8.5
TV  |  Reviews

Parks and Recreation: "Ms. Knope Goes to Washington" (5.1)

September 21, 2012  |  1:30pm
<em>Parks and Recreation</em>: "Ms. Knope Goes to Washington" (5.1)

As the first episode of the season, “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” was all about setting up what we’ll be seeing from Parks and Recreation for the next 21 weeks of the show. This means reassuring the audience that the aspects of the show they like won’t be changing, even though its dynamic must, by necessity, move forward. Last season was primarily about Leslie’s election, and her success means a huge change for the parks department. Not only that, but Ben, whose place in Pawnee has always been a bit uncertain, left the city to work on a congressional election campaign.

I’m guessing that we’ll mostly see Ben on his visits to Indiana and through Skype this season, but before he leaves, the show does a good job of reminding us why we care so much about him. Or, more importantly, why Leslie cares so much about him. They have the same favorite historical artifacts and he is able to introduce Leslie to a pair of her heroes, Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe. Their priorities in Washington are similar, and at the end of the day, it still makes sense for them to continue as a long distance relationship. Also with them, pretty much just for laughs, are Andy and April, who reaffirm their marriage by having sex all around Washington. It’s a small story, but effective, and Amy Poehler perfectly captures her character’s thrill at being in the capitol.

Meanwhile, the rest of the parks crew is still in Pawnee, and right now is the time of the annual employee appreciation barbeque. Normally this is something Leslie is in charge of, and she goes as all out with it as she does with everything else in her life. But with her gone, Ron is in charge, and for once has to actually do something besides sit behind his desk. He figures he can throw a great barbeque because he loves grilling meat, but everything goes wrong and the staff just kind of waits around for food until he gets annoyed enough with them to leave.

I’m not really a huge fan of “this character learns a lesson” storylines, and this is probably the most direct of those Parks and Recreation has ever had. However, the show always has a careful balance to maintain in keeping its more eccentric characters, i.e. half the cast, human. There are times when Ron, surprisingly the show’s breakout character, becomes nigh infallible, and here we see him taken down a few notches. He still has the same attitude and quirks as before, but he’s reminded that his way of doing things doesn’t work for everyone—it pretty much only works for him—and this is a good way of setting up the way he’s going to have to act more as a leader for the rest of the season.

The other quick storyline, between Tom and Ann, just served to tear their will they/won’t they relationship back apart, which I don’t think anyone will be unhappy about. It’s a bit of a cop-out after how much time was spent on them last season, but it is hard to complain about because it just sped up their inevitable demise.

All of these storylines had very obvious reasons for existing, but the great thing about Parks and Recreation is that the show doesn’t really dwell on this. Yes, all the parts are in place for the rest of the season, but an equal amount of time was spent just clowning around, which is what the show’s best at. Parks hasn’t lost that freewheeling, almost Altman-esque vibe of everyone on its cast having a moment, and that bodes well for the rest of the season.

Stray observations:
•Parks and Dolls!
•”Leslie, this is a really cool penis… but..”
•”This is your dinner: his name is Tom.” – Yes, the pig already had that name, but we also know that it was the reason why Ron picked him in particular to slaughter..
•”Tommy’s got the tum-rumb’s.”
•DC “is a stupid swamp town.”
•McCain’s appearance seemed much less fitting than the senators. Not a great joke.
•Chris Pratt’s presumably improvised tour was amazing during the credits. As always, I just wanted to hear another 10 minutes of it.

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