Tuesday, January 21, 2014

PARKS AND REC Faces a "New Beginning"

Article first published as PARKS AND REC Faces a "New Beginning" on TheTVKing.

NBC's Parks and Recreation has made a lot of strides with its characters in the last year, many of them finding new purposes and new jobs, and some even planning to move away to start new lives. In "New Beginning," though, it's really only two characters who start something fresh, and one of them realizes that, while she thinks she can go back to her past, that past no longer exists.

Leslie (Amy Poehler) is the main character of Parks and Recreation, and most of the stories do revolve around her, with the rest of the cast supporting her. But that changed when Leslie when away and took a job on the City Council. Leaving the Parks Department behind, which she deserves credit for building into a functioning governing agency (according to Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), who is a harsh critic of such things), everyone else was forced to move on, too. Which throws Leslie for a loop when, recalled from the council, she resumes her former job.

It's a little odd that there is still a job for Leslie to come back to. I would think she should have been replaced by now or the position eliminated. But then, as Ron would surely point out, government moves slowly, and Ron is certainly in no hurry to replace her. So I guess it sort of does make sense.

When Leslie last held this seat, she had to push everyone along. Ron hired slackers like Tom (Aziz Ansari) and April (Aubrey Plaza) because he preferred that nothing get done. Leslie understood that those two needed to be forced into accomplishing work, and found a way to get them to do so. Having been out of the office, she doesn't see that they maintained the efforts she made them rise to, even without her behind them anymore. This is a big realization for Leslie, and one that she's slow to come to.

What this means is that Leslie isn't needed here any more. She did the job, and now that job no longer needs done. Ron will let her stay so she can collect a pay check and because he cares about her, but Leslie will soon grow very restless with this step back, not fitting in, and her personality necessitating projects to pour her passion into.

I was a little disappointed when, at the start of "New Beginning," Leslie returned to her office, believing the series was resetting everything back to a status quo of a year or so ago. It's pleasing then, to see that this is very clearly not the case, the plot existing to demonstrate the growth of the characters and as a way station until Leslie launches into her next arc. It's a touching pause and evaluation.

Ben (Adam Scott) is the other person starting a new job as he takes over as city manager. Used to being the "hammer," he now finds himself trying to fill Chris' (Rob Lowe) friendly shoes, and does have trouble being mean to the people under him who have come to be his friends. Which leaves him totally befuddled when Andy (Chris Pratt), April, and Donna (Retta) haze him with an elaborate prank.

It's fun to see Ben out of his element, struggling to find an equilibrium. Since he has worked for city government before, it isn't immediately obvious just how hard it will be for him to start this new position, it requiring things from him he hasn't given before, a fresh outlook rather than a repeat of past gigs. The prank stuff is not only funny, checking the laughter box for the sitcom this week (especially when he tries to retaliate), but also very revealing about Ben's character.

Lastly, Ann (Rashida Jones) and Chris debate whether to get married or not. They only start thinking about it because of a casual remark from Larry (Jim O'Heir), so should they really be jumping into something that neither was considering? "New Beginning" forces them to figure out how they belong together, something the audience may still have been puzzling themselves, and tells us who they are as a couple. It's nice.

I am bothered that Jerry now seems to be permanently Larry. I admit, it was funny to learn that Jerry wasn't his real name and that the staff just calls him whatever they want. But I've gotten used to Jerry, and the changed name still throws me. I wish this had been the thing that Parks and Recreation recalled.

These wonderful character explorations are what makes Parks and Recreation more than just your average sitcom. While consistently struggling in the ratings, it has built itself into a beloved critical darling. These people are compelling, and their stories are authentic and entertaining. If you haven't been watching, please do. And if you have, encourage your friends to start tuning in, or we may not get a season six. This show deserves a season six. There's so much more that must be seen, especially concerning Leslie's career.

Parks and Recreation airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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