September 21, 2012



PARKS & RECREATION:  Thursday 9:30PM on NBC

WHERE WE WERE:  Celebrating the election of Leslie Knope to the Pawnee, Indiana City Council.  But a little concerned that her new post, and the new job in Washington DC taken by her soulmate Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) could cause trouble in paradise.

WHERE WE ARE:  As it turns out, two couples are dealing with geographic separation, as Ben took April (Aubrey Plaza) to DC with him as his intern.  The season premiere, written by Co-Producer Aisha Muharrar and directed by Dean Holland, took Leslie and April’s hubby Andy (Chris Pratt) to the nation’s capital, where Leslie thought she’d be presenting a proposal for a federal grant to clean the Pawnee River.  Once there, she wanted to see George Washington’s candlestick and the history of the Girl Scouts, while Andy wanted to pull apart discarded wads of bubble gum, in case any of it was a National Treasure-inspired clue.  Meanwhile back in Pawnee, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) was having trouble with the concept of an “employee appreciation barbecue,” being that in his view, barbecue should be about nothing but “flavorful meat love.” Also, it’s so unsurprising that last season’s coupling of Ann (Rashida Jones) and Tom (Aziz Ansari) was temporary–the fact that Tom puts glitter in everything, up to and including butter, didn’t help–that Donna (Retta) bet Tom $1000 they’d break up, and now he and Ann are pretending to still be together just so he won’t lose the bet.

Parks & Rec is going to have a hard time living up to the glory that was last season, which had the twin narrative engines of Leslie’s campaign and her budding romance with Ben to keep things hopping.  There weren’t any major new plotlines introduced in the premiere (unless Leslie’s vow to clean the local river is meant to be a continuing story), and while Ben and Leslie trying to keep their long-distance relationship going via Skype and occasional visits is realistic, it’s not necessarily going to be a crowd-pleaser.

Still, one has to have faith that showrunner/co-creator Michael Schur and the rest of the writing/producing staff, not to mention the flawless cast, will keep the show in the right direction.  Parks & Rec did a superb job of turning itself around during its first season, changing its tone and format from a more mean-spirited cousin of The Office to a modern day version of a Frank Capra movie, and since then, it’s only gotten better, with an irresistible mix of silly and smart.  Even the stunt-casting bits of tonight’s DC visit (Barbara Boxer, Olympia Snowe and John McCain made cameo appearances) were handled deftly, and there was a lovely scene between Ron and Chris (Rob Lowe), where Chris, whom the show often treats as a fool, showed that he does know something about running a city office.

Parks & Rec is another NBC show that would probably have gone away on any other network, with a season average last year under 2.3, and shockingly little love from the Emmys, where only Poehler received a major nomination.  Now in its fifth season, it won’t need any more episodes to reach the magic number for syndication, so its continued survival depends on its ratings staying at least steady, and the network not wanting to make too many more changes next year when it already knows 30 Rock and The Office will be gone.  We’re all lucky that it’s lasted as long as it has, and if we all clap our hands and really believe in ratings fairies (in our place, Leslie Knope would), it might go on a bit longer.

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."