'Parks and Recreation': It's a wonderful Knope

citizen-knope2.jpgThe emotional, extremely romantic ending to last week's "Parks and Recreation" was going to be a tough act to follow: There's no way the show could reach those heights two weeks in a row, right?

"Citizen Knope" might not have quite gotten there, but -- and this is something of a Christmas-episode miracle -- it managed to be pretty much the hilarious, touching equal of "The Trial of Leslie Knope," even as it centered on a very different story.

"Trial" was almost solely about the romance between Ben and Leslie, but "Parks and Rec" widened its focus this week to show the genuine love that Leslie has for her co-workers and friends, and what she gives in return. That alone would have made for a fine episode, but the fact that we also got a good deal of manic Leslie, a very emotional Ron Swanson and the return of both Jean-Ralphio and Dennis Feinstein? And a "Friday Night Lights" shout-out? That's almost too much good stuff in one half-hour.

Although she's suspended from duty, Leslie of course still tries to do her job, stealthily transferring files from her computer and running away from Chris when he catches her. Cut off from official work -- and dumped by her campaign advisers after her poll numbers go in the tank -- she forms a citizens group, the Parks Committee of Pawnee*. While on PCP, she's going a mile a minute, making demands at public forums, having her minions stalk Chris at area GNC stores and generally being a gung-ho nutcase, which is one of the strongest cards in Amy Poehler's deck.

(*Small quibble: If the people who join her in PCP are active enough in Pawnee to attend community meetings and the like, wouldn't they already know who she is? That didn't really track.)

Somewhere in there, she finds time to buy note-perfect Christmas gifts for everyone in the parks department (as well as Ann and Chris) and offer Ben some encouragement as he looks for a new job. Which is a little bit insane, but perfectly in character for Leslie as she tries to put the apparent end of her city council campaign out of her mind by going full-bore in every other aspect of her life.

Unbeknownst to her, though, Ann is spearheading an effort to give Leslie the perfect gift -- a gingerbread model of the parks department office, with people and furniture rendered in other sweets. Given Leslie's love of work and sugar, Ann has clearly struck gold, even if Ron thinks a wooden model would be much, much better.

In that way, Ron and Leslie are not so different: They both like to do things themselves and not ask for help. That, in turn, helps explain why Ron almost cries for just the third time in his life at a couple of points in the episode. Though he'd never actually admit it, he really does love Leslie, and he is, in fact, willing to do whatever damn thing she needs to help her.

So when Ben leads her to the office (and, in a nice little touch, knows to let her be with the people who have known her for so long) and Leslie sees not only the awesome gift but the willingness of her friends to help restart her campaign, well, it's just kind of awesome. It's a great capper to the first half of the season and sets up a lot of potential stories for the second half. Clear eyes, full hearts.

Other thoughts on "Citizen Knope":

  • Ben's slow realization that he doesn't have to take a safe accounting job -- and very fast realization that working for Dennis Feinstein is absolutely not the right call -- was very nicely played by Adam Scott. I don't see how this doesn't lead to Ben becoming Leslie's campaign manager, but that also feels like it has a lot of potential as a story.
  • Let's all take a moment to marvel at the sheer volume of Jean-Ralphio's hair tonight. OK -- that out of the way, it was kind of brilliant to have him be among the people to steer Ben in the right direction. Here's hoping "House of Lies" gives Ben Schwartz good material, because he's been fantastic on "Parks and Rec." (The tag at the end of the episode with him trying to snake Ben's job -- also brilliant.)
  • Did you catch the T-shirt slogan for Leslie's group? "PCP makes it fun."
  • Which of Leslie's gifts was your favorite? It's a tough call between Tom's "Baller Time" watch and the painting of April having slain the Black Eyed Peas. (Which, incidentally, is one of two BEP disses on NBC tonight -- Robert California also slags them on "The Office.)

What did you think of "Parks and Rec's" final episode of 2011?
Photo/Video credit: NBC