Review: ‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘Second Chunce’

“Parks and Recreation” turned 100 tonight, and I have a review of the centennial episode coming up just as soon as I engage in inappropriate Text-Mexting…

Anniversary episodes like this can be used for some kind of big stunt, and “Second Chunce” does end with a trip to Paris for Leslie and Ben. But even though it’s a lovely sequence, it’s the show’s second European trip of this season alone.(*) Anniversary episodes are also sometimes used to bring back lots of beloved characters, and while it’s fun to see Jen Barclay for a few minutes (and legally I’m not sure I’m allowed to type about her any more without owing her a lot of money), Kathryn Hahn isn’t someone whose face NBC is going to splash all over promos for the episode.

(*) In fact, those scenes were shot at the tail end of the London trip, as Amy Poehler, Adam Scott, Mike Schur (whom you can spot sitting next to them at the Parisian cafe) and a skeleton crew went across the Channel in secret to film it. That meant that the writing staff had to come up with the plot of this episode at the start of the year,  then build towards it. 

Instead, Schur and Poehler’s script for “Second Chunce” – particularly in the main story about the end of Leslie’s tenure as a councilwoman, but also in the Tom subplot – is notable for stepping back to take stock in how far our characters have come, and how much further they may be able to go, whether or not the show is still around to let us see those adventures.(**)

(**) This is your periodic reminder that, while the ratings for “Parks and Rec” do not qualify for any definition of “good,” it remains NBC’s highest-rated sitcom this season. And the second, for now, is “Community.” At this rate, these two shows NBC wants to get rid of may just run forever. 

So after a trip down memory lane with yet another sex scandal for the invulnerable Councilman Dexhart – who has always worked well as an only slightly exaggerated reflection of every scandal-plagued politician of the last 20 years – and more reminders that Pawnee is a wonderful place that is nonetheless populated with morons, Leslie comes up with the idea of running for city council again. And the thing is, I could easily imagine this being a story the show would tell. Schur likes to reference the East Dillon seasons of “Friday Night Lights” when discussing Leslie’s political career, and her moving to another part of town to reclaim the council position she was bounced from would be the closest parallel they’ve ever done to that. But it would also be a rehash of something they’ve done before, and the point about the awfulness of both the council members(***) and of much of the town’s population, is a good one. Leslie Knope, superwoman, is destined for bigger and better things than this, and the show has by now put her in a position where it may be a disappointment if she doesn’t get to them. The only question is whether, if the show continues, it’s equipped to depict her making it to a higher office, or if that would require too much movement away from Pawnee.

(***) Ingrid isn’t a sleaze like Dexhart or Jamm, but any person who can use the phrase “like Sir Ian McKellen said to me the day I sold my boat to Karl Lagerfeld” in casual conversation is in some ways far, far worse than them. 

Tom hasn’t come as far as Leslie, but he’s changed, and become more ambitious, and his attempt to find the next big thing allows “Parks and Rec” to do a miniature “Shark Tank” parody without overextending the gag. (The final presentation, inevitably, is another of those moments where Jerry presents something incredibly awesome that gets ignored because it’s coming from Jerry.) Tom creating a new job for himself fits in nicely with what we’ve seen for other characters, while still allowing him to stay in the parks department, and that whole subplot was also buoyed by the return of Andy and the running gag about his difficulty readjusting his body clock.

As Chris Pratt returns full-time from making “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the show is pretty much just marking time until Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe leave in a few weeks, giving us another subplot where they don’t interact with a single other regular castmember. (Though they do share scenes with recurring characters like Jean-Ralphio and Dr. Saperstein.) As much as I like Chris and Ann, I’d rather they either leave already or do a few more stories involving Leslie, Ben and the other friends they’re about to say goodbye to.

What did everybody else think? Momentous enough for the 100th? Funny enough? Did you wish Pratt had more to do after being mostly absent in the fall, or are you okay with it because he’ll inevitably get more later in the season? And would any of you adopt Jean-Ralphio and/or Mona-Lisa?