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‘Parks and Recreation’ Review: “New Beginnings”

Parks and Recreation New Beginnings
NBC

On tonight’s new episode of ‘Parks and Recreation,’ Leslie settles into her new (old) job, but fears that she might not be needed, while Ben acclimates to his new job as City Manager and gets pranked by Donna, April, and Andy. Meanwhile, Tom prepares for his first big presentation as business liaison, and Ann and Chris discuss the possibility of — wait for it — marriage! Or not. Well, maybe. We’ll see. 

I hate to say it, as much as I love Jon Glaser as Jeremy Jamm on ‘Parks and Rec,’ I’m enjoying our respite from his character in the last couple of episodes. I think the show had indulged in his villainy a bit too much to the point where he became cartoonish and redundant. While I do hope we see him again, I think a little Jamm goes a long way.

Anyway! Tonight Leslie returns to her old job as Deputy Director of the Parks Department, but she’s shocked to find out that life was going on without her — and her rules and binders and codes. She was left out of the spirit dog wall (nice callback) and with Tom as business liaison and April running the animal control department, everyone’s become a little more self-sufficient. But that’s not going to keep Leslie from creating her own conflict in an effort to feel relevant, by interfering with Tom’s business plans: he’s bringing in a new and highly profitable lemonade stand to replace Stu of Stu’s Stews, who’s retiring. The whole scenario has a nice little metaphorical undercurrent about being able to let go of the old and make room for the new — Leslie needs to let go and realize that Tom is not the Tom he used to be and have a little faith in his abilities.

This arc also gives us some of that classic Leslie and Ron bonding, and moments like discovering that Ron keeps a giant parcel of bacon hidden in the ceiling above his desk. Additionally, it further builds upon the foundation that was built with Jen Barclay’s previous visit, by hinting that Leslie is moving on to bigger and better things — Ron tells her to be proud of how much April and Tom have changed, and it’s because of her hard work. When she’s gone, they can handle things on their own without her. It seems that the writers are sort of building to a possible series conclusion in case ‘Parks and Rec’ isn’t picked up for another season, which I hate to think about, so I won’t.

Meanwhile, Ben is just as tightly wound as Leslie, but is taking it out on his employees. In an effort to demand their respect, he comes up with a binder filled with strict, micro-managerial rules, restricting their use of social media, cell phones, and even the bathroom. To retaliate, Donna, April, and Andy prank the hell out of him by having him arrested for smuggling illegal cheese from France, which leads to Ben making a horrifically awkward and hilarious attempt to prank them back. Watching Ben as he tries to force his way through something he feels really uncomfortable with is a total highlight, especially with his grammatically wonky recitations of carefully planned dialogue. Oh, Ben.

As we continue to build up to the departure of Ann and Chris, who I thought would probably be gone already (though I am not complaining), the pair decide to get married, since they’re practically married already. So off they run to the jewelry store to pick out a ring, only to decide that maybe they don’t need to be married since they’re so unconventional about everything else … but then they think they should get married … or not. They flip-flop on the issue, driving the jeweler to his wit’s end before deciding on a locket instead, and while it’s a cute enough little story that reaffirms their love, it’s probably the least of the three tonight.

While “New Beginnings” isn’t as big on laughs as last week’s episode, it delivers on the promise of the title: we see how Ben starts to adjust to his new job as City Manager, and how he struggles to balance his friendship with his responsibility; we watch as Leslie struggles to settle back into her old position, only to find that things aren’t going to be exactly how she left them — in fact, they’re better; and we watch with fondness as Ann and Chris take another step on the path to their future — kind of.

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