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‘Parks and Recreation’ Review: “London Parts 1 and 2″

Parks and Recreation London
NBC

Parks and Recreation‘ returns for season 6, and (most of) the gang is headed to London! And if you thought last season was filled with marriage and baby surprises, “London Parts 1 and 2″ ups the ante considerably with a quickie marriage and — unsurprisingly — a second baby on the way. This week’s two-parter deals with what happens when the reactions our characters get aren’t what they expected.

There’s a bit of time-skipping in the first half of “London” — we start out with a fast wedding between Ron and Diane, though we learn he already intended to propose before the pregnancy was discovered (and with the most adorable carved-wood ring box). A month later, and Ann is pregnant with the baby she’s so desperately wanted, which helps put the wheels in motion for the exit of Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe (boo!). And down the line, Leslie, Ben, April, Andy (a much more slim Chris Pratt, whose involvement with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ necessitated the London episode this week), and Ron all head to London to accept an International Coalition of Women award that Leslie won after April nominated her.

Leslie’s story sets the theme of the hour — even though she was nominated for the award and her townspeople should be proud, and even though she’s been working face to face with the residents to personally help with any and all of their banal problems, they still think she’s the worst. After everything she’s done for Pawnee, the town still thinks they’d be better off without her, which isn’t the reaction she thought she’d get.

Unexpected reactions fill this week’s episode, like Ben and Andy’s meeting with Lord Edward Covington — a wealthy British man who runs a charity organization but has no idea what he’s doing. Covington (guest star Peter Serafinowicz) is the British version of Andy, but with money and toy helicopters and a castle, and he wants Andy to stay and help him figure out how to run the charity. It’s a clever way to explain away Pratt’s need to be in London for most of the season, but it also gives us the opportunity to see April and Andy function apart, and their distance last year while April was in D.C. provided the show with some pretty sweet material.

Also unexpected this week is the discovery that Tom’s competitor is Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa’s dad, Dr. Saperstein (who also happens to be Ann’s baby doctor, and is played by a perfectly-cast Henry Winkler). Seems the Saperstein kids have been telling lies about poor Tom, and daddy Saperstein is out for monetary revenge. Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa always make such delightful appearances, but this week we get Saperstein overload, and it veers into territory that’s a bit too cartoonish for these beloved characters. Jean-Ralphio (and, by extension, Mona Lisa) work best in smaller doses — a few episodes a season or even a random appearance here and there really goes a long way.

Meanwhile, Ann and Chris are starting to have second thoughts about the baby — not that they don’t want one or think it’s too hasty a decision; it’s just that people aren’t as excited about the baby as they are. After months of trying to conceive and sharing so much of their personal lives with their friends, everyone seems sort of unimpressed. Like Leslie, Ann and Chris need to learn that as long as something matters to you and is fulfilling to your life, then screw what everyone else thinks.

Unfortunately, Leslie can’t just dismiss the Pawnee residents, and even does the opposite of that during her awards ceremony speech, in which she calls them “pee-pee heads” for being so ungrateful and refusing to thank her for all the good she does. But as Ron points out, you can’t go into a thankless job expecting gratitude — you keep your chin up and keep doing the right thing. Leslie got into government work to make Pawnee a better place (and hopefully some day make America a better place; Leslie Knope for President!), but getting people to realize that she’s improved their lives is going to take time, and she can’t force it.

Amid all the unexpected and undesired reactions this week, we get one great reaction: Leslie sends Ron on a train to Scotland as a wedding gift, with detailed instructions for his trip, and she finds something even the Euro-phobe Ron can love — boat rides, hill country, and a visit to the Lagavulin scotch distillery so he can see how his favorite beverage is made and enjoy it in its home country, along with a beautiful poem that drives him to tears. Leslie may not seem like a great person to everyone in Pawnee, but her friends know better.

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