‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘I’m Leslie Knope’: Running or running away?

Senior Television Writer
09.22.11 75 Comments


“Parks and Recreation” is back for its fourth season. I interviewed co-creator Mike Schur about one of the major developments of the premiere, and I have a review of the episode coming up just as soon as I have the toes I have…

“I’m Leslie Knope” was far from the funniest episode “Parks and Rec” has ever done. Like a lot of season premieres – particularly premieres following cliffhanger-laden finales – it has too much plot to power through to pack in as many jokes as the show is ordinarily capable of. There were definitely funny moments (Nick Offerman continued to display his physical comedy genius with the way Ron ran out of City Hall) and storylines (Ann gets entangled in Pawnee’s version of the Anthony Weiner scandal, and has to try not to react to the constant penis photos), but the focus this week was more emotional, as Leslie dealt with the question of whether she could give up her dream to run for office so she could keep dating Ben.

The Schur interview is all about that aspect of the episode, and it’s something the writing staff wrestled with all summer. And while TV couples abruptly splitting up due to outside forces is usually one of my pet peeves, I thought this was handled very, very well. The no-dating rule was established a while back last season (and is apparently a very real thing), and Leslie’s desire to run for office has been part of the character going back to that shaky first season. Other aspects of Leslie’s character have changed, but her main goal hasn’t. If she wants to run for office, she has to break up with Ben(*), and though she stalls as long as she can, there’s never some kind of goofy misunderstanding, never a moment where Leslie does something stupid or circumstance conspires to cast doubt on their suitability as a couple somewhere down the road. Instead, Ben is totally cool about it, cheers her on, and definitely lays the groundwork for them to get back together whenever the plot can allow it.

(*) Though the premiere doesn’t really get into whether Leslie’s campaign is already tainted from the month or so they were secretly dating.

And along the way to that resolution, we got a number of great little sweet moments between Leslie and Ben, and before that Leslie and Ron. Leslie and Ron’s friendship is usually the source of the show’s best emotional scenes, and his pep talk at the cabin – concluding, as it only could, with “I’m Ron Swanson and you’re Leslie Fucking Knope” – was another terrific duet between Poehler and Offerman. (And had the requisite number of jokes about missing toes, emergency s’mores provisions, etc.)

Schur talks in the interview about how he likes it when he watches a show where he can tell the people in charge have a plan and aren’t just throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. Though he waffled on the break-up for much of the summer, it sounds like it’s always what he intended to do (and only hesitated because he recognized how good Poehler and Adam Scott are together), and the execution of “I’m Leslie Knope” as a whole very much gives off the sense of a show that still has a plan, and should still be absolutely trusted to carry it out.

Beyond that, the premiere had more fun with the ridiculousness that is Entertainment 720 (I loved Donna wearing the bra with Tom and Jean-Ralphio’s faces), more amusing creepiness from  Joe from sewage (and Sarah Lawrence!), more obliviousness from Perd Hapley (“I don’t know, but it had the cadence of a joke!”), and just enough of a taste of Patricia Clarkson as Tammy One (whose advice to April set up a great episode-ending punchline) to set the stage nicely for next week.

“Parks and Recreation” is back. Life is good.

What did everybody else think?

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