Universal // 2011 // 471 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 5th, 2012
One of the only broadcast comedies I can sit through without feeling compelled to put a drywall anchor through my nasal cavity.
Having been approached by political recruiters at the end of last season to run for Pawnee City Council, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler, Freak Dance) finally sees ambitions of public service and political ascension in front of her. Several impediments stand in her way: 1) she would have to curtail her romance with Ben (Adam Scott, Friends with Kids), 2) she has no money and small visibility, and 3) her opponent is the son of Pawnee's most powerful citizen and heir to the Sweetums fortune (guest star Paul Rudd, Wanderlust).
But with Leslie's dedicated Parks and Rec staff supporting her, she just might have a shot at her dream. Meanwhile, Ron Swanson.
I'm a big fan of Parks and Recreation and consider Season Two one of the funniest stretches of situation comedy ever crafted. Now in it's fourth season, lots of elements still work, but they have less to do with the set-up and more to do with the cast. The day-to-day trials and tribulations of a small city's parks and recreation department act merely as the sounding board for some of television's most colorful and earnest characters.
Leslie is bubbly, oblivious, and often goes too far in applying her political ambitions to this rinky-dink position. Best friend Ann (Rashida Jones, The Muppets) acts as Leslie's exasperated foil, while she too looks for love. Ron (Nick Offerman, 21 Jump Street) is the apathetic Libertarian content with eating meat tornadoes and indoctrinating the youth of today about the horrors of confiscatory tax policy. Tom (Aziz Ansari, 30 Minutes or Less) looks beyond his feeble post to a custom male fragrance empire. Ben and his boss Chris (Rob Lowe, The West Wing) navigate the backwards bureaucracy of Pawnee; the former cold and calculating, the latter overly exuberant. Meanwhile, Andy (Chris Pratt, The Five-Year Engagement) and April (Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed) continue to develop their relationship, built on stunted emotional development and layers of eye shadow.
That flimsy synopsis doesn't do justice to the chemistry this cast possesses, and previous seasons have often done a good job of rationing out the plot lines, so each player gets a chance to shine. What started out as a shabby clone of The Office, has morphed into a legitimate ensemble comedy that generates hearty laughs.
So it is with a heavy heart,I must confess: Parks and Recreation: Season Four has dropped the ball. The characters are still in place, but the designs the writers have in store for them are flummoxing, resulting in a season that quite frankly disappoints.
Here are some of the missteps (light spoiler warning):
Leslie the Nominee
Look, I know this makes sense for the character, and I understand how tempting a hook it is for the writers to weak havoc with a political campaign. But in practice, this just doesn't work. For one, it strips Leslie of the qualities that made her so affable, namely her treatment of the Parks and Rec department as the White House. The stakes weren't high, but she treated her work as if it was DEFCON 5 and her earnestness was hilarious. Running for City Council takes that juxtaposition away, and suddenly...she's boring.
Actually, it's worse than that.
Leslie's Opponent Makes Her Unlikable
Paul Rudd steals every scene he's in, and not just because he's Paul Rudd. His character, Bobby Newport Jr, is a dullard benefitting from nepotism and we're obviously supposed to root against him. But when he's with Leslie, he comes off as clueless and funny, while she's just a stick in the mud. It seems the writers were so in love with Leslie's championing of public service, they lost sight of what made her so much fun.
Not Enough Swanson
The focus on the election and the Ben/Leslie romance results in diminished development for the supporting characters. Ron Swanson's emaciated runtime was particularly noticeable. Save for a great mini-arc involving Ron and his first ex-wife Tammy One (Patricia Clarkson, Friends with Benefits), there's not much Swanson-ous that stands out. He's basically boiled down to a campaign flunkie. I get that he wants to support Leslie, but it would have been more enjoyable to see a bit of tension between his political views and Leslie's. And he's the funniest, most memorable character on the show, so why waste that?
That One Romance
Not Andy and April's, which is another arc that yielded genuine laughs, but the utterly misguided attempt to bring Tom and Ann together. This made no sense and turned two likable characters into absolute morons. A big, big flop.
Now, all that being said, our household still watched every episode and found much to enjoy -- Andy's bucket list, the ice rink campaign event, Ron's gold hoarding, the design of the new parks logo, Perd Hapley, Bobby's cutthroat campaign manager, Andy's misadventures with Women's Studies -- and we'll eagerly tune in for Season Five. But, in the end, my high standards for this show were not met.
Universal's four-disc DVD set presents every episode (original and extended versions) in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby 5.1 Surround, with English SDH subtitles. Extras: Deleted scenes that are actually funny; a gag reel that is actually funny; webisodes that are actually funny; fake campaign ads that are actually funny; some assorted bonus footage that is actually funny; a fake music video that is actually funny; and the promo for The Voice.
On balance, Parks and Rec is still a funny show, but it needs a rebound in Season Five.
Not Guilty. How long until Ron gets his own spinoff?
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 471 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Campaign Ads
* Music Video
* Official Site