Title London, Part 1 & 2
Two-Sentence Summary Leslie heads to London to accept an award for her achievements as a woman in government, but the trip only serves to highlight the fact that the people she serves in Pawnee are trying to run her out of office. Meanwhile, Ron and Diane get married; Andy gets a job offer in London; Ann gets pregnant; and Tom gets into a feud with his Rent-a-Swag competitor, who happens to be Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa’s father.
Andy: I can’t believe we’re at Hogwarts!
Ben: No, that’s Buckingham Palace. Hogwarts is fictional; do you know that? It’s important to me that you know that.
My Thoughts Welcome back, Parks and Recreation; I’ve missed you so much. There’s something so comforting about turning on my TV on Thursday nights and knowing that I’m going to feel genuinely good about what I’m watching. There’s a comfort that Parks and Rec brings, but it’s a comfort born not of rehashed stories and static characters but rather of characters who are so well-developed that they re-enter your life every season as old friends; the changes in their stories feel natural and earned because we know them so well and because the writers know them even better than we do. And there were certainly a lot of changes that happened in this season premiere…
My biggest complaint with last season’s finale was that it didn’t emotionally engage me in the way the best episodes of Parks and Recreation do. Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when I found myself tearing up barely two minutes into this premiere. Ron’s proposal to Diane was perfect for a number of reasons (most of them canoe-related), and I loved what it meant for Ron’s growth as a character. This man, who used to want nothing to do with children, isn’t scared off by being a father and starting a new life with this woman and her two little girls. This man, who was scarred by two horrible marriages, is tired of not being married to Diane (anybody else LOVE that line?) and wants to make that happen as soon as possible.
In what was possibly the best cold open in the show’s history, Ron and Diane are married before the episode’s five-minute mark, but the rapid pacing felt exactly right for this couple. There’s no point in delaying the inevitable, and I love that this show isn’t afraid of taking what could have been a major Season Six storyline and relegating it to the first five minutes of the premiere simply because it feels organic to who these characters are. The wedding was nothing less than a perfect fit for this pair, and it allowed Amy Poehler to show Leslie’s particular brand of crazy so well. (Her reaction to the wedding news was one of the most hilarious parts of what was a very funny premiere.)
Parks and Rec is first and foremost a show about optimism in a cynical world, so it should come as no surprise that it handles weddings and relationships with such care. In this episode alone, we were given Ron’s ideal wedding; Ben’s unfailing support of his wife (including wearing a barrister wig without any argument because she thinks it has the potential to be sexy); April and Andy’s marriage continuing to be more solid than 99% of the relationships on other television shows; and Ann and Chris preparing for a family of their own.
I love that, like Ron’s wedding, Ann’s pregnancy was revealed in a very “no fuss” way. It wasn’t some drawn-out plot, but it was handled with both care and humor. Jerry’s descriptions of parenthood were both horrifying and hilarious, and I loved Donna’s powers of deduction. But what surprised me about Ann and Chris’s storyline was how genuinely sweet it was. That little moment between them on the couch—talking about their “olive” (or chickpea)—was filled with a very real kind of warmth and intimacy. I was originally on the fence about Ann’s pregnancy storyline, but as soon as it gave Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe a chance to act in more scenes together, I was on board. They have a very natural and easy chemistry.
Another relationship on Parks and Rec that has never felt forced is the one between Ann and Leslie. It made me so happy to see that both Ann and Chris were counting down until Leslie came home because they knew she would be overjoyed to hear their big news. And “overjoyed” seems like it isn’t even a strong enough word for the way Poehler and Jones played that scene; it made me emotional to see Leslie’s pure happiness for her best friend (who may or may not be a crab). That scene was also a painful reminder that I’m going to be an absolute mess when Jones and Lowe leave the show later this season.
The moment between Chris, Ann, their new baby, and Tom was another episode highlight for me. While I didn’t care a lot about Tom’s “Sapperstein situation,” it was nice to see him as the mature one, and any appearance by Henry Winkler is going to make me instantly happy.
Do you know who else makes me instantly happy? Chris Pratt. The show won’t be the same without him during the episodes he’ll be away, but I loved the way his temporary departure was set up. First of all, kudos to the writers for finding believable ways to work Pratt’s need to be in Europe and his fit new physique into the episode. I loved getting to see Andy find a British counterpart and new friend, but my favorite scene of his was the moment he shared with April after he was offered the job. Pratt seamlessly shifted between comedy (describing the lack of actual circus performers at Piccadilly Circus), real insecurity (his worries about running a nonprofit), and love for his wife. His chemistry with Aubrey Plaza has never been better than it was in that scene. April’s faith in Andy has always been one of her most humanizing traits, and it was on full display here. I’ll admit to getting more than a few tears in my eyes at the obvious strength of their marriage, which could have been written as a rash decision by impulsive kids but was instead allowed to grow, deepen, and mature to reflect the growth of these characters.
(And just a quick, shallow side note: Neither Pratt nor Plaza has ever looked better. That summer hiatus was really good to both of them.)
Character growth is what drove this episode, and it was a really beautiful thing to see from a show that could get complacent going into its sixth season. Instead, we are given a protagonist who is still growing, still making mistakes and learning from them. I don’t love the recall storyline because I’m fiercely protective of Leslie, but I like seeing her face real adversity—not even so much from the recall itself but from the conflict between her personality and the career she’s chosen for herself. Leslie isn’t perfect, but she’s a damn good civil servant—so it felt cathartic to hear her rant about the ungrateful people of Pawnee. But on the other hand, Ron is right; she knew what she was getting into when she chose this path. This conflict within Leslie between idealism and cynicism is incredibly interesting to me, and it makes for a much more compelling storyline than just the idea of a recall.
Ultimately, we all know that Leslie will never stop being Leslie—no matter how aggravating the “pee-pee heads” in Pawnee are. She’ll still clean up their slugs (with the help of Odie); she’ll still keep doing nice things for people. And sometimes, those people do stop and take a moment to thank her and to marvel at her generosity of spirit. That’s what made the ending of this episode so beautiful. Leslie, Queen of Gift-Giving, gave Ron perhaps the most perfect wedding gift ever: a scavenger hunt through Scotland to reach the Lagavulin distillery. The montage of Ron reading a Robert Burns poem while drinking Scotch and getting choked up at the beauty of both the landscape and the gift Leslie gave him is what makes Parks and Rec such an incredible show. It’s unafraid to let its characters be happy and to let us be happy with them and for them.
While Leslie gave Ron his ideal gift, April ended up giving Leslie hers. It was brilliant to close the episode with one of the show’s most cynical characters (at least on the surface) espousing the beauty of Leslie’s unfailing kindness and optimism. April has grown more than any other character on this show, and her relationship with Leslie is one of my favorite things about Parks and Rec. Her letter was sweet without being too sentimental; true to both her character and Leslie’s; and a guaranteed tear-jerker because of what it said about Leslie and what it said about April (I mean Satan), too.
From beginning to end, “London, Part 1 & 2” was filled with everything I’ve come to love about Parks and Rec: strong writing for all its characters, big laughs, and moments that put a tear in your eye and a warm feeling in your heart. It was my favorite Parks and Rec premiere ever, and literally the perfect way to start what’s sure to be another great season of my favorite show on TV.