‘Parks and Recreation’ Review: “Second Chunce”
'Parks and Recreation' returns from its winter break with an all-new episode, and they've brought a few familiar faces along with them! On her last day in office, a desperate Leslie plots her next career move, but she doesn't set her sights very far. Meanwhile, a very pregnant Ann and Chris debate over whether they want a boy or a girl, and Tom tries to figure out what to do with the money he earned from selling Rent-a-Swag.
"Second Chunce" is an episode all about taking the next step and moving forward into an uncertain future. There are certain things that we can know (the sex of Ann and Chris' baby, for instance), and certain things we can't (whether or not Leslie could win another seat on the city council), but in true 'Parks and Rec' spirit, it's all about finding the courage within yourself to propel forward and the grace to rely on your friends and loved ones for support.
And sure, that sounds awfully corny, but the episode is definitely a highlight of the season, and a strong return following the brief winter hiatus. It's got everything: a plucky Leslie fighting for her beliefs, April and Andy shenanigans, absurdly optimistic one-liners from Chris, the continued ignored brilliance of Jerry (or Larry... or Lenny... or whatever his name is this week), Tom's swagger, a Jean-Ralphio appearance, and even Ann gets to be really damn funny -- which isn't that common. With Rashida Jones leaving the show soon, it's nice to see that they've found a way to wrap up Ann's story, giving her character something to do while also making her more than just someone who's pleasant to have around. She's actually quite funny this week as a crazed pregnant woman, and I only wish we'd gotten to see a wackier side of Ann more often over the last six seasons.
We also get returning guest appearances from Henry Winkler as Dr. Saperstein and Kathryn Hahn as Jen Barclay, the latter of whom Ben hires to give Leslie some political advice. What I really love this week is something I've loved about the way 'Parks and Rec' has always handled the relationship between Ben and Leslie: their conflicts aren't filled with typical sitcom cliches, and it's always such a joy watching how relentlessly and genuinely supportive Ben is of Leslie's endeavors, even when he doesn't agree with them. Even though the entire office opposes her desire to run for council again, including Ben himself, Ben takes a different approach by hiring Jen to sit down with Leslie and give her some advice: it's not that anyone thinks it's a bad idea because Leslie sucks; it's that she's too damn good for the Pawnee city council, and she just needs to hear it from someone with a little more authority and no emotional ties to her situation. That Ben is one smart cookie.
While the show has occasionally gotten bogged down with redundant conflicts while Leslie was on the council, it does often find creative ways to explore the sorts of problems Leslie might face and the way that she and the people who love her would handle them. I hope we never get a "Will Ben cheat on Leslie" story like some of the stuff they pulled on the later seasons of 'The Office.'
Also great this week: Andy is back! His relationship with April is also such a joy to watch every week, and I love their goofy antics. And I'm a huge fan of April's "Time is money. Money is power. Power is pizza. Pizza is knowledge" line. I may need to get that engraved on something.
Everyone's looking toward the future this week and it's just so damn sweet: Ann and Chris with their baby; Leslie and Ben contemplating her future in a higher position in Pawnee (or elsewhere); and even Tom, who has created a new position for himself as Pawnee's business liaison. Life is pretty great for our friends in Pawnee right now, and what better way to illustrate all the love that's going around than by ending the episode with Leslie and Ben on a romantic vacation in Paris? Too adorable.