S3E1: Last year, Parks and Recreation cleaned up the problems from its first season and emerged as one of the top comedies on television. NBC's brilliant response? Shelve the show for Outsourced -- an unoriginal, racist comedy that isn't funny. Fortunately, Parks and Rec FINALLY returned last night for a mid-season season premiere with an episode entitled "Go Big or Go Home." And, to no one's surprise, it was awesome.
"I called shotgun. Everybody heard me." -Tom
We ended last season with the City of Pawnee's government being shut down because of lack of money. Rob Lowe and Adam Scott joined the show as Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt, budget evaluators from the state department, who are there to slash and cut the budget until Pawnee gets a functioning government again. We also saw Paul Schneider, who played city planner Mark Brendanawicz, leave the show.
Now, to quote Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope, "We're back!" The government has reopened after a three month hiatus, and in the episode's cold open, Leslie drives around Pawnee, grabbing and shoving each member of her Parks Department into her car (which gave us the hilarious scene of her throwing Jerry's painting of the pond scene into the pond).
But, we quickly learn that even though the Parks Department is back, there's still no money. So as Ben says, "We're in maintenance mode!" Unsurprisingly, that doesn't sit well with Leslie, who, as we all know, is a workaholic. During the hiatus, she spent her time brainstorming ideas and putting them in her color-coded "idea-binders." But fortunately for her, there is something that needs to be done: a basketball league. Because in Indiana, if you don't provide a basketball league, people get "very upset and throw things at you and call you names, like 'Turd Boy!'" There's a catch, though. There can only be two teams "who will have a great rivalry."
So within the first few minutes of the episode, we're already clear about what this season is going to be about. And that's simply, how can our local government hero, Leslie Knope, and her department function under the pressure of potential budget cuts? Sure, this may be an obvious route for the writers to take after the end of last season, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. After all, without a Parks Department, Parks and Rec doesn't really exist.
"Under my tutelage, you will grow from boys to men, from men into gladiators, and from gladiators into Swansons. Behold! The Swanson Pyramid of Greatness." -Ron Swanson
Anyway, there's basketball. And who better to coach basketball than Ron-Fucking-Swanson? No one, that's who (especially not Andy Dwyer, the coach for the unfortunate other team). And that brings us to one of the best moments in "Go Big or Go Home": The Swanson Pyramid of Greatness. With building blocks like "Capitalism: God's way of determining who is smart and who is poor" to "Crying: Acceptable only at funerals and the Grand Canyon," Ron plans to turn these men from boys to men to gladiators to Swansons.
This moment is not only hilarious just because it's, well, hilarious. But more accurately, it's funny because this is who Ron Swanson is, and as viewers, we really wouldn't expect anything else. Parks and Rec has not only created these wonderful characters, but the writers aren't afraid to let those characters explore their world. So many times, shows get too comfortable with their characters and refuse to take risks, but thankfully, not here. Ron is funny because he does the things we least expect, but at the same time, those things (like framing a giant picture of a breakfast meal on his wall) don't surprise us one bit. So, of COURSE Ron is going to try to turn his basketball team into little Swansons. He wouldn't do anything else.
"Would you be cool doing things that a prostitute does?"
"Minus the money."
"Definitely yes, then."
-Leslie and Ann
Meanwhile, Leslie's still trying to get more money freed up for the Parks Department, so she devises a plan. She exploits Chris' determination to date Ann ("Ann Perkins!"), hoping that when she goes on the date, she can convince him to give the Parks Department some of that much needed cash.
I'd also like to note that I was really impressed with Rashida Jones. It's easy to brush over her in Parks and Rec because her character is similar to the one she played in The Office. But, last night, she stole the scene where she impersonated Chris. "Can I get you a drink? I like every single drink, in the world!" And in the same vein, I can't get over how funny Rob Lowe is as ultra-positive Chris Traeger. But until this point, I was a little bit worried because I thought Chris seemed a little bit one-dimensional. Sure, he's super positive all the time and that gag is funny, but it can only go so far, right? Well, last night we got another side of Chris -- a serious side. Turns out, the reason he is so positive is because he wasn't supposed to live past two weeks old. This brief, serious moment, delivered superbly by Rob Lowe, gave Chris more depth and gave us viewers more understanding of the character.
Anyway, of course Leslie ends up showing up at the date, along with Ben, but don't worry! Because Chris' dates only go "great" or "phenomenally," it's okay. So they decide to "take this whole date-plus-two-other-people thing up into the stratosphere."
"It's a foul! On number 50. He was double dribbling."
"But he's on defense!"
"That's a technical difficulty. That means Andy's team throws the ball from the stripy thing. Let's go!"
-Tom and Ron
Back in the B-plot, Tom's pissed that Ron is dating his ex-wife, so as the referee of the basketball game, he's decided to screw over Ron in every possible way. And that includes ejecting all of his players from the game so he's forced to forfeit. And really, it was sad to see Tom so hung up on his ex-wife. He must like her quite a bit, because he's no longer single and has a great girlfriend. Perhaps he's just jealous because it's Ron, and Ron is his boss? I'm not really sure. But this will no doubt be an underlying plot throughout the season. I'm a bit disappointed in Tom though. He's got a great girl (who's actually into him!), but he will probably end up losing her soon because of his actions this week.
"The newspaper's headline was 'Ice Town Costs Ice Clown His Town Crown.' They were big into rhymes."
Last year, we learned that Ben was mayor of his town at the age of 18, but ended up running it into the ground because, as he says, 18-year-olds are idiots. But now, we finally learn what happened, which also reveals why he isn't the world's biggest fan of the Parks Department. Turns out, when he was elected mayor, he used all of the town's money to create a winter sports complex called "Ice Town," which ended horribly and was the reason he got impeached. I had assumed for awhile that there was something in his past that made him hate the Parks Department so much, but now, we're finally given the answer. This is good for his relationship with Leslie as well, because now she understands a little be more where he's coming from, and will probably make things go a little smoother.
"Sorry, I was in Venezuela."
"Oh, (in a British accent) across the pond!"
-April and Andy
The endless cat and mouse game that Andy and April played last season ended sadly, with Andy telling April that Ann kissed him. Because April is April, she did the logical thing and went to Venezuela and picked up a boyfriend who can barely speak English.
Even though they were mad at each other, April and Andy's scenes together were terrific as always. As a couple, they work. There's just always been an issue between them -- mainly, age. But it looks like Andy doesn't care about that any more, and is dedicating this season to trying to win April back. Although this is funny, I'm a little weary of it because that's essentially what Andy spent doing with Ann. Sure, Desperate Andy is always funny, but I hope the show doesn't get lazy and rely on similar gags that he did with Ann.
"That, literally, was the most moving thing I've ever heard."
Leslie accidentally revealed her secret plan to Chris, who was pretty hurt by the whole ordeal. But, turns out, Ann actually likes Chris, apologized, and everything was all right. Following that was the biggest moment of the episode. After telling Andy that he needs to go for April no matter what, she ends up convincing herself at the same time that she needs to be proactive to help save the Parks Department. The solution? Put on the first Pawnee Harvest Festival since 1983. And with a rousing speech, she tells Ben and Chris that she's willing to place the Parks Department on the line for this festival.
So, the setup is complete. Parks and Rec won't spend its third season trying to fill a pit or build a park, but instead, putting on a Harvest Festival. And with a festival, as we learned briefly with last year's "Freddy Spaghetti" concert, there are many factors and issues to take into consideration -- plenty to keep us occupied over the next 20-whatever episodes.
If "Go Big or Go Home" is any indication, 2011 will be a big year for Parks and Rec. So grab yourself a Swanson and let's celebrate. Cheers!