Parks and Recreation: Soda Tax

This week’s Parks and Recreation, “Soda Tax” is all about crises of confidence. In Washington, Ben finds himself clashing with his interns. In Pawnee, Chris again stares into the void and Leslie finds herself unsure about supporting a bill she introduced.

Ben and April are still in DC, where the cold open finds them receiving care packages from home. Twelve boxes on a push cart for Ben and Andy’s dirty laundry for April (along with picture of Andy using a bandanna as underwear). Ben hates his interns, who don’t like or respect him. Following a reasonable, if anal retentive, talk about fonts, a drawing of him with a stick up his ass appear on the office wall. Then when he goes to fire some interns to assert his authority, Ben finds out that they’re all connected to politically important people.

This triggers the fairly standard sitcom cliché wherein Ben starts brown nosing in the worst way possible, becoming some sort of spazzy bro and spouting early 90’s slang. He then makes everyone around him uncomfortable both at work and at a game of “ultimate [frisbee]” in the shadow of the Washington Monument.

When the drawing returns with new frisbee themed details, Ben snaps and yells at the lead obnoxious intern only to learn that April, whom everyone thinks is Ben’s daughter, is the culprit. April then overcompensates after being chastised by Ben by threatening an annoying intern with some graphic violence involving a melon baller. I’ve never been a fan of the whole lame-guy-tries-to-be-cool-and-is-just-more-lame bit so this storyline didn’t really do much for me. That said, Aubrey Plaza looks great in her Washington office wear and Adam Scott is nails the turn from sycophant back to Ben being Ben.

Meanwhile back in Pawnee, it continues to feel like the writers just don’t know what to do with Chris Trager. I enjoy Rob Loews deranged optimism quite a lot, but every one of his story lines seem to be about how lonely he is. This week finds Chris and Tom training Andy so that he can try out for the police academy. Andy’s devotion to April, his whole motivation to get a good job, reminds Chris that Chris is lonely. Chris then collapses on the track and goes to hospital. After learning the whole thing was psychosomatic, Tom suggests therapy and Chris is inspired, ready to run off and “scale the Everest of [his] mind.” Hopefully the Chris character is turning a corner here and Rob Loew will get to do something other than go on downward spirals.

Finally, in the plot line that gives the episode its name, Leslie gets her Bloomberg on and introduces a bill to tax big sodas. This leads to a wonderful meeting between Ann and Leslie and a representative from the town’s Restaurant Association. First up are the sizes, including the 128oz (“Some would call it a gallon”) Regular soda and the 512oz Child Size soda, which is the size of a liquified child. Also coming under criticism is Sweetums Water Zero which has 300 calories per serving and gets its name, not because it has no calories, but because it has zero water. The Restaurant Association opposes the tax, threats to lay off 100s, and blame the whole thing on Leslie.

This is all the excuse Leslie needs for another classic, and utterly unhelpful, Pawnee community forum. Leslie leaves the meeting feeling her bill is right but worried what voting for it might do to her politically. Unable to sleep, Leslie drinks a Child Sized soda, stays up all night, and the next morning still can’t decide how to vote. She resolves to vote with her gut when her name is called and then promptly throws up. During the ensuing recess, it is Ron who convinces her to vote her conscience, telling her he tried to fire her four times when she started. She was too obstinate, too insubordinate, and too bubbly, but in the end he decided he rather work with someone with conviction than a yes man.

I think that Leslie moving out of her little pond and into a bigger one should inject some energy into the show. Not only will she have to transition to a new environment but the show will be able to tackle issues outside of the Parks Department. Leslie’s story line ends with a reminder that Parks and Recreation isn’t afraid of a little serialization as Leslie hopes aloud, “And she was just bluffing about those layoffs…”

  • Leslie lists a string of Pawnee restaurants she hopes to make healthier with her soda tax
    • Paunch Burger
    • Col. Plump’s Slop Trough (formerly Sue’s Salads)
    • Big and Wide
    • Fat Sack
  • Ben’s bets cool guy talk, “Good sportsmanship, bro!”
  • Andy’s first attempt at running two miles ends with him striping off all his clothes and collapsing on the track. 
  • In one of the episodes sweeter moments, Ron gets to use one of Leslie’s all time great gifts this week, his office automatic door closer.
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