Here at EW, Fall TV Wish List is a new weekly series in which our TV critics Melissa Maerz and Jeff Jensen weigh in on what they hope the coming season will bring for some of their favorite shows. Today: NBC’s Parks and Recreation, which premieres its sixth season on Sept. 26.
WHERE WE LEFT OFF
Ace “detective” work by Bert Macklin revealed that manly-man master woodsman Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) and his mustache (as himself) had conceived a child with his single mom girlfriend Diane (Lucy Lawless). After refusing to sell Rent-A-Swag to a mystery buyer (Diddy?!), Tom (Aziz Ansari) learned that said mystery buyer was opening a rival shop across the street. April (Aubrey Plaza) was accepted to Veterinary School; wither the impact on her marriage to Andy (Chris Pratt)? And after a seemingly successful rookie year as a crusading councilwoman, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) was sandbagged during Founders’ Week by a flotilla of Knope haters who announced they were launching a recall campaign. At least she has local porn star Brandi Maxxx in her corner. That’s gotta be worth something, right?
WHAT I LOVED ABOUT LAST SEASON
So very, very much… although given how Parks & Recreation didn’t land an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy, what the Knope do I know?! Moving Leslie from the Parks & Rec to City Council had little negative impact on the fifth-year sitcom’s ensemble dynamics. It also provided new sources of story and allowed scummy councilman-dentist Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser) to swell into a fine, recurring foil for Leslie. Rent-A-Swag, Ron & Diane, and, for the most part, Ann’s (Rashida Jones) pregnancy quest and (inevitable; finally!) rekindled romance with Chris (Rob Lowe) were all winning moves, and “Bailout” — the one where Leslie’s well-meaning bid to save Pawnee’s best video store results in publicly funding Pawnee’s best porn palace – ranks (in my book) as the best P&R ep ever. The Leslie and Ben (Adam Scott) wedding two-parter was worthy of the best romance in sitcoms by being simultaneously sincere and silly. All things Jerry kept in stitches. A cavalcade of top-notch guest-stars kept the laugher rolling, from Jenny Slate’s breakout turn as Mona-Lisa Saperstein, Jean-Ralphio’s noxious narcissist “twin sister from the same mister,” to Patton Oswalt’s unforgettable Star Wars filibuster. And the recall cliffhanger was genius: The call-backs to all those episodes of Leslie’s well-meaning but sometimes misguided and not always appreciated legislative activism retroactively gave the season a nifty feeling of structure and big picture storytelling, and potently expressed a recurring theme of this smart political satire: Sometimes, we don’t want the good-for-us change we say we want.
WHAT I WASN’T CRAZY ABOUT
My affection for last season is such that I feel like I am nitpicking to fill out this section. The choice to separate Leslie and Ben (and Andy and April) – Ben (joined by April) spent the first five episodes in D.C. consulting on a campaign – got the season off a slow start (not much great story came from that premise), and the bogus drama of whether or not Ben would return to Pawnee was… well, bogus. And yet the Ben/April friendship was fun to watch — even when they were stuck in a car for an entire episode — and keeping Leslie and Ben allowed the writers to focus on and figure out Leslie’s City Council work without also worrying how to serve their romance. As much as Ann’s pregnancy quest was an improvement upon previous storylines (I’m still trying to forget that romance with Tom), she remains an extraneous if not unpleasant element in the storytelling mix. Similarly, Chris hasn’t had a truly exceptional story in quite awhile. Nonetheless, both are so gosh-darn likable I can’t say I was terribly bugged. That said…
WHAT I’M HOPING FOR NEXT SEASON
The news that Jones and Lowe will be exiting by episode 13 demands a sensational send-off; they LIT-erally better get it. Should we worry if their departures means that Parks and Recreation has run out of creative gas? In a word: Knope! Not after last season. But P&R remains a ratings-challenged enterprise, and the exodus of major names begs speculation that the writers are preparing for the end and making sure everyone gets a proper, poppy goodbye. This is unfair, but I’ll be coming to each episode wanting swan song greatness and this-time-might-be-the-last-time resonance. I’m already ready to love it: Not only is Veronica Mars’ Kristen Bell slated for a guest stint, but so is my current fave cult pop heroine, Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany.
Jeff Jensen on Twitter: @EWDocJensen