“Pawnee Rangers” was a weird episode for me. I very much enjoyed it, but I’m not too sure how I feel about its premise. More details after the jump.

Last week’s episode was one of the very best episodes of Parks and Recreation ever produced; it was damn near perfect. Clearly, it wasn’t likely that this week’s installment would measure up to last week’s, and it didn’t. But am I going to complain every time a very good show doesn’t reach its peak? No. That would be ridiculous.

So I did laugh less than last week. And I smiled less. And overall, I wasn’t as interested in the stories the show was telling this week. But at the end of the half-hour, I still felt as if I’d seen another solid episode of one of the best shows on television. Honestly, I can’t ask for much more. Each of the episode’s subplots worked (to varying degrees), and they all had some great moments.

Donna and Tom were a hoot this week. The two of them have such a similar attitude towards life that it’s a wonder the two of them haven’t been paired together before. Witnessing the extent of their self-indulgence, capped off with a montage of them trying various ridiculous outfits, was a lot of fun. This subplot also allowed two of Ben’s storylines – his developing bromance with Tom and his break-up with Leslie – to dovetail nicely, finally showing us how Ben really feels about the end of his relationship and giving Tom an opportunity to help his new friend out. It gives me hope that in the coming weeks, we’ll see the fallout from the break-up for Leslie as well.

Jerry and Chris had a subplot of their own, which some might describe as marginal, but it worked effectively. While Jerry is a loser, he’s at least a self-aware loser. It would have been too easy for the writers to make Jerry totally unaware of his daughter’s attractiveness, so the writers opted instead to clue Jerry in to Chris’s attraction for her. Pitting Jerry’s casual attitude towards his daughter’s love life with Chris’s insistence on being forthcoming was a stroke of comedic genius; the look on Jerry’s face when he realized that his daughter had spent the night at Chris’s place was priceless. Hopefully, Chris dating Millicent is something that continues for at least a few episodes, if only to make Jerry squirm.

As for the A-plot, I enjoyed it, but with some reservations. I loved the jokes peppered throughout the story. April’s drawing of a buffalo trampling a woman and Ann’s fish trick both got a chuckle out of me, and the mini-Leslie-Knopes were a lot of fun to watch. I also appreciated that it ended sweetly, with Leslie starting an outdoors club on behalf of Ron.

What didn’t exactly work for me was how we got to that ending. I don’t mean to imply that it was unearned – far from it, in fact. But Leslie was at her most irritating here, particularly with how much she was determined to prove that her club was the best. My second problem is less tangible, but I think it’s a valid concern nonetheless. Parks and Rec tends to keep gender issues in the background, and with good reason – the show has done more for the positive portrayal of both men and women on television by simply allowing them to be people instead of pushing their male or female issues to the foreground. The show is clear to demonstrate, for instance, that Leslie is special not because she’s a woman, but because she’s Leslie Knope, damn it, waffle lover and hyper-competent bureaucrat extraordinaire.

For that reason, I was a little put off by the concept of having a boy-scouts/girl-scouts rivalry as the basis for the episode. Now, to the show’s credit, the rivalry wasn’t the focus of the episode; the story never blossomed into a full-on battle of the sexes. That’s for the better, because this show simply isn’t equipped to pull off a battle-of-the-sexes episode; Parks and Recreation isn’t that kind of show, nor should it aspire to be. But it led me to wonder if the setup of dividing by gender was even necessary in the place. Why couldn’t Ron and Leslie simply lead mixed-gender rival scout troops? If anything, the resolution to the story, as it played out, seemed to be a sort of meta-commentary: “Gender doesn’t really matter on this show.” If that’s true, then why bother framing the story in terms of gender in the first place? I’m not sure anything was gained from it, aside from a mildly amusing scene featuring a bunch of little boys (and Andy, who is just a little boy at heart) making a womanly roar.

Awkward gender politics aside, though, “Pawnee Rangers” was a really fun episode of Parks and Recreation. If anything, I’ve devoted too large a proportion of this write-up with complaints. As I’ve stated in so many reviews of this show, making giant lists of jokes is pointless; you can just watch the episode for yourself and laugh at whatever makes you laugh. “Pawnee Rangers” was solid, and like I said, I can’t ask for much more.

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