Parks and Recreation has been in such a constant state of transition for the past few years that it’s not surprising even its characters haven’t caught up with everything that’s happening in its world. “New Beginnings” was about finally giving the cast a chance to adjust to these changes, with three not-particularly-linked stories that worked well as a thematic whole, despite more than a tad of unevenness.
Leslie returns to her old job, but of course the Parks Department has been running just fine in her absence. I have to applaud Michael Schur and the rest of the show’s writers for not ignoring this fact, as well as its implication that Parks can’t really return to where it was before. When Leslie moved on from the Parks Department, it moved on as well, and while she’ll be a great addition to their team again, Ron points out that she has bigger ambitions and this is only a temporary solution. Plus, her protege, Tom, has learned how to do a professional presentation that also has a laser show. He’s like Leslie but with flair.
Unfortunately, the B-plot of “New Beginnings” wasn’t terribly interesting, with Ann and Chris purchasing a wedding ring, and then not, and then maybe, and then who cares, after a spur-of-the-moment decision to get married. While this does address some of the underlying questions about their relationship, it’s also just not terribly exciting to watch. The step-by-step progression for them to leave town together has grown too slow at this point, and we didn’t really need to watch all of this. It had a few intermittently funny moments, sure, and I was happy to see Brian Stack get some work, but in all I could’ve easily never seen this part of “New Beginnings” and wouldn’t have cared. The show is beyond ready for Rashida and Rob to drive off into the sunset together.
The third part of the episode concerned Ben taking over Chris’ job managing Pawnee, and it isn’t long before he both has terrible pronouncements (cutting family healthcare plans) and gets pranked by his friends. Their prank is pretty elaborate, and his hope for a revenge that never happens is just as good. It was pretty much just a fun series of jokes about Ben being too tight-assed to enjoy himself, but those are always good, and it was also fun to have a lot of wonderful Andy moments. I can’t state enough how good it was to have him back.
As a sort of odd, transitional episode of Parks, “New Beginnings” wasn’t the strongest. It’s understandable why the show wanted to make it, though, and it also says something about Parks that it remains unwilling to skip steps. It’ll be nice to see it really moving forward again soon, but as a brief respite between the end of one era for the show and the beginning of the next, it was perfectly enjoyable.