Last night, NBC’s Parks and Rec made its triumphant return to television. After an 8-month hiatus (during which Amy Poehler was having another baby), the best show in NBC’s Thursday night lineup came back with one of its strongest episodes ever: we had Ann dating Rob Lowe; Adam Scott joining the cast; April settling down with her Venezuelan boyfriend; and– more important than any of this– we had the “Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness“. Read our review of the premiere (and see the Pyramid) below, my gentle Examiner readers…
After an abbreviated, six-episode first season, many wrote NBC’s Parks and Rec off as “just another Office clone”. This was a trifle unfair, but if you were to go back and watch those early installments, you’d have to admit that Parks and Rec did bear a little more than a passing resemblance to NBC’s other mockumentary-style series.
By the midway point in season two, however, Parks and Rec had proven to be much, much more than a simple Office knockoff. Hell, it even started kicking The Office‘s ass in terms of “Overall Funniness”…and it hasn’t let up since. The problem, of course, was that many viewers just stopped checking in with the show after that first season, much like they did after Community‘s first half-dozen episodes. There was a period there– maybe three or four years– where The Office reigned supreme on Thursday nights, but that time has passed. In its place, we’ve been given these two new series, and Community and Parks and Rec are damn fine successors to The Office‘s throne.
Parks and Rec is our preferred NBC comedy, though, and last night’s third season premiere worked as a great “re-introduction” to the series for newcomers. Not only has NBC pushed the show into the coveted post-Office timeslot, but it also offered a sort-of Cliff’s Notes prologue at the beginning of the premiere for anyone who was just tuning in for the first time (or for the first time in a couple years). Obviously, NBC’s looking to capitalize on all the “Best TV Shows of the Year” lists that Parks and Rec appeared on back in December, which bodes well for the show’s immediate future. Let’s hope that viewers give the series a shot, because a Thursday night with Parks and Rec would not be a Thursday night worth tuning into NBC for (except for Community).
Anyway, last night’s premiere found Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope desperate to get back to work. After the local government of Pawnee, IN (the fictional little city where the show takes place) started slashing budgets left and right, the Parks Department found themselves landlocked, unable to carry on until the budget got fixed. Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford has gone to work in a Lady Footlocker. April has disappeared. The ever put-upon Jerry has taken to painting down by the lake. Ron Swanson is chopping firewood (what else would Ron Swanson be doing?). Just about everyone seems content– to a greater or lesser degree– with the shut-down except for Leslie, and so she sets about “getting the band back together” in order to bring the Parks Department back to life.
Adam Scott and Rob Lowe have joined the cast as two state government officials who have arrived to help Pawnee get in financial shape, and they’re both excellent additions to the cast. Adam Scott has proven himself capable of great comedy on many, many occasions (Stepbrothers, Party Down), and Rob Lowe– who has shined in moments on SNL and in stuff like Wayne’s World— matches him line-for-line. It’s sad to see Paul Schneider’s Mark Brandanowicz off the series, but Scott and Lowe (especially Lowe) go a long ways toward making it up to us.
As I understand it, the overall plotline of season three deals with the promise that Leslie Knope made at the end of last night’s episode: The Parks Department will organize and produce a “Harvest Festival”, just like the ones that Pawnee used to have back in the 80’s. If it’s a success, the Parks Department keeps their jobs. If the Harvest Festival flops, though, Leslie and her ragtag crew will accept defeat and move on to not-so-greener pastures. It’s a great “hook” for the season, and– if last night’s any indication– it also seems primed to give Parks and Rec‘s writers some of the best material the show’s had since it started.
For instance, allow me to point you in the direction of the “Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness” over there on the left. It was easily the best gag from last night’s premiere, and as soon as it flashed onscreen, I made a mental note to track down a copy for this writeup. Look at the detail that went into that sucker! Ron-effing-Swanson (played brilliantly by Nick Offerman) is– without question– the funniest character on a TV show these days, and it’s great to see that Parks and Rec‘s writers have a good handle on what makes this character so funny. The “Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness” is just the latest in a long line of great Swanson-related bits, like the Duke Silver persona, Ron’s “Brunettes and Breakfast” office photo, or Ron’s intense love for caning chairs (“It’s like these chairs are caning themselves”). There simply cannot be too much Ron Swanson on Parks and Rec.
Some of the highlights from the pyramid:
CRYING: Acceptable only at funerals and the Grand Canyon
B.O.: Cultivating a manly musk puts your opponents on notice.
HANDSHAKE: Firm. Dry. Solid. 3 Seconds.
SKIM MILK: Avoid it.
DISCIPLINE: The ability to repeat a boring thing over and over again.
Can we get this in poster-size, NBC?
While Ron Swanson is our favorite Parks and Rec character, it’s worth noting that the entire cast is invaluable. Aziz Ansari is typically awesome in his role (and we’re excited to see how the rivalry between him and Ron plays out this season), and Aubrey Plaza continues to rock as the snarky April. Rashida Jones– an Office vet– looks like she’s about to have her role expanded with her dating of Rob Lowe’s Chris, and it’s a smart move on the part of the show’s writers: Jones is excellent as Ann, and while she provides a great straight-man to Poehler’s Leslie whenever she’s onscreen, it’s nice to see her getting something more to do.
A separate paragraph needs to be issued for Chris Pratt, who’s turned the character of Andy into the show’s second-best character. Virtually everything Andy does or says provokes laughter here at Comedy Examiner HQ. If this whole thing doesn’t work out, I move to give him and Offerman their own spin-off. Maybe something set in a cabin, surrounded by sheep.
The show’s first season is available on Netflix Instant, but I’m wary of recommending those first few episodes: Back then, Parks and Rec was still figuring itself out, and it didn’t really come into its own until the second season started. The second season is available on DVD (or through Netflix), however, so if you think that you’d like to get all caught up, I highly recommend picking it up or giving it a rental. The early word on season three is that Parks and Rec is about to give us its best season yet, and while I couldn’t be more thrilled to hear that, the whole thing would be a lot sweeter if I knew that more of you were tuning in: Parks and Rec deserves your attention, and it deserves to be a part of NBC’s Thursday-night lineup for years to come.
My grade? A+.
Check out the “Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness” over there on the left before you check out, and also feel free to take a peek at the video we’ve embedded below it. You can stay tuned for further Parks and Rec updates as the season progresses, and if you’ve got anything you’d like to say about last night’s third season premiere, you can sound off in the comments section below.
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