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Sick Day: Parks and Recreation's Cast Shines in "Flu Season"

"Stop. Pooping."

The MVP award for last night's fantastic episode of Parks and Recreation ("Flu Season") goes to Rob Lowe, for his sensational delivery of the above two words as Chris succumbs to the virulent strain of flu infecting everyone in Pawnee.

Chris' ouright outrage and horror, upon learning that the "microchip has been compromised," is transformed into self-loathing and ultimately a complete and utter breakdown as he vomits into a drawer, makes friends with the hospital room floor, and manages to make would-be girlfriend Ann at ease with him for the first time during their nascent courtship.

But the heights that "Flu Season" reached (which, I might add, for all of their strengths are topped by other upcoming episodes this season) are due to the tremendous work being done by all of the members of Parks and Rec's talented ensemble.

For all of the scene-stealing done by Lowe here, there are standout moments for Aubrey Plaza (throwing her blankets on the floor and getting under Ann's skin), Chris Pratt (the super-straw; yanking the desk drawer off of its track), Nick Offerman (the giggle alone as Ron and Andy run off alone was worth the price of admission), Aziz Ansari (the spa scenes), and Rashida Jones (Ann's end-of-shift freakout at April).

But it was Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope who took the cake as she attempted to make her way to the "Chamber of Secrets" to make her presentation, creating a denim scarf out of her jeans, stealing powerful flu medication from her fellow convalescent patients, and generally behaving in a hysterically delirious fashion. (Two words: "Leslie Monster.")

But most comedies would have had Leslie deliver her speech in a stupor, having her wreck the moment with bizarre non sequiturs and fever-dream ramblings. Which is why Parks and Recreation has managed to establish itself as one of the smartest comedies on television, as it doesn't fall into this sitcom trope but instead inverts it, having Leslie step in and save the day with a brilliant speech about being a part of history, transforming her from a sick woman who believes the floor and the walls have switched places to an accomplished public speaker with the audience in the palm of her hands.

And that's really the magic of Poehler's Leslie Knope: her dynamic optimism comes from the heart. Unlike the vast majority of politicos or public servants, she means the words that she says and nothing, not even mind-altering illness, will stand in her way when the crunch arrives. Standing at the podium, Leslie is nothing less than perfect, nothing less than persuasive, and nothing less than the Leslie Knope that we know and love.

(It's also, perhaps, the moment where Adam Scott's Ben really sees Leslie for the first time.)

There is no "nope" for our Leslie, the eternal cockeyed optimist and big dreamer, and this week's episode went a long way to reaffirming just what makes the character tick. While the humor might come from Leslie's attempts at flight and evasion in the face of illness (loved the bit about her throwing up the Claritin), the episode truly soars when it lets Leslie be her passionate self, getting her to the podium with her red folder and her attempts to save the Parks Department.

When push comes to shove, this is a woman who you want in your corner, whether she's trying to save a pit (or a lot), a parks department, or pony-sized horse (watch "Harvest Festival" for that one). And that's a testament to both Poehler and the writers operating under showrunners Greg Daniels and Mike Schur: it's a rarity to have a character that can be both funny and sympathetic, brazen and compassionate, out-there and relatable, all of which Leslie embodies. It's even more rare when that character is the female anchor of an ensemble cast.

All in all, "Flu Season" was a fantastic episode that showcased the charm and skill of this fantastic comedy ensemble and managed to advance the plot, while giving a very pregnant Poehler plenty of tummy camouflage. And, as fantastic as this installment was, the third season of Parks and Recreation just gets better and better. Take it from someone who has now seen the first seven episodes no less than five times. This is one season--truncated though it might be--that you will want to watch again and again.

And I didn't even need to have any flu medicine to say that.

Next week on Parks and Recreation ("Time Capsule"), Leslie wants to bury a Pawnee time capsule, but an odd suggestion from a local man (guest star Will Forte) causes unforeseen consequences.


greebs said…
You had me at Meat Tornado.
CJ said…
I totally agree, this episode worked so well because it used everyone involved, and not only for comedy. The reason I think P&R is so enjoyable from week to week is that, generally, even if it's not hilarious it's either sweet or heartwarming. And there were moments of all three in abundance this week.

Andy and Ron's man-bonding was both hilarious and sweet, because you could tell how much they both wanted to have a guy friend around. Ben's comments after Leslie's miraculous speech - comparing her to Jordan and Gibson - were a nice heartwarming moment. And the final scene with April and Andy was a perfect way to end the episode. If the coming episodes really are better than this one, I may have a new favorite TV show on my hands.
CJ said…
By the way, I think this is the first time I've ever seen a sitcom have two legitimate sports discussions in an episode. First there was Ron and Andy discussing the Colts' ability to draft wide receivers, then Ben's comparisons to Jordan and Gibson, two of the most epic performances in their respective sports.

As a sports nut, I loved that they worked these in. I particularly liked the Pierre Garcon/Austin Collie discussion, because I feel like that's an actual conversation people would have in a small Indiana town.
Laz said…
The MJ flu game reference caused me to undulate with whimsy.

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