Mike Ehrmantraut, Gus Fring’s sardonic and terribly competent ex-cop turned fixer, may have departed from “Breaking Bad,” but Jonathan Banks brought a touch of the tough character to a very different scenario in “Ben’s Parents,” Thursday’s episode of “Parks and Recreation.” The casting worked so entertainingly well not because the grizzled Banks makes a completely incongruous parental figure — his devotion to his granddaughter in “Breaking Bad” was his character’s only real soft spot — but because he approached the engagement party of his son Ben (Adam Scott) and his new fiancée Leslie (Amy Poehler) with the signaturely gruff, “I’m not going to play along” aspect.
Banks brought a lot of excellence to his “Parks and Rec” appearance from the moment he arrived as Steve, toting his equally surly Hawaiian girlfriend Ulani (Kulap Vilaysack) — whose name, she notes with no irony, means “cheerful” — to the infuriation of his ex-wife Julia (Glenne Headly). The highlights:
- Leslie, determined to keep the peace, offers up Red Vines to Steve and his unexpected plus one, only to be informed roughly that “We’re a Twizzlers family.”
- Later, attempting to make conversation about something Steve enjoys, she asks him if he likes sailing, only to be told “Not anymore, since Julia got the boat in the divorce and then sold it to a scrap yard, because she’s terrible.”
- Steve and Ron (Nick Offerman) get into a staring match over the last bacon-wrapped shrimp. The next we see Ron, he’s eating a skewer of meat, suggesting that it’s a battle he lost — and we know how Ron feels about bacon.
- Steve greets Leslie’s presentation of the Wyatt-Knope unity quilt by questioning its qualifications because of its lack of Ulani — “This is a very thoughtless omission, Leslie — as far as I’m concerned, if there’s no Ulani square, this is not a legitimate unity quilt.”
- Finally, when Leslie and Ben try to smooth things over with that ultimate unifier, alcohol, by proposing a toast, it’s cut short by the revelation that Ulani won’t imbibe because she’s pregnant. “Still firing bullets, son,” Steve says, offering Ben a punch in the arm.
Compared to Ben’s parents, Leslie’s relationship with her mother looks Norman Rockwell-worthy, despite the woman’s insistence in peppering her heartwarming advice about settling marital disagreements with discussions of sex. After the sweetness of Ben’s proposal in “Halloween Surprise,” “Ben’s Parents” provided a very funny reminder that marriage and family isn’t always easy (even when you have a quilt), but as two of the most roundly developed nice characters on primetime television, Ben and Leslie seem up to the task.