As the world’s newest Parks and Recreation devotee (I streamed the entirety of the critically-acclaimed second season on Netflix in just under a week), I rather easily decided that this show would be my second recap show. That program would have to be one I was such a defender of that I could write several hundred words on it a week, even if that show was a 22-minute sitcom loosely copying the format of the show airing right before it. Luckily for you, loyal reader, the real gem of NBC’s now jumbo-sized comedy night can now be subjected to my thoughts and witticisms on a weekly basis.
It has been a great year for comedy on broadcast television. Community, Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, even Cougar Town and Raising Hope bring the funny week after week with superbly made, highly hilarious offerings. These shows have great casts, engaging characters, and tons of side-busting scenarios and quotes. What is harder for a sitcom to do is to build an entire world around its characters. The format excels when it finds characters that the audience can relate to, laugh at, and share in their awkwardness with. It isn’t built around the same things a serial drama is; it doesn’t need to show anything but the characters lives and a vague picture of where these people are at that sketch’s moment in time.
What makes a show like Parks and Recreation special, then, is how it can start as a workplace mockumentary, add on an amazing cast of funny, yet real people (for a sitcom, at least), and work from the inside out to build not just a government office, but an entire town. The city of Pawnee has the Parks Department and their bitter rivals The Library, but also a social network, a history, and an entire economy with its local traditions, corporations, and former government officials filling in the puzzle pieces. That a sitcom can do all of this in a mere 22 episode sophomore season after largely striking out in its debut year is all the more impressive. And perhaps that is what draws me to the show. It may be about the many misadventures of Leslie Knope, but its also about the trials and tribulations of her coworkers, her middle Indiana town, and America in general.
And so it is we find ourselves at the outset of a new season of Parks and Rec tonight. Having had the entire Pawnee government disbanded at the end of season two, the show quickly picks up with everyone returning to work on a limited basis. Budgets have been slashed, and the government is working on a shoestring budget. (There’s also Tom Haverford, working on literal shoestrings at a mall footwear store to make ends meet. Or maybe just to meet chicks.) From the first line, where Leslie strolls in telling Ron Swanson “we’re back”, this premiere episode largely reintroduces us to the gang and to their financial predicament.
Introduced in the tail end of the second season, the cast gets the addition of Rob Lowe as Chris and Adam Scott as Ben, two budget hawks sent in to keep Pawnee in the black. Whereas Ben is the bad cop, the straight-laced truth teller, Lowe’s character is…disturbingly optimistic. Leslie Knope may have been modeled after The Office’s Michael Scott, but she’s largely been proven to have more dimension and drive to her than Steve Carrell’s character. Rob Lowe’s Chris, on the other hand, is borderline eccentric in a way that only sitcoms can be. And yet, I love it. His boundless enthusiasm and obsessions– running to the moon in particular– makes for a really fun character to watch, and much of the episode revolves around him and Ann Perkins going on a “date”. There’s just one problem: she’s only doing it because Leslie wants to ring promises of funding out of Chris by using Ann. It makes for some fun scenes, but as a setup episode for the season, it’s not the main focus.
Elsewhere, Ron and Andy coach basketball teams, the only program currently allowed from the Parks Department, with Tom as a sport-confused ref who has it out for Ron, as Ron is now dating Tom’s ex-wife. Except Tom shouldn’t care because he has that cool chick from The Middleman as a girlfriend. Except things end disastrously, but not before Ron can teach middle school kids about the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness. Best. Scene. Of the night.
What about April and Andy? We’ll have to see. Andy is going after April using all the obsessive puppy dog tricks he pulled on Ann last season, and the jury is out on how that will work. See, over the break April went to Venezuela, to that condo from season two, and got herself a Spanish-speaking novio. The season will probably revolve around the courtship of these two, and I hope that we see them go for it somewhere down the line.
Until then, Leslie and the crew will work to raise money for the revival of the Pawnee Harvest Festival, a driving force of the season. Yeah that’s right, a sitcom is tackling a season-long arc in addition to building a mythology and deeper characters. Is this even a sitcom or a 22-minute humor-drenched episode of Lost? Fire up your DJ Roomba, Parks and Recreation is back!
Article by Mark Ziemer