With two cast members now gone and most of the overriding plots from the series long since ended, the question we were left with was how Parks and Recreation would keep its momentum. Not that there was much speculation that the show would drop the ball, but for a long time Parks has moved with an incredible narrative speed, sometimes faster than the show’s characters can really adjust to. The surprise with “Anniversaries,” though, was that instead of moving forward, it harkened back to Parks’ beginning, using a story structure taken straight from the show’s core to demonstrate that just because Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones are gone doesn’t mean anything else has to change.
Well, maybe this wasn’t a return to the show’s very beginning, but back to the second season when Parks was significantly more episodic. “Anniversaries” split into three stories, one with Ron as a mentor, one with Leslie going about town trying to fix this week’s miscellaneous Pawnee(-Eagleton) problem and a third one that was just a fun romp between two great characters. The main difference here was that Ron was no longer mentoring Leslie Knope, his old protege, as she’s long since grown past the need for his advice every episode. Instead, it was April who needed to hear a few words of his libertarian wisdom.
This was actually the weakest part of the episode, probably because it was the only one that felt forced. As we’ve never seen Donna working at the pet shelter before, the fact that she’s not there doesn’t really annoy us the way it does April. Come to think of it, why would Donna ever be there? The focus of the story was a good idea, as of course April is still too immature to understand managing her co-workers, particularly those who are also her friends, but the Yelp review idea wasn’t terribly compelling. If it wasn’t for Ron sending out letters on the side to every vegan restaurant he can think of, this would’ve even been a bit disappointing. Parks is still struggling with what to do with Donna as a character, despite all of their affection for her, and the fact is that she worked better in a supporting role—the fact that she doesn’t make much sense as a person will always make giving her a bigger role in the show a struggle.
Meanwhile, Leslie’s frustrated by the continued hatred between Pawneeans and Eagletonians. Her solution is to create a media event out of the 50th anniversary of a half-Pawnee/half-Eagleton couple, creating a narrative that this union can create something beautiful. Leslie is blind to the fact that the couple is horrible, though, which leads to a Parks and Recreation-style meltdown on the air. Once this happens, she decides to actually put some thought into the next plan for reconciliation between the cities and enlists a group of young advisors to come up with an idea, which ends up being a concert that I’m sure we’ll see much more of in the future.
The most enjoyable story, though, despite the fact that it was barely a story at all, was how Ben spent the day before he and Leslie’s anniversary. Because she’s too busy running around town, Ben treats the only person around, Larry (since the show has completely moved onto this new name for him, I suppose I should as well), to his couple’s day out. To his surprise, they have a fantastic time, and perhaps a real friendship has grown here. In any case, it’s always great to see Larry actually having fun, and the string of activities they went on were the typical Parks brand of extravagance and whimsy.
Parks and Recreation’s return to its roots wasn’t terribly ambitious as far as storytelling goes, but it was a good reminder that the show doesn’t need that. These characters are fun enough that pretty basic stories can go a long way. It was a good break from the high drama of so many recent episodes, and a smooth introduction to the next step in the show’s continual evolution. There are still a few kinks to be worked out, but it should surprise no one that the show’s just as hilarious as ever.