Judge Patrick Bromley lives by the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness
Our reviews of Parks And Recreation: Season One (published September 8th, 2009), Parks And Recreation: Season Two (published November 30th, 2010), and Parks and Recreation: Season Four (published September 5th, 2012) are also available.
"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I read that one on a can of lemonade. I like to think it applies to life."
NBC has slowly been rebuilding their monster Thursday night lineup of comedy in recent years, and new kids Community and Parks and Recreation have completely overshadowed mainstays 30 Rock and The Office. Though it didn't receive a whole season last year—low ratings and star Amy Poehler's pregnancy pushed the series to mid-season—Parks and Rec finally returned in January for its best season to date. Now, that season is available on DVD to show you what you've been missing.
Facts of the Case
Here are the sixteen episodes that make up Parks and Recreation: Season Three:
• "Flu Season" The Parks Department staff is hit hard by a flu virus, landing Leslie, Chris and April in the hospital; April tries to make Ann's life hell during her hospital stay; Andy fills in as assistant to Ron (Nick Offerman, Deadwood).
• "Time Capsule" The city of Pawnee gets up in arms when a citizen (Will Forte, MacGruber) demands that the Twilight novels be added to the Parks Department's time capsule.
• "Ron & Tammy: Part Two" Ron's ex-wife Tammy (Megan Mullaley, Monkeybone) returns, and the results are a blackout night in which Ron ends up in jail; Chris announces that he is returning to Indianapolis; April tries to do a terrible job as Chris's new assistant so that she can get fired.
• "Media Blitz" Leslie embarks on a press tour with Ben (Adam Scott, Torque) to promote the Harvest Festival, but things take a disastrous turn when every media outlet only wants to talk about Ben's days as an 18-year-old mayor; Andy does favors for April to win her back; Ann is worried about the future of her relationship with Chris.
• "Indianapolis" Leslie and Ron travel to Indianapolis to receive a commendation, but Ron can only focus on visiting his favorite steak house; Ann suspects Chris is cheating on her, but the truth of the situation is staring her right in the face; Tom (Aziz Ansari, Funny People) recruits Ben for a night at the Snakehole to help him pitch his new fragrance, "Tommy Fresh."
• "Harvest Festival" The Harvest Festival has finally arrived, and Leslie scores Pawnee's favorite treasure, a miniature horse named Li'l Sebastian; the entire city of Pawnee suspects there is a Native American curse on the Harvest Festival; April and Andy fight when one of them says "I love you" first.
• "Camping" Worried that she peaked with the Harvest Festival, Leslie gets the whole Parks Department to take a camping trip so that she can be inspired with another big idea; Tom and Ben enjoy the comforts of home outdoors; Chris and Ann finally clear the air about their relationship.
• "Andy and April' Fancy Party" Andy and April invite everyone to their house and ask their guests to bring lavish gifts, but the party turns out to be something else entirely; Ann and Donna (Retta, Sex and Death 101) attend a singles event together.
• "Soulmates" Leslie signs up for an online dating service and is shocked to see who the site sets her up with; Chris bans red meat from government buildings as part of a health initiative and ends up in a hamburger cook-off with Ron.
• "Jerry's Painting" Jerry (Jim O'Heir, Accepted) paints a picture depicting a Greek goddess that looks a lot like Leslie, only topless, causing a stir among the citizens of Pawnee; Ben rents a room in Andy and April's house and has to teach them how to be adults.
• "The Fight" Leslie suggests that Ann take a part time job at City Hall, but Ann is a little preoccupied with her active social life; the staff has a night out to celebrate Tom's new alcoholic drink, Snake Juice.
• "Road Trip" Ben and Leslie struggle to not break Chris's rules while taking a road trip together; Tom tries out a new game show called "Know Ya Boo," leading to a fight between Andy and April.
• "The Bubble" Leslie freaks out when Ben has to do business with her mother; Tom is assigned to the scary fourth floor for a temporary project; Ron gets a new desk to make him more accessible.
• "Li'l Sebastian" The Parks Department organizes a memorial when the city's beloved mascot, Li'l Sebastian, dies; Leslie and Ben run into trouble while trying to keep their secret; Tom faces new career prospects; Chris faces his own mortality.
Watching Parks and Recreation evolve into one of the best sitcoms on the air in just three seasons has been one of the great pleasures of my TV viewing in the last few years. After a patchy start that too closely resembled elements of The Office (and with good reason; both shows center around a workplace, are told in faux-documentary style and were created by Greg Daniels), the series really found its footing during its excellent second season. By Season Three, it's become a monster thanks to some very sharp writing and the permanent addition of two new cast members in Rob Lowe and Adam Scott.
It's taken me a while to figure out why Parks and Recreation is as enjoyable as it is, and I think I've put my finger on it. It's an utterly positive show in an era where so much mainstream comedy depends on awkwardness and discomfort. Take The Office, for example, I show I once loved and still like, and the show to which this one is compared the most often. That's a pretty dark sitcom, built on the misery of the characters and their basic disdain for one another. It's about people who hate their jobs and have to invent ways to get themselves through another day. Parks and Recreation, on the other hand, features an ensemble that all genuinely like each other and their jobs. They're happy to be at work. It means something to them (all but Ron Swanson, of course, but therein lies the beauty of that character), and they all want to do good things. It helps that the show is set in city government, where good things are possible, and not a mid-level paper company, but it's also easy to see where a show with the exact same setting could be cynical and condescending about what can be accomplished on such a small scale. The series actually started out that way, but it's good to see Greg Daniels and company embracing a different attitude towards the Parks Department; yes, their achievements may seem small at times, but that doesn't mean they can't matter.
It's hard to make things like optimism and idealism funny, but Parks and Recreation manages, thanks to some of the best dialogue writing on TV; line for line, joke for joke, there are few shows funnier than this one. It's not as ambitious or inventive as something like Community or as experimental as Louie, but for what it wants to accomplish, it's one of the best sitcoms on television. If Amy Poehler doesn't start winning Emmys for her portrayal as Leslie Knope, the system is broken (the system is already broken); what started out as just a clueless, female Michael Scott has evolved into one of the funniest and most engaging characters on TV. The whole ensemble is incredible, actually, with every actor playing perfectly to his or her strengths. Improving the show even more this season are the contributions of the two new cast members: Rob Lowe has taken what is essentially a one-joke character and come up with an inspired comic creation; his character never manages to get old (and he should) and keeps finding new and surprising ways to be funny. Adam Scott is one of those guys who took a long time to be fully appreciated but who makes almost any project better, and while it took Parks and Rec some time to figure out what to do with the character (he started off as just another straight man—pretty much a Paul Schneider stand-in, and nobody was looking for that), there's a lot of promise in where he goes in the second half of the season. He and Amy Poehler manage to be dorky and sweet without every trying to appear cute, and that's not necessarily easy.
Parks and Recreation: Season Three arrives on DVD in a three-disc set courtesy of Universal, who once again does a terrific job with the show. All 16 episodes are presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The shows themselves look great: bright, colorful and without any problematic flaws or digital noise; since it doesn't appear the series is ever going to get an HD release, let's be happy that the DVDs look this good. The 5.1 audio mix is mostly concentrated in the front center channel, which delivers the dialogue clearly and without distortion. When the zippy opening theme kicks in, it's a little too loud compared to the rest of the audio, but even that issue is pretty minor. Overall, the audio is very satisfying.
It's in the bonus features department that improvisation-heavy shows like this and The Office really shine, because we get all sorts of deleted and alternate scenes, outtakes and much, much more. Commentary tracks have been provided on six of the episodes: "Flu Season," "Ron and Tammy 2," "Harvest Festival," "Camping," "The Fight" and "Li'l Sebastian" from a rotating lineup of cast and creative personnel, including Daniels, Poehler, Offerman, Mullaley (Offerman's real-life wife) and more. The tracks are all a good mix of jokey group dynamics and solid production information, such as what it was like working around Poehler's pregnancy for part of the season, the new additions to the cast and more. Three of the episodes, "Harvest Festival," "The Fight" and "Li'l Sebastian," are also available to view in the slightly longer "Producer's Cut" format.
Most of the episodes come with several minutes of deleted scenes, which can be viewed individually or via a "Play All" feature on each disc. The extra material was excised for a good reason, as most of it would have slowed down the series' impressive pacing; still, if you're a fan of the show and it's characters, you can just consider the deleted scenes more a good thing. Almost every collection is good for at least a couple of laughs. The set also contains what might be one of the best blooper reels of all time—not necessarily because it's so funny (though it is amusing, because funny people making mistakes is an improvement over unfunny people making mistakes), but because it's so well produced. It runs about the length of an episode, and is broken up by "commercial breaks," including a spot for the "Crazy Ira and the Douche" radio show and a very funny summer movie-inspired promo for "Ron & Tammy 2."
Rounding out the supplemental section are a couple more fake commercials, some TV promos and a short tribute to "Li'l Sebastian."
Like Community, the other masterful sitcom in NBC's Thursday night lineup (and a show I prefer ever so slightly), the ratings for Parks and Recreation are criminally low. That's incredible, considering how good the show has gotten, and how many lesser shows score bigger numbers every week. Thankfully, NBC continues to show some faith in the series and will be bringing it back for a fourth season. If you're not already watching it, you should be. This is one of the three best comedies on television.
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