Parks and Recreation review – 5×02: “Soda Tax”

Courtesy of NBC

Sugar highs and existential crises? Aside from making a killer band name, these words also describe the antics of another fun episode of Parks and Recreation. But before we break out the child-sized sodas (sodas the size of a liquefied 2 year-old child) in celebration, I will notee that there are still a few snags in the believability department.

Let’s take a closer look after the jump…

Dynamic duo Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Anne (Rashida Jones) haven’t forgotten that Pawnee is still “first in friendship, fourth in obesity,” so they’re coming down hard on the overweight epidemic with a new soda tax. Of course, anything that comes between Pawneeans and their sugar immediately becomes the target of local businesses and town meetings, which all but guarantees a hilarious episode. This week the audience is treated to proposals for a vagina tax and concerns about the reach of the government introducing a new tax on income of all things! The scenes between Leslie, Anne and the restaurant association representative are just the right amount of broad comedy to get me laughing, especially the sight of the 512-ounce bucket cup that’s now being sold in the city. Admittedly that’s not the most subtle poke at the American tendency to supersize, but I absolutely believe that Pawneeans would buy sodas that size and that Leslie would stress-drink the whole thing.

The minor problem with this storyline is that I don’t entirely believe the conflict driving it. It makes sense that Leslie would be worried about passing the soda tax if it means that the cost increases would result in restaurants laying off workers, to the extent that she might vote against the tax she introduced. But then the show takes a weird turn. Granted, the people who show up at Leslie’s town meetings are more than willing to make issues out of nothing, but I’m having trouble reconciling that people propose a recall election because Leslie proposes a new tax? That’s pretty extreme, even for this bunch.

That’s the dilemma that the writers chose for Leslie to dwell on: whether or not she should pursue this tax even if it means she gets fired. We all know that if it’s a choice between her job and her convictions, Leslie will choose her convictions every time, even without Ron’s (Nick Offerman) sweet but unnecessary pep talk. Moreover, does Leslie really believe that Pawnee residents care about the issue that much that they would actually carry out a recall vote? It just seems like an odd issue for the writers to pursue.

Courtesy of NBC

Chris (Rob Lowe), Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Andy (Chris Pratt) also team up this week to help Andy get in shape . Like he has in a number of episodes this past season, Chris ends up lapsing into a black hole of self-pity. It’s pretty funny to see him just collapse on the running track – which is a place he usually rules. I appreciate that they point out how far Andy has actually come over the years. He may still be a guy who takes off his shirt and shorts at the track without shame, but he’s grown up a lot (including getting married and putting in effort to get a better, more stable job).

I must admit that I was most excited to see how Ben (Adam Scott) and April (Aubrey Plaza) would fare in DC without the rest of the gang, and most of their scenes work pretty well. The writers develop Ben’s struggle to win over the well-connected interns really well. Ben usually has no problem asserting authority, so if the only real issue had been Ben’s inability to get them to do their work, this issue wouldn’t have worked. But the writers smartly make it about Ben’s utter failure at being cool or impressive, and so Ben’s attempts at befriending them with fratboy speak and games of ultimate frisbee are fantastic.

My issue lies with April: it’s out of character for her to be the cartoonist who initially pushes Ben to schmooze the interns in the first place. In the first place, April doesn’t care enough about anything to draw a sketch making fun of them. Even if it is for Ben’s own good (trying to get him to loosen up a little and have fun, which is probably what Ben needed to hear), why wouldn’t she just tell him? April is one of the most direct characters on the show and she freely offers her opinion. Really this whole twist is just in service to the plot, and what’s worse is it makes April look a meaner than she usually is.

Other considerations:

  • April’s threat to the intern that she would scoop out his eyes if he doesn’t post those campaign pictures? Utterly terrifying.
  • I wonder if we will actually get to see the campaign that Ben and April are working on, because so far all we’ve really seen them do is work a party and push papers around an office.

Now I hand this week’s Parks and Recreation over to you. What do you think of Pawnee’s response to Leslie’s tax? And would you upgrade to the 512-ounce soda for just over $1.50? Sound off below!

Parks and Recreation airs on NBC on Thursdays at 9:30 EST

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