Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Parks and Recreation" - "I'm Leslie Knope"

Spoilers for the "Parks and Rec" season premiere after the jump:

I was quite surprised by the fact that "Parks and Rec" picked up directly from last season's epic cliffhanger ending: which featured (among other things) Leslie being approached to run for office, Ron's other ex-wife showing up, and Tom leaving the parks department. Instead, we find Leslie Knope and company right where we left them. Soon enough Ron's dragging Leslie (and her chair) with him as he frantically hightails it out of there, explaining that he's using all of his personal days right now. Like the "Community" premiere, this episode is completely jam-packed with major developments. And also like the "Community" premiere, it's insanely funny, great, perfect, brilliant, etc... Watching these two shows back-to-back is going to be a treat.

Leslie's general reaction to being approached to run is predictably mixed. She's thrilled (the "yay" scene with Ann was wonderful), but also upset because she knows she needs to break up with Ben. And for quite a while she can't bring herself to do it: tearing up when Ben gives her an eclair and running away when they're at the restaurant. Of course she goes to Ron: a decision that surprised me when I first watched it but one that really makes complete sense when you consider the two characters. Leslie and Ron have become exceedingly close despite their wildly different viewpoints, so it's fitting that he should be the one to help her realize what she has to do. And in the process, he realizes he needs to face Tammy I.

This entire arc works on a dramatic level as well as a comedic one, culminating in the aforementioned break-up: a scene that is bittersweet and kind of perfect. The worry I had was that Ben was preparing to ask Leslie to marry him, so credit "Parks and Rec" for defying expectations there by revealing that he knew all along. He proves to be quite a sport about it, even joking that Leslie "disgusts" him in an effort to make her feel better. As for the actual campaign... I love that Leslie is actually going to run. Many shows are content to let their characters run in place once they get to a certain point. "Parks and Rec" has never been one of those shows, but this has the potential to really shake things up: particularly if she wins (and Ron is sure she will). It's a gutsy storytelling move, but I think it's a good one.

And of course, the show still finds time to deliver tons of laughs, many of which stem from Joe's penis text-message. Much like last season's "Jerry's Painting", I'm a bit amazed at how much "Parks and Rec" is able to get away with (when it wants to) for a prime-time sitcom: including Chris's discussion of how he finds testicles unappealing to look at, though they "serve a useful function" (Ann's expression during that scene is priceless). This isn't "Arrested Development", which frequently used exceedingly clever double-entendres as a means of sneaking in edgier content. No, the characters on "Parks and Rec" just flat-out say what they mean. None of this is done to shock. It's a natural side-effect of the story, and it's hilarious.

Finally we have April and Andy. Thus far this relationship has been a textbook example of how to keep a "will they/won't they" type of couple interesting after they've gotten together. I quite enjoyed April's constantly changing advice to him about whether to take Tom's job offer, and the way she shushed him as he was about to turn down payment for his new job as Leslie's assistant. This is how you start a season: by reminding viewers just how much they've missed the show over the past three months. This remains the funniest (and best) comedy on TV, and I'm not sure when that's going to change. Hopefully not for a while.

Other Thoughts

- The one character who's a bit left out this week is Tom, but that's understandable considering he didn't have much to do with any of the main plots. As such, it didn't really bother me.

- Ron has lost at least one toe. Maybe more.

- We got our first glimpse of Patricia Clarkson as the first Tammy. It was a brief one, but I'd say she was just about perfect.

- Leslie makes campaign speeches in her sleep. I believe it.

Grade: A

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