“Parks and Recreation” is back for a new season, and I have a review of the premiere coming up just as soon as I’m mistaken for Beverly D’Angelo by a Japanese tourist…
Many sitcoms treat episodes filmed on location as a kind of reward for the cast and crew for all their hard work and success. If there happen to be funny jokes in the episode, that’s swell, but if not, everybody got to go to Hawaii/Rome/Cincinnati, etc. The rare handful of good ones – the “Scrubs” two-parter in the Bahamas, for instance – work because they’re designed as episodes of the show that just happen to be set elsewhere.
A “Parks and Rec” episode (partially) filmed in Washington was inevitable from the moment Ben got that job in last season’s finale, but it worked because it took advantage of the setting to tell a specific story about Leslie Knope. Leslie has spent all her life as a medium fish in a small pond that she’s always viewed as the best pond of all. She’s always dreamed of national office, but all she really knows is Pawnee. And when she gets to a genuinely big pond (or swamp) like our nation’s capital, and sees all the tall and powerful women who inspire her “jealousy amalgam” of Hot Rebecca, she’s deflated in a way we haven’t seen Leslie Knope be all that often. No one’s rude to her – John McCain even tries to attend to the needs of this total stranger crying in a coat room – but combined, they all make her feel much less than the usual superheroine we know her to be: “Kick-Ass Leslie,” as Andy so wisely dubs her before going back to being Andy.
So we had a really nice, emotional Leslie/Ben story in D.C. that was buoyed comically by Andy’s misunderstanding of Washington landmarks, and then by Andy and April’s inappropriate public groping. And then back home in Pawnee, we had pure silliness in Ron Effing Swanson turning out to be a master of meat, and yet a terrible barbecue host.
We all love Ron because Ron is awesome, but there’s a danger to the character turning into Fonzie. Episodes like “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” oddly humanize him, even though his behavior at the barbecue was among the broadest and most irrational we’ve seen from him outside of a Tammy episode. Ron is great with meat, but that in and of itself doesn’t make him equipped for this kind of event, nor does his official position as head of the parks department make him a good leader of people. Chris calling him out on the latter was also a nice moment for those two, and helps set up a good conflict for this season: with Leslie splitting time between parks and the city council, and with April (who was supposed to pick up Leslie’s slack) in D.C. with Ben, Ron actually has to run the department. It should be fun to see him try, as it very much was here. I, too, would have also been tempted by Pig Tom as served by Ron at the end.
And I was also glad to see the new season open with the end of the worst idea from the previous one, as Ann and Tom are already broken up, and just pretending to be together to prove a point (and win the bet with Donna). As I said last year, I don’t have a problem with Ann/Tom scenes when they’re played for laughs, as all of these were; I just never, ever took them seriously as a couple. And now I don’t have to anymore.
A very fine return from my favorite comedy on television, and I haven’t even mentioned “Parks and Dolls.”
What did everybody else think? Also, anyone else agree on the D’Angelo/Poehler resemblance?