23 September 2011

Parks and Recreation, "I'm Leslie Knope": Glad to Have It Back, But Not the Strongest It's Been

In a smart move, Parks and Recreation picks up right where it concluded its very strong third season: at Li'l Sebastian's memorial service, where Leslie Knope has been scouted as a potential Pawnee political candidate. The fourth season begins with Leslie telling Ann the news, and Ron (his hair still charred from a fluke funeral fireball) fleeing from his evil ex Tammy the first.

Hulu's got you on this.

Leslie, now a political candidate with a reputation at stake, needs to tell Ben (her boss and secret lover) about her candidacy and then break up with him, so as to avoid any scandals. However, when we cut to three weeks later, Leslie still hasn't confided in Ben, too happy with their relationship (he got her an éclair shaped like an L!), and proceeds to run away whenever faced with the confrontation. Except for some hiatus haircuts, Parks and Rec's characters are satisfyingly consistent, but it seems a bit unlike Leslie Knope to deliberately avoid checking off a task she needs to accomplish. This plotline provides most of the tension in the episode, as Leslie ducks out of chances to break the bad news. This is done in the very low-stakes way of Parks and Rec: we know Ben will understand the need for them to stop seeing each other, but the conflict comes in realizing that means both he and the audience will no longer get to experience them together. In a nice scripting move, Ben has already deduced Leslie's secret, and is already willing to sacrifice his relationship-contentment for her success. This reinforces why Leslie would want to date Ben in the first place, and is a nice contrast to frequently over-the-top, unrealistic sitcom break-ups (reiterated by Ben's recitation of cliché break-up lines, in an attempt to shift blame from Leslie). However, the realism of the break-up scene just further underlines to supreme goofiness of Leslie's avoidance tactics ("Anchors away, ladies."), though that at least paid-off in Ron's epic toe speech.

Leslie's A-plot is not the strongest, and excitement that Parks and Rec has returned distracts from the fact that the other plotlines, too, do not play out as solidly as they could have. Joe from Sewage emails a picture of his "drainpipe" to all the female staff (and Jerry), and after an offhand diagnosis about the size of the piping's "ears," Ann is flooded with other blurred-out photos to diagnose. This penis gag was likely much more pertinent when the episode was written, and has not exactly aged well. The exchanges between Ben and Joe (who went to Sarah Lawrence) and Ann and Chris comprise some funny dialogue, but the plot's conclusion in a male health screening does not amount to much (except the revelation of Jerry's well-endowment), which — typical Jerry — is a bit disappointing. This email story ties into the A-plot when Leslie gives a publicity appearance that appeals to the recruiters, but it still does not feel quite justified. Similarly, Andy's wishy-washiness about whether to work for Entertainment 7twenty is openly a non-conflict. This thread seemingly progresses to nowhere until Andy is given a position as Leslie's new assistant. It is a bit unbelievable that Leslie would agree to hire "not even that good at shoeshining" shoeshine Andy, but this lateral move likely won't affect the office dynamic, and will keep the Parks and Rec family small without unnecessary additions (like The Office's pointless new executive assistant Jordan).

Tom immediately coming back to his government job in this episode also ensures the status quo, but his easy return voids any stakes there were in his leaving, which was one of the third season's cliffhangers. In the last episode's tag, Entertainment 7twenty seemed on the verge of collapse, but is now made a non-conflict. It is a startup company even Andy knows is likely doomed to fail, but that has no effect in this episode except to provide funny sight gags as Tom hands out ridiculous merchandise and business cards. Hopefully, upcoming episodes will deal with what a waste of time and capital this company is, but "I'm Leslie Knope" regretfully squelches any of the anxiety this plotline provided last season, instead ironically favoring Leslie's avoidance tactics.

As Leslie Knope gives her candidacy speech at the episode's end, the season premiere finally gains a sense of focus and real drive. With the character consistency and plentiful jokes, this episode is not unenjoyable, but as most of the running time is spent shuffling in circles around non-conflicts, it is hopefully just the springboard for another awesome Parks and Rec season, and not the blueprint for all fourth season episodes to come.

-"Anne, you beautiful, naïve, sophisticated newborn baby."
-"If I could go back in time and cut your eyeballs out, I would."
-Tom's leopard print shoes!
-"I always carry emergency S'more rations in my car."
-"...granted, it was a hilarious prank."
-"I have the toes I have."
-"Then why is your moustache trembling?"


  1. With as much depth as there is to this review, I take it you really like this show. I like most of the characters, but I just can't get past Amy Poeller (SP?).

  2. I decided I was going to write really in-depth reviews of one show every week, and Parks and Rec won cos it has seasonal arcs and is way less hectic / allusion-heavy to decompress than something like Community.

    Have you watched all the episodes? I really didn't think much of it until the third season, though it would be tough to get into it with a Poehler-dislike. I had trouble watching Cougar Town at first for similar Courteney Cox-reasons (I can never spell her name either), but it's actually a consistently funny show.

  3. The son was the only thing that I liked about Cougar town and that just wasn't enough for me. I can't stand looking at all of the obvious plastic surgery on that show.