That’s right, kids! One of the best comedies on television returns tonight after a torturous eight-month hiatus, due either to Amy Poehler’s pregnancy or the ill-conceived Outsourced, no one seems to know which. NBC’s restructured their Thursday night comedy block to a full three hours, grouping the third season of Parks and Recreation with Thursday night standout Community, the tepid by all appearances Perfect Couples (series premiere tonight), The Office, 30 Rock and Outsourced.
If you’ve never seen Parks and Recreation, or you gave it up after the lukewarm first season, here’s what you need to know:
1. Season Two demonstrates a marked improvement.
Only by the end of the first six-episode season did Parks and Recreation gain its footing. In the first season finale, Amy Poehler finally shed her initial Michael Scott impersonation, transforming into the competent, feminist, perennially upbeat, charmingly awkward Leslie Knope we root for today. The dynamics of the entire cast were refined by simply giving the ensemble a leader the audience could embrace. By the second season premiere, the show had broken away from its derivative roots and displayed an original, lively spirit that quickly outshone its predecessor, The Office. Of course, I’m biased. I believe in the UK model: I don’t think any show should last longer than a few seasons. In a year or two I expect to be completely fed up with Parks and Rec and Community. But for now, they’re two of the funniest, freshest, and highest-quality comedies on the air.
2. The cast additions are a very good thing.
Although I will always best love Adam Scott as Henry on Party Down, his performance as dry pragmatist Ben Wyatt makes a gratifying foil to Leslie’s unflappable rosiness. Let’s please keep Adam Scott on the air, okay? In anything. And Rob Lowe is the funniest he’s ever been as Chris Traeger, the manically positive and focused state auditor who’s made Ann (Rashida Jones) the object of his intense concentration. Check out Lowe in this NSFW promo for P&R on Funny or Die.
3. Ron Swanson is the best boss ever.
For a government official, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman in one of my favorite roles of last year) really hates the government. That’s why April Ludgate (played inscrutably by Aubrey Plaza) is his ideal assistant. April reaches glorious heights of indifference, comparable only to Ron’s own apathy. The two actors have a lovely, deadpan chemistry in their scenes together.
4. Parks and Recreation made love triangles cool again.
It’s inarguably the most tired trope in television. Need drama? Throw in a triangle. But dammit if I’m not invested in every single one of these trios.
Andy’s a dopey, shoe-shining layabout, but thanks to Chris Pratt’s winningly daft portrayal, I can easily see why misanthropic April and nurse/ex-girlfriend Ann would both strive for his affection. I’m glad that the second season finale marked the departure for City Planner Mark Brendanawicz, simplifying the love rhombus (or even pentagon when you take into account Mark and Leslie’s romantic past, or hexagon if you throw Ann’s accidental hook-up Chris in the mix) into the more manageable threesome. Although Paul Schneider turned in a solid performance, the character was mostly feckless—although I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark returns around sweeps just to complicate things. For the record, I’ve been heartily on Team April since she and Andy played the spit-take game together in Hunting Trip. They kissed in the S2 finale, but then again, so did Andy and Ann.
Aziz Ansari’s portrayal of peacocking government subordinate Tom Haverford takes obnoxiousness to sublime levels. But in an uncharacteristic fit of selflessness, he once married his college buddy Wendy, a gorgeous surgeon played by Jama Williamson, so that she could obtain a green card. Last season, Tom realized he had genuine feelings for Wendy when it was time for them to end the sham marriage. Unfortunately for little beta Tom, alpha male Ron Swanson and his virile mustache have attracted the attentions of Wendy. In the S2 finale, Tom discovered through Ron’s post-coital uniform of Tiger Woods drag (just go with it) that Wendy and Ron had done the deed. I don’t know if Tom’s new bartender girlfriend Lucy (Natalie Morales) will return, but I hope so. She’s cool, sexy and seems to really get Tom in a way no other character on the show does. Hi it, DJ Roomba!
Funny that the two characters who seem most suited to Leslie’s exuberant devotion to state-effected change are cynical, small-government men. Ben and Leslie had a rough start but, after bonding over Ben’s failed attempt as mayor of a small town when he was just 18, it seems as if sparks are flying. Now, the romantic connection between Leslie and Ron might be entirely in my head because, you know, I love Ron Swanson, but I suspect that a relationship between the two characters is intended for the endgame. Despite my vehement resistance to the idea of a romance between Liz and Jack on 30 Rock, I’ve got to cop to being a total Knope/Swanson ‘shipper. After having seen Leslie’s filthy house and Ron’s treacherous workshop, I’m more convinced than ever that they’re soul-mates. I’m not sure where Ron’s second ex-wife named Tammy (played by Offerman’s real-life wife Megan Mullally) fits in, other than the fact that she is delightfully crazy and I hope to see more of her.
5. The Pawnee government is currently shut down due to budget concerns.
Ben and Chris are in Pawnee due to massive overspending on the part of the city government, and at the end of last season they were forced to enact an injunction against all government spending, to Ron’s utter glee. Expect plenty of wacky hijinks as Leslie tries to circumvent the budget embargo in order to maneuver one of her many pet projects, most likely mooning someone in the process because she seems to do that a lot.
6. The park at Lot 48 will never, ever be built.
That should get you up to speed before the premiere tonight. The first two seasons are currently free streaming on Netflix and Hulu. Your predictions for Season Three? Give ‘em to me in the comments, and tune in tonight on NBC at 9:30/8:30C!
You can read more from Meredith at www.dannyisnthere.com .