It’s to be expected that every once in a while, a sitcom with a large ensemble cast will do an episode with a number of unrelated subplots. Sometimes, the episode will link those subplots thematically, or else have characters from the various subplots interacting at some point. This allows the stronger subplots to prop up the weaker ones – a sort of “a rising tide lifts all boats” effect.

But when the subplots are completely non-intersecting, each one is left to fend for itself. What can result is an episode that varies wildly in quality from minute to minute. “Ron & Tammys” was such an episode. Two of its subplots worked wonderfully; the third didn’t work at all.

Let’s just start with the third subplot and get that nasty stuff out of the way. Chris and Ann working on a PSA together could have been hilarious, but the execution here was so poor that I’d have to lump this subplot in with the very worst of Parks & Rec. The show has to be careful to strike a balance with Chris: he has to be intense enough that one can see why the other characters would find him irritating at times, but he should never actually be annoying to the audience. “Ron & Tammys” put Chris’s worst qualities front and centre and tried to make a joke out of them, having him reshoot the PSA over and over again. But I can’t laugh at Chris when I kind of want to tear his head off. Rob Lowe again fell into the trap of playing Chris as he did when the character was originally introduced: one-note and with no nuance.

In fact, the whole subplot felt way underwritten, as if the writers needed to come up with a filler story to bring the episode up to its running time and thought that Chris standing in front of a camera and saying random crap would suffice. Actors can sometimes coast by on their characters’ general likability when writing fails them, but I don’t have a fondness for Chris Traeger. So, nothing about this subplot worked for me, and if the rest of the episode were of the same quality, it probably would have been the series’ worst episode.

Luckily, that wasn’t the case, because the other two subplots fared much, much better. The one about Ben looking over Entertainment 720’s financials could have rested solely on the reappearance of Jean-Ralphio, who triggers an almost Pavlovian response of laughter from me – seriously, he just has to show up and I’m already laughing. But there were lots of other gags that I enjoyed, particularly Ben listing all the waste at the company in the end credits. And any time Detlef Schrempf shows up, he brings the yuks along with him. On top of that, this subplot provided some surprisingly nice developments in the budding Tom/Ben friendship, with Tom bringing Ben an iPad (that he had purchased with his own money, not the company’s) at the end of the episode, and this friendship could turn into a nice bromance before the end of the season.

The other subplot, the one concerning this episode’s titular characters, also worked very well. Whereas last week I was underwhelmed by her (admittedly brief) performance, Patricia Clarkson settled into a good groove as Tammy One this week. In a way, I’m glad that her “audit” was revealed as a total fabrication because it allowed the show to dismiss the nonsensical premise for Tammy One’s presence and instead concentrate on the funny. And boy, was there a lot of it, from Ron going mustache-less to Andy coming up with a plan of his own to April being in awe of Tammy One to Ron’s buried gold to…well, let’s just say that I chuckled almost constantly and guffawed multiple times. Even with all the hilarity, there was still some time for sweetness, as Leslie and April both offered themselves up for the drinking contest. Plus, this resulted in even more hilarity, with Leslie’s drunk hallucinations and April’s foul-mouthed reaction to the Swanson family liquor.

So, overall, if you ignore the Chris/Ann plot, this was a top-notch episode of Parks and Recreation, and even if you don’t, it was still a pretty good one. “Ron & Tammys” was a bit uneven, but after last week’s semi-misfire, this was a welcome return to form, and I hope the quality keeps up for the rest of the season.

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