September 27, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Parks & Recreation”



PARKS & RECREATION had a much better time in London than Elementary.  The marvelous never-a-hit comedy, starting its improbable 6th season, brought most of the cast over for a full hour of the show’s trademark mix of crazy and heartfelt.  No one who wasn’t already in love with P&R cared–its lousy 1.3 rating against the massive juggernaut of The Big Bang Theory put it, as ever, on the season’s bubble watch–but it’s always been custom-made for its own delighted niche.

The best part of the hour, written by series co-creator Michael Schur and directed by Dean Holland, actually took place before anyone got to London:  a rapid-fire, perfectly in character pre-credits wedding for Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) and his pregnant love Diane (Lucy Lawless)–whose middle name is not, thank heaven, Tammy.  Leslie (Amy Poehler) and April (Aubrey Plaza) happened to be passing by in mud-gear after clearing out a riverbank, so they were matron of honor and best man, and Leslie, frantically ripping up paper to substitute for rice, and offering a colorful pack of underliners to serve as Diane’s bouquet, summed it all up as a “waking nightmare of happiness.”

Nothing could really top that, but there was plenty going on for the rest of the hour.  Leslie’s trip to London was to accept an award that April nominated her for as part of the campaign to convince Pawnee voters not to recall Leslie from the City Council.  (Leslie herself was on Phase 26 of her 40-phase plan, Phase 27 being a 48-hour roadkill scrape-athon.)  The trip also gave Ben (Adam Scott) a chance to pitch his after-school music program to Lord Covington (Peter Serafinowicz) who, in the wacky logic of P&R, turned out to be a soul mate (and possibly IQ-mate) of Andy (Chris Pratt), and who’ll employ him for the 3 months that Pratt will really be filming his Marvel superhero role in Guardians of the Galaxy.  (Pratt’s real-life buffing was explained on the show as the result of quitting beer.)  Ron, after desultory snapping of photos for Diane and a disgusted realization that British merchants don’t take dollars as payment, went on a Leslie-guided expedition to Scotland that had a perfect punchline.  Meanwhile, in Pawnee, Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) and Chris (Rob Lowe) excitedly told their pregnancy news to just about everyone, drawing unsatisfactory reactions, most notably a cheerfully disturbing monologue from Jerry (Jim O’Heir) on the realities of pregnancy.  And Tom (Aziz Ansari) learned that the supervillain trying to destroy his swag rental business was none other than Dr. Saperstein (Henry Winkler), the father of Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz) and Mona-Lisa (Jenny Slate)–who hadn’t exactly been honest with their dad about their relationships with Tom.

It was all blissfully satisfying for a fan, with a lovely climax as Ron reached his destination and April, for once, expressed her feelings about Leslie (and might have had to endure a hug in exchange) by reading out the letter she’d written to recommend her for the prize.  P&R has always worn its heart on its sleeve, and the last act of the premiere could just as well have been part of a finale.  Not all of the episode worked–Heidi Klum as the Danish honoree, beloved by her constituents who’ve made a goat cheese statue to honor her, wasn’t a laugh riot, and there wasn’t much of a punchline to the Tom story–but mostly it was as funny and moving as one could have wanted.  P&R provides a weekly model of what a comedy ensemble should be, with every cast member a gem, and the show has mastered its own tone precisely.

If this turns out to be the final season for Parks & Recreation (those damn ratings, and later in the season Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe will depart, a change that won’t necessarily hurt the show’s content, but will remove two of its highest-profile performers), no one can really complain.  It’s something of a miracle that such a low-rated series has survived this long, basically kept alive by the overall wreckage of NBC’s comedies over the past few years.  P&R has accomplished just about everything it could have wanted to do, and while it would be a pleasure to see it last for many more years on the air, few network series can come close to making that claim.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."