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Monday, September 24, 2012

Parks and Recreation goes to Washington

Grade: 86%

NBC’s PARKS AND RECREATION picks up its fifth season months later with “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington.” Ben (Adam Scott) has been working in Washington D.C. with April (Aubrey Plaza) as his assistant. Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Andy (Chris Pratt) go for a visit. April and Andy’s reunion is so intense it should not be shown on camera. But Leslie finds the city she dreamed about less than satisfactory when faced with real politics and the realization that Pawnee, Indiana (one of several Pawness in the country), the place she has poured her heart and soul into, just doesn’t register to these people.

It’s disheartening to see Leslie so upset. She can be a bit cartoonish, to be sure, so it’s kind of interesting to see how such a person deals with reality. Not well, it turns out. Leslie is a very strong person, but in this unfamiliar landscape, missing Ben, who barely has time for her visit, she’s a bit more emotionally vulnerable than normal. Which could by why she snaps at several senators (Barbara Boxer, Olympia Snowe, and John McCain, playing themselves).

What will it take to restore Leslie’s spirit? Well, that’s already well on its way. She may not be able to affect Washington, but there’s still plenty she can do back home in Pawnee, and that’s what matters to her. She finds purpose again.

But there will still be a lingering sadness until Ben gets his tushy back to her, which has to happen sooner, rather than later. The only thing that remains to be seen is how it happens.

Now that Leslie is no longer in the Park Department, actual responsibilities fall to Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). Chris (Rob Lowe) tasks him with continuing Leslie’s annual thank you barbeque for the staff. Ron sees this as an opportunity to teach the folks what a real barbeque is supposed to be about (the meat, hilariously named Tom), and ends up ruining the entire event. Though, later, with Chris scolding him as only Chris can for the disappointing outcome, Ron makes it up to his team.

One wonders how the Parks Department ran before Leslie arrived on the scene. Ron clearly has his figurehead position in the town, but with the unofficial leader who got things done having moved on, Ron has to step up and actually be in charge. This is not his comfort zone, as he doesn’t like dealing with people. It takes Chris to make Ron realize that the barbeque has a purpose, and isn’t just a frivolous afternoon. Ron can be a softie, but it’s not his default position. There will be a big adjustment here.

It is odd that Leslie and April have not been replaced yet, or that the Parks Department hasn’t fallen apart completely. Arguably the only two employees who do much, what’s going on now that they’re absent? In this episode, “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington,” that is glossed over. Surely it will be a major plot point in future installments, though.

It looks like PARKS AND RECREATION is finally wrapping up the Anne (Rashida Jones) / Tom (Aziz Ansari) romance this week, thankfully. While both deserve to find love, it just doesn’t feel right to see them together. They fake it throughout the half hour, because if they don’t, Tom loses $1000 to Donna (Retta). But it is only an act. Now that that’s over with, it’s time for them to both to move on and find someone more appropriate. Is the casting call out yet? If not, get on it please!

Overall, “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” is a fun, solid entry, but a tad disappointing as a season premiere. It puts events back to normal, but it fails to make any serious movement on the lingering questions (Will Ben and Leslie stay together? What is the new level of achievement in the Park Department?). A few famous faces doesn’t replace these fundamental issues. I’ve come to expect a bit more from the series, but if it hadn’t been a premiere, I probably would be relatively satisfied, so it feels as little unfair to complain much.

PARKS AND RECREATION returns this Thursday to NBC.

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