I found myself in the minority about last week’s episode of Parks and Recreation. While many people were calling it one of the best episodes of the series, I found myself considerably less enamoured with it. I suspect that I’ll find myself in the minority again this week, because I thought that “The Treaty” was a significant improvement over “End of the World,” though still problematic in some ways.

At the centre of the episode was the high school Model UN summit organized by Leslie and Ben. Though their shared love of the organization brought them closer at first, they soon made the summit degenerate into a platform for airing their personal issues with each other, culminating in their respective countries declaring war on each other. Their hijacking of the summit led the delegates to abandon it in frustration.

Meanwhile, Ron tired to get Tom to come back to the parks department, but Tom had too much pride to accept the offer. This led Ron to interview a series of candidates for the job, each one of questionable competence. Eventually, by agreeing to embarrass himself in front of his colleagues, Ron was able to get Tom to accept.

The third subplot involved Chris trying to figure out where he was going wrong in his relationship with Millicent. After consulting with Donna and Jerry, Ann finally gave him the advice he needed: back off a bit and let Millicent be herself.

A lot of this was very funny, particularly Ron’s interviews for other candidates for Tom’s position. I also got a kick out of Donna’s fascination with Chris’s sex life and April’s desire to represent the Moon (which paid off nicely when Leslie made her angry speech at the Model UN summit). There were a lot of nice character beats strung throughout, particularly for Ann, who explained to Chris just how much more self-possessed she had become since getting dumped by him. I also enjoyed the low-key conversation between April and Leslie in the high school’s hallway, which showcased a rarely-seen sweet side to April.

Unfortunately, some parts of “The Treaty” didn’t work as well. Quite a few of the jokes just didn’t land. Andy provided some laughs, as usual, but a lot of what he said just wasn’t funny this week, and the writers need to dial his cluelessness down a few notches. Leslie’s big speech also would have been a dud were it not for April proclaiming the Moon’s support; the Khrushchev-shoe-banging incident has been parodied way too many times, so the joke felt lazy.

“The Treaty” also suffered from having a slightly weak story at its centre. Leslie and Ben’s plot line didn’t work as well as it should have. While I’m glad to see the fallout of their breakup, as it was ignored for too long early in the season, this was the second week in a row where Leslie was acting immature about it, and it’s getting to the point where I’m starting to question her judgment. That’s a problem for a character who is supposed to be hyper-competent, and while I’m interested to see Leslie’s personal life spilling over into her professional life, the show really needed to wait another couple of weeks before putting out an episode like this. So, while I did find a lot of Leslie and Ben’s childish actions funny, I also found them frustrating, wishing that sane Leslie would reappear.

More broadly, I’m starting to have a few concerns about this show. Most of the episodes this season have followed a familiar formula: split the characters up into non-intersecting subplots; make some funny stuff happen; and then tack on a sweet, heartfelt resolution. “The Treaty” was no different in that regard. It’s a formula that works, for the most part, but it’s beginning to feel rote, as if every episode of this show is crafted from the same template. It would be alright for Parks and Recreation to mix things up every once in a while, whether that be by having one giant A-plot that involves most of the characters, or by having a comedic resolution to the proceedings. That being said, unlike last week, “The Treaty” actually earned its emotional resolution, and it didn’t feel manipulative in the slightest. But it did feel mechanical, and I found myself more interested in an alternate hypothetical ending where Leslie and Ben’s immaturity ruined Model UN permanently for a group of teenagers. Sweet, heartfelt endings are great; this show has built its reputation on the comedy of optimism. But having them all the time robs the show of consequence, and the last thing I want is for Parks and Recreation to become inconsequential.

Advertisements