Celebrating How Far Parks and Recreation Has Come

Much has been made of Rob Lowe and Adam Scott joining the cast of Parks & Rec, and rightfully so: Their debut on last week's episode was, to put it mildly, freakin' hilarious. But amidst all the fanfare, I couldn't help but think about just how far the show has come this season. It's quickly become one of my favorite things on all of TV, and there are a lot of factors that contributed before Sam Seaborn and Henry Pollard showed up:

1. The show figured out Leslie Knope
During Season 1, there was a lot of talk about the similarities between Leslie Knope and Michael Scott, the other belovedly awkward boss in the Greg Daniels/Mike Schur universe. But where Michael has a cruel side, there's not a mean bone in Leslie's body. She cares deeply for everyone she works with, and conflict arises when that blind caring gets in the way of her role in playing politics. Last week, for example, she put the entire department in jeopardy by going to bat for budget cuts that wouldn't get anybody laid off. She clearly doesn't have much of an internal filter, which allows her to say ridiculous things, like, all the time. The quality of her one-liners has improved drastically, and we're all thankful for that.

2. The mystery of Ron Swanson deepened, and the mustache remained bushier than ever
Duke Silver. Sleep punching. Breakfast foods. Offermanwoodshop.com. Okay, that last one isn't technically a part of the show, but Nick Offerman's woodworking skills made their way onto Parks & Rec right alongside his expert deadpan, and his character is all the richer for it. His intentions are much clearer now: He wants to do as little work as possible while still supporting his underlings. But Ron Swanson's extracurriculars and past are still very much shrouded in mystery. How great was the episode where his ex-wife returned? Pretty damn great, because unraveling the secrets of Ron "F-ing" Swanson is a constant delight.

3. Andy Dwyer took center stage
Andy went from naive to sweetly naive as the season progressed, and the subtle shift meant his fellow characters wanted him around instead of seeing him as a burden. Leslie even went so far as to employ him as a shoe shiner in the wake of his break-up with Ann. Now, when he hits on April, shows up naked at Ann's door, pretends to be an FBI agent, or flubs up during a Mouse Rat show, we're all rooting for the guy. And Chris Pratt's amazing physical comedy certainly doesn't hurt, either.

4. The town of Pawnee became the show's unsung hero
Fleshing out the location itself gave the show plenty of toys to play with to keep things fresh and unexpected. The parks department has an ongoing feud with the library system? Sweetums, the chief Pawnee export, is secretly brainwashing people? The town's history is marred with racism and regret? The richer the universe, the funnier the show—just ask The Simpsons.

5. They filled the pit
I have no idea now where the show is going, and given all the great pieces it's put into place in Season 2, I can't wait to find out.

The Season 2 finale of Parks and Recreation airs tonight at 8:30pm on NBC.

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