“Parks and Recreation” is back for its final season. I had some overall thoughts on the season this morning, and I have a review of tonight's two episodes coming up just as soon as I have 40 hand towels, some energy bars and a Chinese finger trap, so let's get gross…
The three-year time jump from the end of last season has changed many things about “Parks and Rec.” Leslie is now a player in the federal government. Ron, Donna and Tom are all in the private sector – and Ron and Leslie have been at war for nearly two years as a result. The National Parks office and Gryzzl have combined to make Pawnee a very desirable and affluent city, and everyone's tablets are much spiffier than the ones the rest of us poor bastards stuck in 2015 are forced to get by with.
Yet what I liked about both “2017” and “Ron and Jammy” was the ways in which the show used the time-jump not to make things different, but simply to take different characters to the next important step of their evolution. Tom has achieved his business dreams, more or less, but feels lonely and winds up taking a drunken cab ride to Chicago in search of Lucy. (And a hearty welcome back to Natalie Morales in that role.) April and Andy have now been together long enough to turn into a boring old married couple, where Andy even has to take a Zantac before trying some outrageous eating stunt.
And, of course, Leslie and Ron have finally had a falling out over their very different philosophies on life, politics and the universe at large.
Though Leslie and Ron are both polar opposites and the show's two most important characters, “Parks” has been careful over the years to not overdo the idea of them being at odds with one another. They compete from time to time (“Woman of the Year,” or “Pawnee Rangers”), but never so much that it feels overdone, or so you wonder how exactly these two can tolerate one another. Still, this beef feels like something that was always destined to happen from the moment they began to work together – and especially once that work relationship ended – and the time jump allows us to arrive very late into the feud. Several seasons of them not talking would be no fun; coming back just as circumstance is pitting them against each other again works very well, particularly since the feud helps temper some of the excesses of Leslie when she's in the vengeful state we see here. There are times when Steamroller Leslie can be too much to take, even given Amy Poehler's innate likability, but when Ron is being equally petty and irrational, it feels like a fair fight.
And the double-dip scheduling of these episodes meant we got Leslie and Ron at war for the first half-hour, and then as very reluctant allies in the second – which also breathed new comic life into both Jamm and Tammy. Mike Schur told me last spring that there was a whole deleted subplot from the season 6 finale where Ron and Diane conspire to get those two to hook up. Because it got cut, they were able to expand it into its own episode, creating a fun new dynamic for two characters who had arguably outlived their usefulness beforehand. Jamm as a tragically depressed Ron clone gave Jon Glaser a lot of great things to play, and I laughed as long and hard at the deprogramming scenes – first Leslie slapping Jamm in the face every time he smells Tammy's perfume (named Girth, because of course it is), then Amy Poehler's incredibly Megan Mullally impression – as I have at anything the show has done in a long time. And “Turns out the crotch blinder was in you all along” immediately moves near the top of the list of insane sentences to emerge from Nick Offerman's mouth on this show.
There was a lot of exposition to get us adjusted to the new time and everyone's new position, but also lots of fun character interaction throughout both episodes, whether Ben and Tom hilariously sobbing after Tom finally read his written introduction, or Andy becoming convinced he's actually moving to Chicago, or April idolizing the ever-crazier Joan Callamezzo. (“Thank you, Commissioner Gordon, people of Gotham…”)
Like I wrote this morning, “Parks” isn't at the level it was at circa seasons 3 and 4, but that's rarefied air that very few sitcoms have ever touched. Based on these two episodes, and some excellent things from next week's installments, this feels like the start of a genuine victory lap season, rather than one where the show's just limping to the finish line.
Some other thoughts:
* A major development of the three-year gap, at least for all the baseball nerds among the audience: Trevor's law firm has gained many new partners, making the place's name even funnier than ever.
* Other important things that happened in the past three years: the Cubs won the World Series, the Bourne franchise was rebooted, but with Kevin James as the lead, Shia LaBeouf now has a line of wedding dresses (one of which Donna will wear when she marries Keegan-Michael Key's character)
* I don't know if Stupid Jon Hamm is the best of all possible Jon Hamms, but I hope this isn't the last we've seen of Ed, even if it requires flashbacks. And speaking of Hamm, I wondered for a half-second if April and Andy's new house was also the whorehouse where Dick Whitman grew up on “Mad Men,” but the designs are slightly different.
* Another character I really want to see more of, even though he seems to be on his way out of town: the great Werner Herzog as the previous owner of April and Andy's new haunted house, which was once a holding cell for people who went insane on the assembly line of the Pawnee doll head factory. Even if he really does wind up in Orlando, maybe we could get Herzog to narrate a history of Pawnee documentary? Anything to hear that voice describing more of the weird things in this town.
* As several people predicted, Ben's tuxedo from the season 6 finale was related to the Pawnee bicentennial. He's still city manager, and seemingly happy enough doing it that he now wants to help April find similar satisfaction from her job.
* Garry Gergich is now called Terry, but I'm stubbornly sticking with Jerry in these reviews. It is a comedy bridge too far, even for a character who gets kicked by all the little ninjas on Andy's cable access show.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org