Welcome back to Pawnee, government drones. Keith Phipps has left to pursue a career in public service (albeit jail-mandated), so I'll be covering the show from here on out.
But first, let's talk about last season. Back when Parks & Recreation premiered, some A.V. Club cronies and I got together to talk about it on our podcast A.V. Talk (short for Audio Visual Talk), where it was lumped with critical and commercial success Sit Down, Shut Up. The theme of the talk, if I remember correctly, was Keith Phipps and Nathan Rabin calmly summing up their feelings about both shows—duds from promising showrunners—and Genevieve Koski and I weeping uncontrollably in the corner (minus Genevieve). Bottom line: I saw the potential in Parks & Rec, but my argument could only be summed up as, "It wasn't that bad."
Specifically, I had been thinking a lot about the first season of The Office, the American version. In adapting the British sitcom, the writers at first had Steve Carell doing, essentially, a poor-man's Ricky Gervais impression, and not giving much to the supporting cast. Parks & Rec was like that at first, except replace Poehler for Carell, Carell for Gervais. But unlike The Office, I felt like P&R got the formula down much sooner. The final episode of the last season, "Rock Show," was a prime example of the cast firing on all cylinders—especially the bone-dry genius of Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson. And Poehler's Leslie Knope finally painted the broad Michael Scott-type social obliviousness with some shades of vulnerability and desperation.
Phipps hopped on board at the end; most others still regarded the show as a nuisance in their Thursday night DVR-ing.
Well, now having seen the first episode back, I'm glad the show inked a deal for a second season. That was on par with the final episode of last season, and things are continuing to click into place.
For starters, the plot helps a lot. In a desperate attempt to attract new visitors to the Pawnee zoo, Leslie stages a bunch of cute little animal happenings, ending with a marriage ceremony for two resident penguins. The problem is, the penguins get busy right in front of all the onlooking kids ("At least they're married now," Leslie points out), and, well, they're both male penguins, meaning Leslie just oversaw Pawnee's first gay marriage. What I liked most about "Pawnee Zoo" was the way this fact spirals out of control; before long, a pro-family organization is earnestly asking for an annulment, and demanding Leslie step down from her job. But she's torn because the gay men who hang out at local watering hole The Bulge love her for making a stand. (She's a self-proclaimed Queen Of The Gays, to which Ron quips, "Bully for you.") It all comes together when Leslie appears alongside the woman on Pawnee Today, the local talk show, and finds herself grasping at straws to defend her actions. The whole thing still rings a bit too Michael Scott-y, but Poehler is now a lot more comfortable in Knope's skin, so when she plays self-conscious (as she does for most of the interview), it doesn't feel fake anymore.
Also, bully to P&R for giving the supporting cast something to do. Rashida Jones gets to have some fun playing around with Ann who, in a moment rife with both friendship and sympathy, tells Leslie that Mark asked her out—but that she's totally not going to do it, of course. The new game with Tom seems to be pointing out that he's a super metrosexual, which would have been annoying if not for this amazing line: "This shirt is not gay. It was featured in Details magazine. Because it is awesome!" (He's still as annoying as he was in season one, as witnessed by his painfully forced attempt to dance with Ann.) Andy, now without the power in the relationship, is resigned to nervously ask Ann for forgiveness, then retire to his little makeshift home in the pit; even at his most pathetic, he remains a scene-stealer. And, as always, Ron could give two shits about what happens at his job, and his apathy is hilarious. (Leslie: [Entire "Parents Just Don't Understand" rap] Okay, so what did you want?" Ron: "Someone's on fire.")
"Pawnee Zoo" isn't the best thing on tonight (that Office episode is something else), but once again, I'm seeing the show's potential. The writers have introduced a lot to play with over season two, and just like The Office, a lot of the fun will come from getting to know the supporting players and watching them interact.
- Not much from Mark or April tonight, but I've seen the second episode, and they get to have a lot of fun in that one (though I really enjoyed April correcting Leslie's dancing). Also in the next ep: Louis CK!
- "What do you want me to do? Jump off a bridge? Perform Harry Carey?"
- On finding out The Bulge is a gay bar: "The nights I wasted there…"
- "You could resign—if you're up for it."