A review of tonight's “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I want a banana made of spiders…
“Parks and Rec” didn't have to open this season with a perfect episode like “London,” but it sure helped, given that the previous season had started to show signs of aging. Similarly, we didn't need a great episode our first time out after the departures of Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe – especially since Ann and Chris were pretty marginal before they left – but it felt very reassuring to return from the Olympic hiatus with such a fabulous installment like “Anniversaries.”
It's not an episode that does anything fancy: no trips to foreign countries, no last-minute wedding ceremonies, not even a Macklin/Snakehole adventure. It's just a half hour where the stories and jokes are firing on all cylinders, and where everything neatly connects to everything else. Leslie is busy with the Eagleton problem and thus misses out on Ben's anniversary surprises, April and Donna's feud inspires the Ron Swanson version of anonymous internet reviews, etc.
It's also, perhaps not coincidentally, an episode with a lot of Jerry and Donna, and Jim O'Heir and Retta finally graduate into the opening credits, where they've belonged for years now. Jerry gets to tag along for all of Ben's anniversary presents for Leslie, and we are given another reminder of how amazing Jerry is when he isn't spilling soup on himself or suffering a fart attack. (The Ben/Jerry tango was fantastic, as was Ben's hypnosis theory about the Jerry/Gayle marriage.) Donna and April beef over April's anonymous review (and Donna's penchant for skipping out on work), and it's a nice reminder of the tension created when April got that promotion (while Donna, who's worked in the department longer than anyone but Jerry or Ron, is now reporting to her). Also, Retta saying “Mjolnir” (multiple times!) is the stuff of which glorious Vine loops are made.
The episode also revisits one of the two big accomplishments of Leslie's city council career by pointing out that tensions remain high between Pawnee and Eagleton, as represented by a pair of hilarious guest star duos. I'm always happy to have Dan Castellaneta back as Derry Murbles, but to then tack on John Hodgman as his even more pretentious Eagleton rival, August N'gutu Liebowitz Clementine? Perfection. As a former “Everwood” viewer, I also appreciated the reunion between Chris Pratt and Debra Mooney, who bickered amusingly with “Bob Newhart Show” alum Peter Bonerz as her Eagleton husband.
But even with expanded roles for Jerry and Donna, and all the great guest stars, what ultimately made “Anniversaries” so good was what it did with the three central characters. Ann and Chris's departure has essentially been a dual promotion for Ben, as he's now everybody's boss and Leslie's chief personal relationship. (Even as her husband, he had to compete with Beautiful Ann for attention and affection.) It's not only giving Adam Scott more screen time, but more of an opportunity to be funny. He's a terrific straight man, but it's a waste of him if that's all he's going to do. Just check out the deranged way Ben tells us that, “She's going to make the face this year! She will make that stupid face!” It's gold. And even better was the moment when Amy Poehler actually showed us the stupid face after the youth committee came up with the unity concert idea, and poor Ben wasn't aorund to see it.
And though I'd have enjoyed hearing many more of Ron's old-school blog entries (“Dear frozen yogurt, you are the celery of desserts. Be ice cream or be nothing. Zero stars!” “Dear Canada. F–k you.”), it was probably perfect at that length.
Really, this was one of those episodes “Parks” can still pull off in its advanced years, where every joke lands, even throwaways like Ron being very careful with his land mine or Tom using an iTunes analogy to realize his own mortality. I don't expect the show to hit this level every week anymore, but it sure is a pleasure when it does.
What did everybody else think?