Season four is the year Parks and Recreation proved it belonged with the all-time great TV comedies. One might argue it already got there with the pretty-much perfect abbreviated third season, but season four is the show’s finest yet, although it might not have always seemed to have reached the heights of its predecessor.
Taken as a single body of work, the few minor stumbles of the fourth season are easily papered over by the superb season-long arc of Leslie Knope’s bid for city council. Like previous seasons, the ensemble cast is brilliant, the joke writing is sharp and varied and the world of Pawnee, Ind., continues to be fleshed out in imaginative ways. What season four brings to the table is an unshakable commitment to long-form storytelling that’s a rarity in TV comedy these days. Major credit is due to showrunner Michael Schur and the Parks and Recreation writing crew for not sacrificing coherent and moving storytelling for cheap jokes or easy character shortcuts.
In its fourth season, Parks and Recreation acts as a distinct counterpoint to season eight of The Office, which aired at the same time. While Parks and Rec looked like a pale Office imitator in its first season, it’s grown to become something The Office seems to have given up on entirely. And while it’s not really fair to compare the fourth season of one show to the eighth of another, it’s quite the contrast to see Parks and Rec pull off a high wire act of storytelling continuity while The Office can’t even string together a decent multiple-episode arc of any kind. And let’s not get started on the characterizations.
OK, so let’s move away from the shadow of Parks and Rec’s one-time distant cousin. Comparisons to lackluster latter-day Office are hardly necessary to make the show look like the stellar comedy it is. Amy Poehler’s pitch-perfect performance as the inimitable government employee Leslie Knope is but one piece of an incredible cast that includes Chris Pratt’s preternatural knack for physical comedy, Adam Scott’s wry exasperation, Aziz Ansari’s commitment to ridiculous (and hilarious) one-liners and Jim O’Heir’s utterly hapless Jerry. And let’s not forget what is destined to be the show’s most indelible character, the meat-loving, government-hating Ron Swanson, who Nick Offerman has imbued with impeccable comic timing and surprising nuance.
The fourth season of Parks and Recreation would have been an amazing end point if the perpetually low-rated show had been canceled. Fortunately, we’re in for at least one more season — if it can even get close to the heights of season four, then we’re in for another remarkable season of TV.
The four-disc DVD set includes all 22 episodes, including alternate cuts for several. By far the best extra is the copious selection of deleted scenes, packed with jokes often as great as those making the final cut. The gag reel is also essential (although not quite as profane as a disclaimer promises). The rest, including webisodes, campaign ads, mock featurettes and a music video, is fairly negligible but plenty of fun for fans.