Parks and Recreation's Season 5 Premiere: Knope vs. Reality

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Parks and Recreation S05E01: "Ms. Knope Goes to Washington"

Leslie may have won the city council election in Parks and Recreation's Season 4 finale, but now she must face her biggest challenge yet: dealing with reality. How much change can a small town councilwoman really make? Our Leslie always shoots for the moon, and she was in top moon-shooting form at the start of last night's Season 5 premiere, "Ms. Knope Goes to Washington."

The whole gang was back, but half of them were running around Washington D.C. with Leslie as she tried to secure funding to clean up the Pawnee River. Andy and April, who continue to be one of my favorite TV couples EVER, seized the opportunity to take in the sites of our nation’s capital... in between makeout sessions. Andy, of course, was completely ignorant of all the national monuments: “There’s a mall?!” And of course Leslie’s trip served a dual purpose, as she also wanted to spend time with Ben, who in the Season 4 finale decided to relocate to D.C. to run a congressional campaign. But reality soon began to seep into Leslie’s idealistic vision of the change she can make as councilwoman, and she started comparing herself to all the uber-women she saw in D.C.

Back in Pawnee, Ron was running things as only Ron can: with as little empathy as possible. He'd been tapped to plan and execute the employee appreciation picnic, which Leslie always does with aplomb. But under Ron's rule, there would be no water slide, no pie eating contest, no vegetables, and most importantly, NO FUN. Instead, he introduced everyone to the pig he was planning to slaughter and roast. But that was a little too much reality for the likes of Ann, Tom (also the name of pig!), Chris, Donna and Jerry.

The contrast of Leslie’s vision of key government characteristics—altruism, hard work, and meritocracy—with Ron’s my-way-or-the-highway approach seemed to be the theme this week. One person’s reality is another person’s fantasy/nightmare.

Elsewhere, Tom and Ann, having made a drunk pact at the end of last season to move in together, were pretending to be in love, mostly so Tom wouldn't lose a bet to Donna. But the reality of a “Haverkins” household was anything but happily ever after. And I, for one, was happy to see this particular storyline end. Tom is best paired with his bromantic foil Jean-Ralphio (who is slated to return this season!).

Parks and Rec is emblematic of the best kind of comedy: Up the pathos, and the jokes will hit harder. We love(d) Cheers, Friends, and The Office because we loved and cared about the characters, not just the funny things that fell out of their mouths. We understood the hearts that pumped red blood through their veins. Parks and Rec has real characters. I can see them thinking before they speak. I’m drawn into their lives, which makes the funny things they say that much more rich, more real. And true to form, Leslie returned from D.C. not wallowing in self-pity, but ready to roll up her shirtsleeves and clean up that river by herself. She is “lead by example” personified, and this is why we love her. That, and the fact that she DOES look like Beverly D'Angelo!

This episode gave me hope for the coming season, although it did feel like I was putting on a comfortable, broken-in pair of jeans. There is a bit of wear and tear showing, and it might be time to start deepening the characters even more. Give new grist for the mill, you know? But with that said, "Ms. Knope Goes to Washington" was a strong episode and it was great to have the gang back. I, for one, am happy to be back in Pawnee.

QUESTIONS:

– Who else wants a MOUSE/RAT T-shirt!?

– What did you think of the D.C. cameos?

– Will Ann ever find love? Maybe she should date Bobby Newport!

– Do you think Ben will come back from D.C.? Do you want him to?

– If you were pitching new story arcs to the writers, what would you like to see happen this season?

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