These recaps often contain spoilers for later episodes and are generally meant for viewers who’ve watched the entire series at least once or just don’t care about spoilers.
The cold open for the third episode of Parks & Recreation treats to us to Jerry Gergich escorting a group of preteens through a nature hike, another one of the parks department’s annual community events. We’re informed that it’s now the Annual Pre-Teen Nature Hike because the previously held Annual Teenage Nature Hike resulted in a teen pregnancy. Leslie eats a country honeysuckle (Pawnee-style!) and we’re then treated to what is the first ever example on the show of Jerry Gergich in true, perennially put-upon form (“Why’d you let me eat that?”).
Leslie has invited a reporter from the Pawnee Journal (the town’s Washington Post) to do a story on the subcommittee’s efforts to turn Lot 48 into a park. She’s determined to see that this project doesn’t go the way of the Tucker Park Graffiti Removal Project and she hopes some good press might help build momentum. She remains haunted, she tells the camera, by all the cartoon penises that couldn’t be removed once the graffiti removal project ran out of funding. One penis in particular leaves her with a thousand-yard stare as she musters the strength to even mention it on camera. We get a shot of Leslie standing in front of a wall of blurred out penises which is a nice visual gag on its own and then it’s followed with a shot of her in her office looking shell-shocked.
Leslie wants her subcommittee to stay on message when the reporter shows up, it’s rule #1 and #2. Over coffee at JJ’s Diner, she attempts to run a list of thirty discussion items for the reporter by Mark but that ends fairly quickly with him half-jokingly diagnosing her as insane, and Leslie in turn reminding us that they hooked up once – a plot point the showrunners wisely ditched after this season but one that factors heavily into Leslie’s behavior during the back-half of this episode.
Shauna Malwae-Tweep (Alison Becker) makes her debut on the series as the reporter from the Pawnee Journal. Leslie immediately flaunts her fastidiousness (a quality of hers that thankfully doesn’t get filed away when the showrunners rethink her character for season 2) by boasting detailed knowledge of everything Shauna has ever written. The raccoon story specifically gets a shout-out and we’re treated to one of the funniest sight gags this first season ever produced – a panicked Leslie ceding an entire hallway to a raccoon while she yells “NO!” repeatedly at it. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was one of the funniest two or three seconds I saw on TV in 2009. Before the show’s debut, I remember seeing previews with just that clip and that more than anything else is what convinced me to check out the show. Leslie forces a quick tour of the building on Shauna, replete with a stop by one of the building’s delightfully disturbing murals. Shauna expresses surprise that no one has complained about the mural. “Oh, tons of people have,” Leslie replies. “Yeah, we get letters everyday.”
The interview begins with a hitch when Shauna plops a tape recorder on the table and Leslie promptly swallows at the sight of it. She stops the tape as soon as she gets the first question. It’s a subcommittee, she corrects Shauna. Not a committee. She stops it again to clarify that the subcommittee doesn’t always meet at the same place. Leslie’s determination to control the narrative seems somewhat relatable here but of course it wouldn’t be Leslie if her determination didn’t conspire with her actual inability to do that in ways that many of the show’s initial detractors found off-putting. While telling Shauna how he ended up falling inside the pit, Andy reveals to everyone that he was actually drunk on the night of his fall and a small argument ensues between him and Ann. Not understanding why it’s such a big deal, he mentions to Ann that she drinks all the time and she’s on the pill. Leslie looks on in horror, reminding them to stay on message. Mark, filling the role he was written to fill, is called in again to fix the mess. Later in the day, Shauna pops in to tell Leslie she’s cutting out early and proposes they continue the interview the next day on location at Lot 48. Leslie’s so happy to hear this she misses the shot we get through her window of Mark leading Shauna by the small of her back out of the office.
Meanwhile, the episode’s B-plot sees Tom, April, and Ron caught in a web of lies and deception involving an online game of scrabble. Tom has been letting Ron beat him at scrabble for some time and he happily accepts Ron’s taunts and trash-talk at how bad he is at the game. Even worse than his ex-wife. As far as character introductions on the show go, I don’t think I’ve seen one that worked as well without the character actually being on screen as hearing Ron describe his ex-wife (who would later be played in one of the show’s most insane and well-received guest performances by Megan Mullally): “Her name is Tammy Swanson and she’s a serious bitch.” On first watch, without knowledge of what the writers had in store, that line probably only stood out for its directness but watching it again now, it has the ominous air of a prophetic utterance.
The next day, Shauna shows up late to the pit in the shotgun seat of Mark’s truck, wearing the same clothes she had on the previous day. We’re treated to Leslie slowly, very slowly, putting it all together and it’s like a Shakespearean tragedy playing out on her face. She acts out once it finally dawns on her and leaves to go be alone in her car. Back at the office, Tom walks in on April playing scrabble using his account and beating Ron using words like lateral, communal and zonal. Going as far as working in the letter Z. Briefly it seems she’s managed to undo his carefully crafted ruse with Ron.
Leslie pays Ann a visit and lays out her frustration with Mark hooking up with Shauna while she’s supposed to be working on the story. There’s talk of unprofessionalism and that may very well be what irks Leslie the most but it doesn’t quite come across with all the screen-time already dedicated to letting us the viewers know that she still harbors feelings for Mark that he likely isn’t even aware of. Again, it’s probably for the best that this plot point was eventually shown the door. Ann doesn’t get to offer her advise or comfort of any kind before Andy cuts in from where he’s stranded on the sofa. “Called it!” he yells, having predicted the hook-up. While they weigh what to do next, he tries to offer words of affirmation (“He was probably thinking with the head of his weiner instead of the head of his brain”) in a way that’s classic Andy before the viewers really got to know the character. These little glimpses the supporting characters provide of who they later became as the show came into its own are probably the best parts of watching these early episodes over again.
Later on, perhaps the next day, Leslie marches into Mark’s office, tries to broach the subject in the most clinical way possible and, in rare form, seems to succeed at first. “Something’s come to my attention that requires your attention. It’s come to my attention that you had sex with Ms. Malwae-Tweep.” But it doesn’t take long before what she’s perhaps primarily taken issue with surfaces and she veers hilariously into calling Shauna a skank. In turn, Mark calls her a huge dork and resigns from the subcommittee. Back in her office, Leslie calls Shauna and asks for a do-over, blaming her previous behavior on food poisoning from an old burrito. Over breakfast at a JJ’s Diner, she learns from Shauna that Mark doesn’t believe the park will ever happen.
Ann finds Mark at work in his office and recruits him into fixing the mess which has now only exacerbated due to his previous attempt to fix it. Not knowing when things are off the record and when they aren’t seems like a problem that shouldn’t exist for a city planner but Pawnee is a small town. Once they approach Shauna to retract his quote from the story, Ann is treated to one of the more awkward conversations she’s probably ever played third-wheel to as Mark rebuffs Shauna’s intimation that they are now romantically involved. It’s worth it just for the mortified look on Ann’s face as Mark delivers the line “I wouldn’t say ‘romantically-involved’, ya know… going forward.” Skeevy Mark didn’t show up a lot but when he did, it put Paul Schneider’s shit-eating grin to good use.
Tom explains to Ron that April was responsible for his recent wins and tries to get their weird teacher-student-but-not-really dance back on track, pretending to fail at spelling vocabulary. Ron smiles, seemingly satisfied at his explanation but then reveals to the camera once he’s back in his office that he knows Tom loses to him on purpose and that he’s remarkably okay with it. We get a glimpse into Ron’s long-term plans for the parks department and it seems to involve hiring people with extremely low work ethic. Tom seems to fit that bill just fine from what we’ve seen so far. Later on in the show, if memory serves me, I think it’s revealed that April was hired using the same criteria. Ron’s plan obviously ends up not going anywhere but it would’ve been quite something to see if he succeeded.
Mark pays Leslie a visit and apologizes for the way he conducted himself. Leslie puts up a front, pretending she’d have to think long and hard about reinstating him in the subcommittee but all it takes really is Mark looking her in the eye and saying “the park’s gonna get done” as though he practices the law of attraction.
Capping off the episode, everyone on the subcommittee is seen holding the latest issue of the Pawnee Journal and seemingly pleased with what ended up in the version of the story that went to print. There are still a few things in there that paint some of them in a bad light (Leslie throwing up in the reporter’s purse) but it’s all pretty minor and it ends on a hopeful note. Will the park get built, asks the article. “We’ll see.”
SUB’S LOW-CAL CALZONE ZONES
Mural Sighting: The Trial of Chief Wamapo, 1936
“Tom Haverford. Boy Genius. Smooth like milk-chocolate.”
Leslie notices the camera peering at her through the window and pretends she’s scanning the file folders she’d actually just been using to fan herself. Little moments like that, exhibiting the show’s keen attention to the detail, helped reinforce the ‘documentary’ conceit when the more common method of having a character simply look up and stare awkwardly at the camera was getting overdone.
Band Name Watch: Three Skin (Formerly Four Skin but the bassist left for personal reasons)
We get a quick shot of April shaking her head in annoyance at Andy while he tells the reporter about falling into the pit. Who could’ve guessed marriage for these two?
Some light slut-shaming going on with the reveal that Ann’s on the pill. I can’t decide what it says about either the Pawnee Journal or just the reporter assigned to the story or the general backward nature of the paper’s readership (they’re still using Alta Vista search) that the tidbit makes the story’s final cut.
Leslie’s love for waffles, specifically waffles from JJ’s Diner (“best thing on the menu!”) makes its debut.
There are apparently earlier drafts of these early episodes with Mark being less accommodating in general and agreeing to help Leslie only so he’d be able to put moves on Ann. They didn’t test well with audiences.
The bedside exchange as relayed by Mark and Shauna is funny enough on its own but I can’t decide if “reporter who sleeps with her interview subject” was already a tired trope by the time this episode first aired or if that came later.
Tom ad-libbing Mark’s apology to Leslie is worth mention.
Donna gets a shot all to herself in this episode.
It isn’t mentioned in Leslie’s comments on the published article but Shauna ends up spelling her last name “Knopes”, which counters speculation earlier in the episode that the first thing she would do during the interview is ask Leslie how to spell her last name.