Parks and Recreation: "Soulmates"


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Let us come now to praise Aziz Ansari.

When Parks and Recreation debuted, he was probably the second- or third-best known cast member (after Amy Poehler and maybe Rashida Jones), having built a following in sketch and stand-up comedy. But as the show evolved in its breakthrough second season, his Tom Haverford evolved into a role player - a lovably douchey joke machine, rarely at the center of major stories.


Nevertheless, Tom's a legend in his own mind (though the world does owe him a debt for creating DJ Roomba). Beneath his shallow exterior is an even more shallow interior...but somewhere beneath that is a kernel of decency and loyalty that slips through in Ansari's boisterous, smarmy, ingratiating portrayal.

Without a reserve of good will built up for both the actor and the character, Tom's two key scenes in "Soulmates" would either fall flat or provoke viewers to pelt their TV screens with loose objects. Instead those scenes - his pseudo-date with Leslie, and the tremendous talking head that precedes it - contribute to the series' best showcase for a character who's spent more time on the sidelines than in the spotlight this year.


I generally jot down my favorite lines of dialogue as I watch the episode, but about three seconds into Tom's exhaustive catalog of his idiosyncratic slang terms for every meal-related item under the sun, I gave up. I would have wound up transcribing the entire scene. I'm sure twice as much material wound up on the cutting room floor, and it damn well better become some DVD or web bonus material, and possibly even a "Tom Haverford-to-English dictionary" on Tumblr.

Even stealing the show, Tom was a supporting player in Leslie's story. Ben's rejection of her dinner invite - due to Chris's ban on employee fraternization - allows the show to get more mileage out of their adorably awkward flirtation without straining credulity, and without pulling the trigger on getting them together too soon.

The B-story was a light-hearted culmination of the running conflict between irresistible force Chris Traeger and immovable object Ron Effin' Swanson. Their polar opposite philosophies of cuisine have sparked at least one good joke per episode all the way back to "Indianapolis," so it was only natural that the two finally square off in a cooking contest. Putting Ron in a health food store ("I came here for the same reason people go to the zoo.") is a fraught comic idea, richly paid off.


(And I loved how quickly April and Andy, respectively, became Ron and Chris's surrogate children on the shopping trip. It gave the whole proceedings a sort of Montagues-and-Capulets feeling. Okay, not really.)

Yet even the considerable power of Ron Swanson's grill couldn't steal this episode from Ansari. The challenge of a show like Parks and Recreation is to maximize the potential of its deep bench of comic actors, but it's a challenge the show is living up to week to week. Like a championship baseball team, there's a new hero every game.

Other notes:
  • "Soon to be number three - we're coming for you, San Antonio."
  • "If you're looking for a good time, why don't you come down to the toilet party?"
  • "Is that a fried turkey leg inside a grilled hamburger? If so, yes. Delicious."
  • "Why would anyone do that to themselves?"
  • Leslie's reactions to Anne's shot were hilarious: "Crap on a crayfish that really stings!" "Aaah, you're a monster!" "%$@! you, Anne!"
  • "What do I get if I win?" "The rarest jewel of all: Victory over me, Ron Swanson."
  • "I couldn't really hear him. It sounded like his name was Forp."
  • "Boom! That's spaghetti...nachos... the cookie."
  • "Organizing my agenda. Wait, that doesn't sound fun. Jammin' on my planner!"
  • "Turtles?" "No opinion... they're condescending."
  • "I think you just described The Phantom of the Opera." "Mmm."
  • "You heard me, your marriage is a sham."
  • "Eh. He kinda lives in a barn."
  • "A douche-vestigation."
  • "Would you like to talk outside my van?"
  • Okay, a few of my favorite Tom slangs: "Sandoozles." "Cool blasterz, with a Z...I don't know where that came from." "Long-ass rice." "Fry-fry chicky-chick." "Super water."
  • "Like a drug dealer, in a Michael Bay movie."
  • "...and we create a raunchy animated series, based on our friendship, called Tommy and the Fox."
  • "No no, I'm into it now. Wish number three: We remake Point Break. I play both roles - Keanu and Swayze."
  • "One. Zero. Negative a billion."
  • "Nope. Just the crows and the beef."
  • "Don't disappear on me. I need you, Boo."
  • "Andy's Mouth Surprise. It's nice because the flavor in the Starbursts bring out a similar flavor in the Skittles."
  • City Hall hierarchy update: Even Jerry bags on sadsack shoeshine regular Kyle. Not sure whether I feel better for Jerry or worse for Kyle.
  • "I swear on this dead crow that I will never cook for you."
  • "I'm going to have to jog while I digest this."
  • "I think I'm allergic to chutney. Also, what's chutney?"
  • "Tom N. Haverford collects globes! His favorite movie is books!"

Comments

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  • There was a moment from last season where Tom jumped up and started dancing to Soulja Boy (that's a thing, right?) while hanging out in the bar with Detlef Schrempf. My husband must have watched that scene about 75 trillion times.

    I have a feeling Tom's slang rundown is going to get the same replay treatment.

  • In reply to Magistra:

    Great observations - Tom's my favorite!

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