Thursday Comedy Roundup: Parks and Recreation 5.01

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Parks and Recreation, Season 5, Episode 1, “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington”
Written by Aisha Muharrar
Directed by Dean Holland
Airs Thursdays at 9:30pm ET on NBC

Tonight we return to Pawnee, Indiana with a brief detour through Washington, DC. Leslie and Andy are visiting Ben, who has accepted Jennifer’s offer to run a congressional campaign and taken April along with him as an assistant. Like much of the episode, this material is familiar but not in any way deficient. Andy’s reactions to Leslie’s tour of the national monuments recall his earlier visit to the Grand Canyon, and the look at what tour guide Andy would look like in the end-tag is one of the episode’s funnier moments.

What elevates this plot is Leslie’s emotional reaction to attending a party with Ben populated by DC’s equivalent to the A-list. When Leslie reveals she is a city-councilwoman, a partygoer responds that her grandmother is as well, and that it helps to get her out of the house. Condescending? Sure, but it juxtaposes the euphoria we felt upon Leslie’s defeat of Bobby Newport with the fact that in the grand scheme of things, a city council seat doesn’t amount to a whole lot. As she awkwardly interacts with Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe and unknowingly rebuffs John McCain, she has to come to terms with the fact that, despite her huge personal successes in the last year, there is a long way to go before she achieves her dream of being the first woman to become President of the United States.

Back in Pawnee, Ron may have rebuffed Chris’s offer to serve as Assistant City Manager, but with Leslie on the city council (and April unable to pick up her slack from DC), he actually has to fulfill what has heretofore been the symbolic title of Director of the Parks Department. This goes predictably, and hilariously, awry. The writers should have plenty to do with Ron this season; the discrepancy between his newfound job requirements and his personal beliefs is rife with endless comedic possibilities.

Tom and Ann, or Haverkins, was a wildly unpopular aspect of Season 4. Tonight, as they put on a front for Donna, the writers seem to have found a sweet spot in the Tom-Ann continuum. Pretending to be romantically involved while covertly despising one another—Ann at the very least despising Tom—works really well. So well that there was a tangible sense of disappointment when Donna revealed she was on to them. However, Tom and Ann is no longer a thing, so most viewers should be satisfied.

The shake-ups that resulted from last season (Ben in DC, Leslie on city council, Ron leading the Parks Department) come at a rather fortuitous time for the show. Season 5 or Episode 100—a milestone Parks will be 10 episodes shy of at the end of its fifth season—is historically when shows become overly familiar and begin to grow stale. Parks is still operating at a level below its third season peak, but if “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” is any indication, these changes should reveal new aspects and present new challenges for these characters we’ve come to know and love.

Justin Wier

Just a heads up: next week this column will remain Parks only, but the following week we’ll begin covering the final season of 30 Rock.

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