Don't worry, Chris (Rob Lowe) and Ann (Rashida Jones) didn't actually get engaged on the latest "Parks and Recreation." Credit: Danny Feld/NBC
When it started, “Parks and Recreation” milked untold yuks out of the loftiness of Leslie Knope’s (Amy Poehler) ambitions — to be like one of the powerful women, like Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and, er, Margaret Thatcher, she has pictured in her office — and the realities of her situation. The reality is she was a medium-sized fish in a tiny pond, namely Pawnee, Indiana. As many have stated, the show didn’t cross over into brilliance until it realized it actually liked her, and that it liked seeing the occasional nice thing happen to her. So it was lovely seeing her actually achieve one of her dreams: getting elected to the City Council, which at least is something more than heading the local Parks Department.
When this dream crumbled — when she was impeached thanks to the cartoonish corruption of others who had targeted her — it wasn’t out of spite. It was tragic — or as tragic as a light, bouncy, loopy sitcom can get. It also meant that the sky was the limit for the show. Where would Leslie go next?
It’s with some trepidation that we report she wound up right back in the Parks Department. The opening of “New Beginnings” has Leslie forcing Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), her former superior, to mock-interview her for the position he already wants to give her. But Ron turns this on its head, asking her budget questions that would only jibe with his firm libertarian leanings.
She still has the job, though, and kudos to the show for instantly recognizing that she’s grown out of it. If everyone there remains her close and personal friend, she no longer fits in there as a boss and coworker. She hasn’t even noticed that prim and metrosexual Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) has a) moved from mousse to a fruit juice-based hair product, and b) has more substance than he once had, having since her departure started and sold a business for a profit. Ron ends the episode by telling her that she was meant for bigger things than a job she held seasons ago.
But what does that mean for the show? It doesn’t want to backslide. And it’s already losing two of its key members: Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), who spend the episode torturing a jewelry store clerk by waffling over whether or not they want to buy an engagement ring. Where could Leslie even go? She’s already run for local office. Pawnee doesn’t really take to her do-gooder perkiness, preferring charismatic, chauvinistic, sex scandal-drenched males. Will it think of something radical for its next incarnation? Or will it turn into late-period “Facts of Life” and have her open a salon with Donna (Retta) and Andy (Chris Pratt)?
While we ponder and wait for this development, the various B-plots offer predictably valuable distraction. The Ann-Chris bit questions why people get married at all. Does one really need to prove one’s devotion to a loved one by piling on reckless expenses, like rings, and destroying one’s free time with endless planning? And that’s just the rehearsal dinner!
Meanwhile Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) has taken Chris’ job, meaning he has to be both Chris’ good cop as well as the bad cop he already was. The strain of imposing restrictions and rules (no Facebook or cellphones during work, etc.) while being friendly seems to tear at his inner being, causing the others to prank him, and prank him good. If someone as tightly wound as Ben would ever prank back, it would be a doozy, and the one he dreams up is ridiculous enough that it never makes it to the finish line. And that makes it even funnier than if it had come to fruition.
The requisite observations/quotes: — Tom’s “Can I get a what-what?” bit, followed by two separate people who have no idea what he’s talking about and each say “What?” is the kind of fast-paced wordplay you’d see in the work of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. Good job! — “Spirit kangaroos” — If “Parks and Rec” were an actually highly rated show, would it ever get away with the bit about elk hair being “the most resilient hair for binder security”? — Ditto “Stu flutes,” filled with hot soup. — Chris thinks “Grey’s Anatomy” is “LITERALLY a rollercoaster of emotion.” How many “LITERALLY”s do we have left? Sigh.