Thursday, September 26, 2013

REVIEW: 'Parks and Recreation' Takes a Trip to 'London' and is Just as Charming, Confident & Hilarious as Ever

NBC's Parks and Recreation - Episode 6.01/6.02 London, Parts 1 & 2

Leslie wins an award from an international Women in Government organization, and travels to London with Ben, Andy, April and Ron to accept it. Tom hunts down the mysterious businessman who is trying to put Rent-a-Swag out of business, while Ann and Chris settle into the next phase of their relationship.

"London" is just a really strong episode of comedic television. It's hilarious, warm and heartfelt and simply lets this collection of characters be exactly who they are despite their changing environments and circumstances. A lot of things are in flux for these characters. Those changes give this hour drive and focus - as all are fighting to defeat Leslie's recall vote. Narrative drive was something I felt was missing during the end part of season five. So to see it executed so well here makes me even more excited for this show and what is to come in season six!

The premiere picks up immediately after the events of the season five finale - where it's revealed that Diane is pregnant with Ron Swanson's baby. Ron plus baby has all the potential to be a comedy goldmine. This is a man who fears change and yet is so in love with this woman that he accepts it by asking her to marry him. That pre-credits sequence was about the closest thing to perfection I have seen all year. It all worked because we have come to know and love these characters so well that Ron and Diane doing a quickie wedding and Leslie reacting the way she did all feel organic and sweet and heartwarming. It was also extremely hilarious as well.

The recall vote against Leslie Knope is the driving force for the first half of this season. Despite it just being the first episode, it is already wearing Leslie down. She loves Pawnee so much and will do absolutely anything to make it the best place on Earth. The town however just does not want to embrace her efforts. She is fed up with it all and tries, unsuccessfully, to use London as an escape for a bit. But as Ron astutely shares "When you're in a thankless job, you can't be upset when no one thanks you." His speech about being the grown up and not saying "I hate you back" to a kid is perfect proof that he will be a fine parent and that he is also a great friend to Leslie. Leslie has a great group of friends who stand by her no matter. So as long as she earns their respect and admiration, she can't be too down-in-the-dumps about what the town thinks of her.

So who had Dr. Saperstein in their office pool as the person trying to destroy Rent-a-Swag? I didn't but it makes a lot of narrative sense. What helps this particular story a lot is that Dr. Saperstein is so different from his two children. Based on what we've seen and know about Jean Ralphio and Mona Lisa, you really do wonder what kind of person raised them to be the way that they are. Dr. Saperstein is very sensible and business-savvy but loves his children too much. He gets them anything they want and believes anything that they say. But that facet doesn't tinker his business skills at all which leaves Tom still open to going under with the business.

The Ann and Chris trying to have a baby storyline is one thing that made the later season five episodes seem aimless. You never could quite tell what the two of them were together. Were they couple? Was Chris just going to be the sperm donor? Was Chris going to be a co-parent? The premiere gives us an answer. The two are a couple again and they are officially pregnant now. The story feels simple now. Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe are exiting the series after the season's thirteenth episode. Thusly this story needs to feel compelling and great as a sendoff. I do believe they are off to a reasonably good start with that.

Lastly, the hour gave a rational explanation of how the series will be addressing Chris Pratt's absence while filming Guardians of the Galaxy. He's going to be staying in London for a couple of months. Also, he's thin now because he stopped drinking beer. Basically, it's just a mirror of what's happening in real life.

Some more thoughts:
  • So, the show does have a full 22 episode season this year. However, it is going up directly against The Big Bang Theory - a ratings juggernaut - full time and for both parts of tonight's premiere. It's been a reliable performer for the network but how it can lead off a night is a big question mark.
  • Diane: "Diane Tammy Lewis" Definitely the biggest belly laugh of the night.
  • Hilarious Mispronunciations: Jean-Ralphio's "Pepperonis" and Andy & Lord Covington's "Aluminum"
  • Perd: "Should Leslie Knope be in Europe? Do you not think that? Or do you not think that?" Don't change at all Perd!
  • Leslie's face after saying she sees Ann as a giant crab needs to be a GIF right now.
  • Mona Lisa was actually kinda bearable here - but she really should only be in scenes with Jean Ralphio.
  • Heidi Klum and Henry Winkler were great in their guest spots. I definitely welcome more of Dr. Saperstein.
  • But in an hour of greatness, I really didn't get the point of Ann's two misdirection comedic lines - the manicure instead of a ring & hitting a fly instead of an idea.
  • But the show really did take advantage of their London setting well. The characters moved around quite a bit and so many monuments were used at the benefit of the characters.