The title of the return episode of Parks and Recreation was “Go Big or Go Home,” which had meaning on a few levels. It was Leslie’s advice to Andy about April; it was Leslie’s philosophy in proposing the Harvest Festival, doubling down on the Parks department’s ability to make life better for Pawnee; and it seems, in a meta sense, like a mission statement for this season, which hopes to increase the show’s audience (with that primo Office lead-in) and raise the stakes with this running (and timely) budget-crunch arc.
We’ve talked a lot about how the show has improved and evolved since its brief first season, but ironically season 3 is also returning to one of the devices which worked best in that season, which is giving the office a single public-service goal to work toward. Then it was the pit, now it’s the Harvest Festival. This gives the individual episodes greater momentum, helps keep the show from becoming solely about the various relationships, and more important, reminds us that the show is about something: the idea, maybe quaint-seeming in this political climate, that civil servants can actually see themselves as servants and work in their community’s interests. (Even if the community can be challenging to deal with, and the results, like the city basketball league here, wacky.)
The new episode was also big in a story sense, doing a ton of lifting: introducing possibly new viewers (with the intro reel and great get-the-gang-back-together sequence), working in references to past seasons (e.g., Leslie’s local-hero status at The Bulge), beefing up Adam Scott and Rob Lowe’s bad-cop-good-cop roles, advancing the Andy-April-Ann and Ron-Tom-Wendy storylines, developing the big story arc and playing out the basketball plot all at once.
Excellent start, and from what I’ve seen, it gets better. Here’s hoping some new viewers checked it out. Now for a quick hail of bullets:
* I would have expected Adam Scott to be great in his role, as he’s born to play the kind of dry, put-upon character he is here. (Again, for the 6 people who watched Party Down, Ben’s backstory–too-early success met with an embittering downfall–is a lot like Henry Pollard’s.) But Lowe has been a very pleasant surprise; he makes you almost see the bubble of insane (yet enviable) positivity Chris is encased in.
* “It says here you only have money for two teams.” “Yeah, they’re going to develop a great rivalry!”
* “Would you be cool doing things that a prostitute does?” “Uh…” “Minus the money?”
* Love how Andy and Ron’s teams became extensions of themselves on the court. (“Mouse Rat!” Never not funny.)
* Leslie’s attempt to imagine a seduction scenario was pretty much perfect for her character. Turkey chili and a tuxedo vest—every man’s dream.
* “You taking a rest, or are you hurt? Taking a rest? Smart.”
* “The newspaper headline was, ICE TOWN COSTS ICE CLOWN HIS TOWN CROWN. [Sighs.] They were big into rhymes.”
* Even to this non-basketball fan, Ron’s transformation into Bobby Knight was pretty brilliant. But enough of what I think! You want to see the complete Swanson Pyramid of Greatness. And so you shall.