Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 6: Ben’s Parents
– Posted by Sage
Everything is Jean Ralphio and nothing hurts.
As I predicted in my “Halloween Surprise” recap, Tom’s decision to let Jean Ralphio in on Rent-A-Swag (high-end clothing rentals for middle schoolers) ended up being a lot more fun for us than it was for him. Unlike Tom, Jean Ralphio learned absolutely nothing from the dramatic rise and fall of Entertainment 720. After the business partners’ first presentation plan is shot down by April, Tom takes her abrupt advice and embarks on a redesign. This idea has a good chance of working, and he’s not going to squander the opportunity. April has been Ron’s gatekeeper for long enough to know what he wants – no lights, no making it rain, no stupid, made-up words he won’t understand. While Tom tries to focus in on a tighter, more professional approach, Jean Ralphio buzzes around him – an overgrown, be-scarfed, hyperactive child. To Tom’s credit, his reluctance to cut JR loose stems from his ideals of loyalty and friendship. They’re partners. But since Jean Ralphio flat out tells Tom that he couldn’t be less invested in the project, Tom can move forward solo and guilt-free.
Ron couldn’t have been less psyched to see Jean Ralphio at Ben and Leslie’s engagement party, despite the latter’s sick free association skills. While Ron certainly never wants to socialize with the man, he’s mostly disappointed that Tom would share his idea with someone so lacking in work ethic and, let’s face it, smarts. In giving Jean Ralphio the ax, Tom becomes a “serious person” in Ron’s eyes. He can make decisions that aren’t entirely based on instant gratification. Or, in his words, “Sometimes, you gotta work a little, so you can ball a lot.” Ron in 60 Seconds doesn’t even need to see a presentation. Tom has his start-up money. And with that, little Tommy Timberlake is all groweds up.
And acting like a grown up has very little to do with age. There’s no better evidence of this theory than the episode’s namesakes: Ben’s parents. Ben and Leslie are reveling in their new engagement and planning a party to celebrate. A party to which they’ll invite their families. Ben can see the thunder cloud on the horizon, threatening to rain cynicism and awkwardness all over their parade. He tries to warn Leslie that his parents have not been able to treat each other civilly since their divorce 30 years ago. “If there’s anyone who can bring my parents together,” he says to her, tenderly, “it’s no one.” Leslie, eternal optimist, has never met a lost cause she couldn’t fix. Her plan includes a Wyatt/Knope unity quilt, with each square signifying a member of their growing family. What could possibly go wrong?
The first of the Wyatts to arrive is Julia, Ben’s mom (Glenne Headly). Leslie swiftly gets a Chardonnay into her hand as she chats with the formidable and always welcomed Marlene Griggs-Knope. This shaky peace is broken with the arrival of Ben’s dad Stephen (Jonathan Banks, aka Mike Ehrmantraut from television’s Breaking Bad) and, dun dun duuuun: his girlfriend Ulani. From there, the Wyatt family reunion spirals into a flurry of name-calling and snide remarks, leaving Ben dismayed and Leslie and Marlene incredulous. Ben’s thought of an exit strategy, however, which is probably a level of preparedness adult children of divorce need to develop. Leslie ignores his pleas to jump into the waiting cab (P.S. Love that Pawnee has yellow cabs.), and decides to unleash her secret weapon. She’s successfully used a quilt to end epic fights three times: once in junior high, once in relation to a Donna/Jerry parking lot feud that I hope we hear more about someday, and the third time? “Right f**king now.”
Ben’s parents have sunk so low in their pettiness that they only regard Leslie’s project to find fault and more reasons to scream at each other. Stephen is offended that there’s no square for Ulani; Julia resorts to vandalism to remove the square Leslie throws together for her replacement. And Ulani is pregnant. And none of them will go to the wedding. Finally, Leslie accepts defeat. A woman after my own heart, she packs up all the brownies and four bottles of wine and tries to convince Ben to run away with her. But Ben’s had it with being the grown up in his family. His parents have forced him and Leslie to spend their entire engagement party trying to keep them from strangling one another. He’s not going to let them ruin their wedding too. He and Leslie rejoin the party to take a stand, but not after a rejuvenating backseat makeout sesh. Beslie inform Julia, Ulani, and Stephen that they will all go to the wedding, they won’t make a scene, and they will tell the happy couple that they had a great time. The chastisement is more effective than any appeasement strategy. Ben can’t fix his parents, but he can tell them that he expects them to act like adults. More importantly, Leslie doesn’t hold Ben’s insane family against him. She rightly believes that his parents’ toxic relationship hasn’t a thing to do with her future happiness. Unless Ben goes crazy in his old age. But she’s got her eyes peeled for that. They’re so perfect.
- April says, “you’re short,” when Tom tells his presentation focus group to “be super critical.”
- I feel like Rob Lowe’s arc this year is, “Chris Traeger becomes a real boy!” The man can’t fathom how a human can experience happiness AND sadness at the same time (“It’s the perfect storm of emotion!”), which is how most of us feel pretty much 24/7. Ann, Andy, and April get him through the party by encouraging him to let out all the emotions he’s been bottling up. I’m intrigued by what kind of person Chris will be once he balances himself out.
- Note that when asked why she wasn’t dating Chris, Ann said it was because she was dating herself right now. Not that she never would again. Not that she doesn’t like him. Shipping it, you guys.
- The quilt is another Parks and Rec props department masterpiece: Lil Sebastian, the Smallest Park, a tiny Joe Biden, and my favorite callback: McSteamy driving Malene’s school bus.
- Ben on entertaining his parents with talk on stuff they like: “They’re white people from Minnesota, so hockey, fishing, skiing, sailing and after a few drinks, put on a Prince album.”
- I love the way everyone chimed in (“Hey Ben? You best watch yourself.”) after Ann included a warning to Ben in her engagement toast. Sure, Ben is a part of the group and they all like him just fine, but Leslie is their girl. Funny and sweet.
- “There’s no more tissue! Everything ends! Everything goes away!”
- Can we get some more one-on-one Ben Wyatt/Marlene Griggs-Knope time? Last we saw them, Marlene was putting the moves on Mean Ben. I want to see how he deals with a mother-in-law who once tried to get it in. But who can blame Marlene for going for it? “That’s a Knope woman for you. When we see something adorable, we attack it.”
- The scene where Ron Swanson and Stephen Wyatt silently faced off after the last bacon-wrapped shrimp was surely a gift to all the Breaking Bad/Parks fans who have been salivating over these actors meeting.
- My family rolls straight Twizzlers. What.
“Ben’s Parents” is my favorite episode of this season so far, mostly because I’m so pleased to have the whole gang back together. And because of Jean Ralphio.
Till next week, Parks fans! Imma hit the couch, you know where I be.