‘Parks and Recreation’ Returns From Hiatus, This Time To Washington, In Truly Fine Form
Published: Sunday, September 23, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
The fifth season of Parks and Recreation premiered this past Thursday on NBC. So how was the first episode, “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington?”
Last season left Leslie and the Parks gang on a bittersweet note. While Ben was briefly leaving Leslie for a job in Washington, D.C., Leslie rightly won her election, thus becoming the new city councilwoman. Back in May, the joy of the election result had overshadowed any sad feelings over Ben and Leslie’s break.
“Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” similarly begins on a high note: Leslie is outside of the Capitol! Politics must have been treating her well over the summer! Listening to her tell Andy that the Capitol is NOT the White House served as a great reminder that Parks and Rec is still one of the funniest shows on television. The meetings of Leslie/Ben and Andy/April (“We’re gonna go have sex”) only reaffirmed this notion. We learn that April had been working for Ben over the summer, which consists of her slapping away his phone and serving him put-downs on a regular basis.
Yes, the jokes come fast in the first few minutes of the episode, but when Ben and Leslie have to go their separate ways after watching April and Andy run off together, we know something is amiss. The sad undercurrent grows as Leslie goes to submit a proposal to clean up Pawnee’s disgusting river to an official in the Department of Interior. Even though Leslie brings a proposal complete with sound effects, a receptionist tells her to just dump it in an overflowing stack of proposals and to be on her way. The receptionist didn’t even know which Pawnee city Leslie was from. Just like that, Leslie and the viewers know just how unimportant Pawnee, Ind. is in the grand scheme of things.
While the jokes do keep coming in the episode’s A-plot (courtesy of April and Andy, mostly), the sad realizations found in Leslie’s story give it a somewhat hopeless feel. Even though Leslie’s newly earned title seemed big last season, Ben’s D.C. job seems more important. He meets with Nos. four and 26 on Leslie’s List of Amazing Women. He socializes with smart, attractive women, who Leslie has combined into an imaginary super-woman named Hot Rebecca. And no one knows where Pawnee is. I get that this episode is going for something deeper than comedy with Leslie, but coming directly off a finale that applauded her, this premiere goes out of its way to kick her down.
I trust this show to use the disillusionment of Leslie as a means of propelling her into action in future episodes. But the D.C. put-downs all happened a bit too fast, even if they did allow for a brief John McCain cameo. Leslie’s story sacrificed comedy for drama. Of course, it all led to a nice little concluding talk with Leslie and Andy, and to her cleaning up the river on her own.
My problems with the main story aside, the episode had a great B-story with Ron Freakin’ Swanson put in charge of Leslie’s Grill Jam Fun-Splosion due to her absence. The event is supposed to reward the Parks department employees for their hard work, but Ron could do without the “Slip and Slide-A-Thon” and the one-woman show titled “Parks and Dolls.” Instead, he shows up for the event with nothing besides a grill and a live pig, hilariously named Tom. Ron intends to kill the pig in front of horrified attendees Tom, Donna, Chris, Jerry, and other adults and kids. Watching Ron argue with an official over something he clearly can’t do has proven to be an endless source of comedy on this show.
After coming back from Food and Stuff with legal grill food, Ron has to deal with the constant complaints from his department over then the meal will be ready. This all culminates in a hilarious sequence where Ron decides to stop grilling and leave, driving away and dragging the grill with him.
The Ron story back in Pawnee was classic Parks in a way that Leslie’s story wasn’t. All the laughs were there, and we still got a revealing conversation between now-friends, but still boss-and-employee Chris and Ron. In the end, Ron cooks up a feast, complete with the vegetables he hates, for the department. It may have been Pig Tom, but it’s still delicious. The Pawnee story got to have its ribs and eat them too, while the D.C. story had barely any food or comedy whatsoever.
Maybe I’m just a bit cranky that the whole gang isn’t back together yet. No matter what, the future episodes of Parks will be sure to feature much more Pawnee and a reunited cast. Overall, I’m just glad the show is back!