'Parks and Recreation': Behold the Pyramid of Greatness

parks-and-rec-s3-320.jpgIt's a beautiful thing, the return of "Parks and Recreation."

The show was one of the two or three funniest comedies on TV when it finished its second season, and it begins its third season having lost none of its mojo. (This episode and the five after it were shot right after the end of Season 2 to accommodate Amy Poehler's pregnancy.)

In Pawnee time, three months have passed, months in which Leslie and the rest of the parks staff have been furloughed because of budget cuts. The previously-on at the top of the episode caught us up on what came before, and here's what happened in the premiere, "Go Big or Go Home."

The parks department

The show opens with Leslie getting the band back together, and aside from Ron being peeved to give up his woodchopping and Jerry's dismay at Leslie throwing his lovely landscape painting into the water, everyone seems pretty happy to go back to work. Except they're not really doing much work: The department only has enough money to do basic maintenance and run a two-team youth basketball league ("In Indiana, if you don't provide a basketball league," Ben notes, "they throw things at you and call you names ... like Turd-Boy").

Leslie has much, much bigger ideas (color-coded into stacks of binders), and she recruits Ann into trying to get Chris to open up the budget by going out with him: "Would you be cool doing things that a prostitute does?" Ann: "Uh ..." Leslie: "Minus the money?" Ann: "Definitely yes then." That goes south when Leslie, the least sneaky person ever, inadvertently reveals the plan, giving Chris his first-ever bad date and putting Leslie on thin ice. Until, that is, she hits on an even better idea to revive the Pawnee Harvest Festival, which could actually make money for the city while restoring some civic pride. A moved-to-tears Chris (more on the genius of Rob Lowe below) and Ben give their OK, and there's your plot arc for the first half of the season.

The Pyramid of Greatness

One other thing that remains intact in Season 3 is the awesomeness of Ron Swanson, who coaches one of the kids' hoops teams in a Bobby Knight-esque red sweater and introduces his charges to the Pyramid of Greatness, which he says will turn "boys into men, men into gladiators, and gladiators into Swansons." Pretty much everything about the basketball scenes -- from Ron's tough-but-fair coaching, Tom's ladies' sneakers and terrible refereeing both before and after his ex shows up to be with Ron, Andy's self-inflicted Gatorade shower, even Ron's chair toss (which was a little on the nose) -- was gold.

April and Andy

April is an expert at holding grudges, so it's not a surprise that she's still stonewalling Andy three months after Ann kissed him. It's also not a surprise that Andy hasn't figured out why she's not returning his calls and texts. Slightly more surprising is the fact that she went to Venezuela and returned with a boyfriend. Undeterred, Andy vows to step his game up. April remains unmoved, telling her new boyfriend Eduardo that Andy's thinking about becoming a woman. Oh, those two kids.

Rob Lowe: Comic genius

Saying the name "Ann Perkins" isn't in and of itself funny, even if it's repeated over and over. But as Chris, who has a habit of repeating someone's full name every time he sees her, Lowe gave "Ann Perkins" at least four different inflections, all of them perfectly pitched to his mood. (The show also did a smart thing in explaining why Chris is so upbeat all the time -- he was born with a blood disorder and wasn't supposed to live past three weeks.) Lowe and the writers have created something like the polar opposite of Ron Swanson, and it's an absolutely brilliant character. Lowe's carriage, his line readings, the perpetually stunned/happy look on his face -- it's all great.

Despite this being essentially a stage-setting episode, "Parks and Rec" managed to pack a lot of character moments and excellent comedy into its debut half-hour. It's a fine start to Season 3.

Some of the night's best lines:

  • Ron, after the parks staff is all back at the office: "I am not usually one for speeches -- so goodbye."
  • Ann, discussing Chris asking her out with Leslie: "He's nothing if not persistent. And hot. He's very -- he's pretty hot. Yeah, he hot. But he's intense. But he's really, really hot. But he's your boss ..."
  • Andy, on the joys of coaching: "It can be hard work, but every time I look one of those kids in the eyes and he calls me 'Coach,' that's how I know ... I agreed to be a coach."
  • Leslie, prepping Ann for her date with Chris: "What's sexy food -- asparagus? No ... you know what's sexy? Turkey chili. Mmmmm."

Happy to have Leslie and Co. back on your TV? What did you think of the premiere?

Photo/Video credit: NBC