NBC’s Parks and Recreation returned last night, after a far-too-long hiatus, with the season three premiere, “Go Big or Go Home”, a Leslie Knope motto if I’ve ever heard one. From the onset, meaning just after that horribly narrated recap, it was clear that Leslie (Amy Poehler) and team were back! Of course, a few faces have changed. I didn’t miss Mark (Paul Schneider) at all, even though I thought I would. I did rejoice in the excellent addition of Chris (Rob Lowe, Brothers & Sisters) and Ben (Adam Scott, Party Down), both of whom brought a really cool new element or two with them.
The show picked up three months after we last saw them, with each of the characters having had to find other work while their department was shut down. Of course, it’s been longer than three months for us. Curiously, this episode clearly is set during the fall, so for awhile anyway, the series will be several months behind real time. The parks budget has apparently been slashed, though every single employee returned, so I don’t know where the cuts were made, since reducing personnel would be the easiest cut to make. Financially, not for the series, which is full of excellent players, each of which would be a loss.
But Leslie has a plan to overcome that hurdle: Chris has been asking Ann (Rashida Jones) out for awhile, and so Leslie encourages her to finally accept, then bring up the budget during the date. of course, Leslie is nothing if not a micro-manager, so she hangs out very nearby, looking for an opportunity to swoop in. Ben, though, is not dumb, and suspects something is up by Ann’s sudden acceptance, so he is also there, and able to intercept Leslie. The four of them end of doing dinner and a gay club together, and the chemistry is perfect. Ben is a true foil for Leslie, understanding her passion, but having had his beaten out of him. Chris is so genuinely sweet, he is perfect for Ann, and his heartbreaking story about how he should not be alive touchingly informs his overly optimistic character. I’m so glad Parks and Recreation did not wait to reveal a bit about the two newcomers’ backgrounds, immediately making them feel like part of the family.
Thankfully, even after Chris realizes Ann’s deception, he doesn’t stay mad at her. Most TV shows would use the situation to drive a wedge between the characters that would take weeks or months to heal. Instead, more realistically, Ann admits she was helping a friend, but really likes him, and asks for a second date. Although Chris’s answer isn’t shown, the smile on his face tells us everything we need to know. Parks and Recreation values heart over cliche.
Those four aren’t the only ones involved in the romantic stuff. Andy (Chris Pratt) has been pining for April (Aubrey Plaza), who hasn’t returned his calls or texts, for months. After Andy’s kiss with Ann last spring, the last thing Andy needed to finally get over her, he is upset he can’t seem to get to April. April doesn’t show up until late in the episode, but when she does, she has her new, non-English speaking boyfriend in tow. April translates Andy’s declarations of adoration to him as Andy wanting a sex change operation. Priceless joke.
Ron (Nick Offerman) is still dating Tom’s (Aziz Ansari) ex-wife, Wendy (Jama Williamson). Although it was a green card marriage, and Tom has a new girlfriend, he still has feelings for Wendy. Tom is chosen to referee a basketball game between teams Ron and Andy are now coaching, and Tom takes that jealousy out on Ron and his team in a big way.
Ansari has given Tom a layer of vulnerability covered with sarcastic narcissism that is unmatched anywhere on television. It makes him one of the show’s most interesting characters. Offerman, on the other hand, has made Ron a picture of the type of macho manliness that Chuck Norris jokes spring from. I will soon be googling Ron’s chart that he showed to his basketball team, as I imagine every box is filled with witty humor. Andy has grown in ways I never imagined, as has April, overcoming the snotty teenager routine she used to give. The four of them, along with Retta as Donna and Jim O’Heir as Jerry, have made this such a rich ensemble comedy that it rivals even The Office in characters. Pure delight, each and every single one of them.
I can’t express in words how good it is to have Parks and Recreation back on television. After a rocky first season where the show struggled with what it wanted to be, season two was a stellar triumph. It made the waiting for season three all the more difficult. I hope now that it’s back, we won’t be facing another shortage of new episodes anytime soon. Surely the series has earned a quick pickup for season four, along with other veteran NBC comedies!
If you gave up on P and R before it found its voice, or just haven’t been watching it, I strongly urge you to check it out. It’s not just another sitcom, but a special one, that will surely be remembered and syndicated on other networks for years to come. I can’t recommend it enough.
Parks and Recreation airs Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.