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TV Tonight: Parks and Recreation Goes Big and Goes Home

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“Go Big or Go Home” was the title of the premiere episode of Parks and Recreation‘s third (and best) season and the guiding philosophy of civil servant Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), who since went on to run for and win a spot on the Pawnee, Indiana city council. The season five premiere of the show, tonight, both goes big and goes home, as the season broadens its scope to take in Washington politics (very low level Washington politics) but also keeps intimate focus on life in Pawnee.

In tonight’s episode, Leslie visits D.C. for two purposes: to see boyfriend Ben (Adam Scott), now working on a Congressional campaign, and to make a pitch for funds for a Pawnee parks program. Without giving too much away (if you don’t want to know anything, skip this post and the trailer above), the double purpose of Leslie’s trip touches on two things that have made Parks and Rec special. First, within the context of a comedy about eccentric bureaucrats, it’s developed a believable, relatable story about two ambitious people making a relationship work without sacrificing their careers. Second, one reason that Parks is able to make a comedy about politics without being shrill or snide is that it’s about the small stuff–local government in particular, which is less about ideology and more about getting things done. As the ultra-ambitious, optimistic Leslie gets closer to the cynical heart of national politics, the show has a lot of potential to develop her character and further expand its already richly-detailed Pawnee universe.

How much time it will have to do that, I don’t know: it’s way to early to know the show’s fate beyond this season, but NBC has sent pretty unambiguous signals that it wants to move on from its niche, critical-darling Thursday comedies to sitcoms that are broader, with (so the network believes) more potential audience upside. 30 Rock is ending after this year, and while I want to keep hope (and Knope) alive, I don’t know if Parks will have another year past this one anyway. But the premiere—maybe the best Parks episode since “The Comeback Kid” in January—gives me hope that this will be a capital season.