’s potential relationship, and I’ve never seen a television show execute that kind of will-they/won’t-they dynamic well. Could Parks and Recreation beat the odds and become the exception to the rule? The show has broken television rules before with great success. Heck, just last week, it married off April and Andy with absolutely no build-up, and the episode was spectacular. That being said, a romance between the lead character and a supporting character is a tricky affair, and it can be disastrous if it overtakes the show. Are the Parks and Recreation writers smart enough to recognize that? We’ll just have to wait and see. But for now, I’m content with this solid (but perhaps slightly less than impressive) episode.

1 Apparently, Kyle is Jerry’s personal punching bag. Now we know where Jerry directs all his anger. Tee hee.

2 Kudos to the writers for not taking the easy way out and instead making everyone love both burgers.

3 Aubrey Plaza doesn’t often get praised for some of the subtle things she does when she plays April. But it’s the mark of a great actress that she has been able to keep April’s deadpan delivery intact while slightly altering the character’s demeanour and body language to reflect marital happiness.