Review: ‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘New Beginnings’

Senior Television Writer
01.16.14 45 Comments


A quick review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I can recognize elk hair…

Let’s be honest: the rest of “New Beginnings” could have been a test pattern, or a “Dads” script refilmed with this cast, or Aubrey Plaza reading from the federal tax code, and the episode still would have been worth it for the closing sequence where Ron meticulously disposes of the evidence that he won a government Employee of the Month award. Just a gorgeously-assembled joke, playing off what we know about Ron and his hatred of government, edited together in bang-bang-bang style that extended each laugh into the next one. It’s among the single funniest gags the show’s ever done, up there with Ron’s shoeshine, Chris ordering himself to stop pooping, the drunken montage from “The Fight” and the guys having food poisoning.

The rest of “New Beginnings” didn’t attain those heights, but it had its moments. Unfortunately, it also had to drag around another Ann and Chris subplot that, other than a brief appearance by a choking Jerry, had no connection to the rest of the show, and that was mostly carried by the actor playing Theodore the jeweler. (UPDATE: I just realized it’s Brian Stack, who got dunked in the lake in “Article Two” because of the “Ted” mistake in the town charter.) Two episodes to go before Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe leave, and I don’t want these subplots to feel as obligatory as they have of late. I want to miss Ann and Chris, not be relieved that they’re about to stop taking up valuable screen time.

The other two stories dealt with Leslie and Ben changing jobs, with Leslie returning full-time to the parks department while Ben began his tenure as city manager. I slightly preferred the latter subplot, because Adam Scott is so funny when he’s asked to play Ben in full panic. The sequence where he tried to act normal (“Okay, here we go to the parking lot now”) while leading April and Donna to what turned out to be a dangerously elaborate prank was a delight, and I’m glad to have an excuse for Ben to be more directly involved with the gang at City Hall. He’s essentially being called on to fill the void left by both Ann (Leslie’s closest ally) and Chris (everybody’s boss), and better to have him central to the action again.

Leslie’s return to the parks department was another one of this season’s stories where Leslie acts like a big fat jerk for a while while she deals with a personal anxiety: in this case, that her colleagues have not only survived, but thrived, in her absence. I’d like to be done with this flavor of Leslie for a while, but this particular story ultimately worked because Leslie realizes her error and fixes it on her own (the moment when she told Tom to rip it was very nice), and because it’s almost always amusing to see Leslie and Ron in conflict like this. It was also more packed with strange minor gags, like Ron having bacon hidden in the ceiling, or Tom’s obsession with Leslie using mousse, than we often get in an A-story like this.

But, again, it all comes down to systematically destroying the Employee of the Month plaque, which was absolutely perfect.

What did everybody else think?

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