PARKS AND RECREATION 4.02 ‘Ron & Tammys’

Ron's ex-wife transforms him into a wimp and Ben discovers the secret of Entertainment 720.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Ron & Tammys"

Writer: Norm Hiscock

Director: Randall Einhorn

After this week's episode of "Parks and Recreation," I think understand Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) better than I did before.

We see Ron as a self-determined man who can stand on his own. But every time he gives into his attraction for his second ex-wife, Tammy (Megan Malalley), he becomes wildly out of control. And now that his first wife, Tammy (Patricia Clarkson) has her claws into him, the pendulum swung all the way back. This Ron was a clean shaven man who dressed like a dork, appreciated government and loved his job.

If this was a sci-fi show, it would have meant that the body snatchers had abducted Ron and replaced him with an imperfect duplicate.

But instead, it was a stunning example of how Ron defines himself by the women in his life. He literally becomes someone else to better to appeal to his would be lovers. And clearly this started at an early age, since Tammy 1 boasts that she delivered Ron as a baby, taught him at Sunday school and showed him how to drive before eventually becoming his wife. It's all very creepy and Clarkson makes an appropriately diabolical villain. She has an almost supernatural power to impose her will on anyone and even Tammy 2 is afraid of her.

The only person not impressed or intimidated by Tammy 1 is Ron's mother, Tammy Zero (Paula Pell); from whom Ron apparently picked up most of Libertarian views and his love of guns. But even Tammy Zero is out to control her son, as she lays out a moonshine drinking contest between herself and Tammy 1. The winner gets to keep Ron forever, regardless of what he wants. Horrified at the prospect of losing Ron to either fate, Leslie (Amy Poehler) jumps into the contest and she is practically plastered almost immediately. And when Leslie falls out of the contest, April (Aubrey Plaza) tries to sub in, only to immediately disqualify herself.

At that point, Ron regains his senses and finishes the contest by guzzling the moonshine himself and banishing the remaining two Tammys from his life. And it seems obvious now, why he was able to break free. Ron loves Leslie… and to a lesser extent, April. Not in a romantic sense, mind you. But as much as Ron can care about anyone, he cares about them.

Want the evidence? Think back to last season and consider where April and Andy (Chris Pratt) would be if Ron hadn't taken her aside and told her to stop toying around with Andy. For Leslie, go back to season 2 when Ron offered up his job to Chris (Rob Lowe) and Ben (Adam Scott) if it would save Leslie's position within the department. Or the way that Ron practically fell over himself trying to warn Leslie that Chris and Ben were coming to break up her event  at the park.

That's a misanthrope putting himself on the line for other people. And Ron wouldn't do that unless he really cared about them. It takes both Leslie and April to fall before he finally stands up to his mom and his gold digging ex-wife.

I know I mentioned this earlier, but Clarkson is a really terrific villain for this series. She's so icy and cold towards the other characters that she can openly boast about how the IRS audit was only a way to insert herself within Ron's life again and steal his savings. Tammy Zero was also hilarious when she shot down Leslie's innocent question about why she needed so many guns. Ron's mom doesn't seem like she's a bad person (unlike his ex-wives), but she was willing to drag him back to her home for good and place him back under her thumb. And I don't doubt that she could do it. Tammy Zero makes Mags Bennett look less fearsome by comparison.

In the first of the two subplots, Ben took center stage as he entered the strange world Entertainment 720, the bizarre company run by Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz). Ben's breakup with Leslie last week was a little glossed over when it came to the impact it had on him. Keep in mind, Ben largely settled down in Pawnee because he wanted to pursue Leslie romantically. Without that prospect, there's not a lot going for him within the town. As the closest thing he has to a friend, Tom takes advantage of Ben to get him to look at the Entertainment 720 financial books for free.

Tom even boasts to the documentary crew that manipulating Ben is easy. And when Ben tells him that he heard everything he just said, Tom simply says it again.

Ben may be the first sane person to step into the Entertainment 720 office, aside from NBA veterans Detlef Schrempf and Roy Hibbert, who seem to at least have an understanding about how to run a business… but they are told to simply play basketball all day. Even the secretaries are making $100,000 a year for a company that has no discernible source of income.

Except Entertainment 720 has the secret to making money… which is actually printing it out themselves, with bills that feature Tom and Jean-Ralphio's faces on them. That's only highly illegal. One of my favorite moments in the episode came when Ben hit the switch to turn off their machine and accidentally hit their party button; which brought everyone but Ben out to dance. Jean-Ralphio is still one of the douche-ist characters in recent memory, but the insanity of Entertainment 720 could be a comedic gold mind.

Somehow, Tom develops some character offscreen and HE realizes that Ben's dismal appraisal of the company's finances were completely correct. Of course, he only came to that conclusion after hiring five more accountants. But Tom finally takes a step back from the super-dickery and he actually gives Ben an iPad that he paid for himself as a token of thanks.

In the final subplot of the week, Ann (Rashida Jones) makes the seemingly innocent suggestion that Chris shoot a new PSA and he turns into a cross between Tom Cruise and Stanley Kubrick by insisting upon take after take. By the end, Ann is finally, completely over her breakup with Chris and she wonders how she ever dated him for months in the first place. But when he finally comes down from his mania, Chris' sweetness towards her may have won Ann back over to liking him again.

"Parks and Recreation" outdid itself with the second episode of the season. I even loved Chris' subtle ways of screwing up simple instructions, like bringing a Rolodex instead of a calculator along with Ron's unorthodox method of record keeping: i.e. a note that says he bought supplies in 2007 or a picture of himself shaking hands with a man to signify a complicated barter transaction.

I don't think I'd ever want to live in  Pawnee if it was a real place. But it sure is fun to visit.

Crave Online Rating: 9 out of 10.