There is an underlying theme to the season six premiere of NBC's Parks and Recreation that has to deal with Leslie (Amy Poehler) getting her groove back and renewing her love for Pawnee despite its townspeople currently hating her and trying to recall her councilwoman status. While she has always been an overly enthusiastic character who loves everyone and everything more than it deserves, even she has been dulled of some of her shine by the apathy and pettiness she has come up against. But the message of not "chasing applause" is not only one that Leslie takes to heart in "London" but one the show seems to be solidifying it has, too. Parks and Recreation has been the little show that could for a number of seasons. It started out for some almost written off completely after its short first season and still went under-appreciated by many for the seasons that followed. Though it has started getting more and more critical acclaim and social media buzz in the last two seasons, the writers are staunchly standing their ground in the show they're making and are not actively changing things to appeal to this more mainstream success. In its sixth season, Parks and Recreation promises to deliver the same heart-warming humor mixed with colorful characters it always has while taking some big story swings.
Admittedly there are a few characters you may not recognize at first when Parks and Recreation returns with its hour-long season premiere. This is not a commentary on any sort of drastic physical changes but instead the notion that a couple of key players have come a long, long way from the rigid, specific personality types we met them to be. Thanks to the influence and friendship of Leslie Knope, even the toughest people to whom to break through have come around and are experiencing real bouts of emotion-- for themselves, as well as for others, especially Leslie herself. It's this kind of character growth that more comedies should be layering in, but it's the way in which the growth is exhibited that makes Parks and Recreation one of the rare long-running shows that still manages to surprise its audience.
"London" best showcases this with April's (Aubrey Plaza) actions, submitting Leslie for a prestigious award whose ceremony takes place in England, launching the reason for the location change in the first place. Much like the jaunt to D.C. in last season's premiere, the city is exploited for all its production value worth as Leslie leads her team around the sites and debates whether or not to take them on the Noting Hill, Love Actually, or Bridget Jones "official" tours. Of course there is a lot of humor to be had with characters adapting, or lack thereof, to the differences across the pond. Ron (Nick Offerman) refusing to pay with anything but American money is one thing, Andy (Chris Pratt) not even realizing they drive on the other side of the road is another. But being there also allows Leslie a rare perspective at how other governments run things and treat their officials, and that sets in motion a whole new line of thinking for the woman who wanted nothing more than to climb the ranks of government in her own small town.
Last season when Leslie was asking everyone in Pawnee whether or not they were better off now than a year earlier, before she was in office, she never stopped to ask herself the same question. She never stopped to consider if all she was doing was worth it, if it was all she had dreamed and still wanted. While she doesn't explicitly do that now in the sixth season premiere, either, the events of the episode render it almost unnecessary because she comes to similar conclusions simply by new experiences and interactions. Heidi Klum as a beloved government official from Denmark may be the biggest eye-opener for how the other side can live, but just being in a different society, experiencing their culture for all it is in general is something that will enrich Leslie and make her a better rounded woman, let alone government employee.
"London" isn't as serious as maybe we're making it sound, though. True to Parks and Recreation's form, there are some downright silly moments and interactions to cause you to laugh out-loud, too. Most of these come from Andy's immediate bonding with surprise kindred spirit Lord Eddie (Peter Serafinowicz), who he and Ben (Adam Scott) are trying to convince to help them turn their music non-profit into an international adventure, as well as the early results of Ron learning it is actually his girlfriend (Lucy Lawless) who is pregnant and the ongoing ramifications of Tom (Aziz Ansari) tracking down the owner of his new Rent-A-Swag competition.
Knowing that both Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones are exiting the series in just a few episodes that follow the premiere, their separate but still important storyline feels both bittersweet and yet spot on in the season premiere. They have both become integral parts of the show, though to varying degrees, so spending time with them alone is a way of phasing them out while causing the least amount of disturbance. They're still a couple on the show, and couples often segregate themselves when they have big, all-encompassing life moments they are working towards. And where Ann isn't for Leslie in this premiere, April comfortably steps in, so no void is ever felt, all while evolving characters even further.
Parks and Recreation packs so many key, perfect individual moments into its season premiere, it's hard to imagine the season will only get better from here. Yet because of the show's track record and continued creativity, we know that is going to be the case. And we have never been more excited to see what comes next.
Parks and Recreation returns to NBC on September 26 2013 at 8 p.m.
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