Jan 22, 2016

[TV] Parks and Recreation: Season 5

For one reason or another we took a bit of a break from watching Parks and Recreation. It wasn't because we didn't like the show - if anything it was quite the opposite. We decided to slow things down in order to give the show time to build up more of an episode buffer before we'd dive into things.

One thing led to another and the effort to buffer episodes took a bit too much time and the show as a whole finally came to an end. And since we had some free time over the holidays, we finally got around to finishing the last three seasons of the show. And yeah, the whole experience was quite glorious.

As much as this show was clearly designed to have the feel of The Office, it took a while for the show to really find its voice and determine the sorts of stories it wanted to tell. These later seasons are just comedy gold with the writers clearly being more than willing to try out new ideas and express themselves in dynamic new ways.

And they're really funny.

Synopsis: Parks and Recreation is a mockumentary-style comedy series created by The Office alumni Greg Daniels and Michael Schur. This fifth season spanned 22 half-hour episodes.

The season begins with the status quo of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) being a part of the city council and her boyfriend Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) starting a new job in Washington DC. He ends up bringing April (Aubrey Plaza) with him. And with Leslie out of the Parks department, that leaves her former boss Ron (Nick Offerman) trying to fulfill her duties without her. April's husband Andy (Chris Pratt) is training for the entrance exam to become a policemen, although he's not exactly doing well. And Tom (Aziz Ansari) stumbles on a rather interesting niche business idea - renting out his stylish clothes to teenage boys so they can look good without their parents committing to purchasing expensive clothes outright. It helps that Tom has the frame of a teenager, apparently.

I really liked seeing Leslie dealing with the city council and pretty much getting blocked at almost every turn. Whether you want to blame things on rivals on the council or the general population of Pawnee, it's not all roses for her at all. And while we've seen her spirited nature managing to break through all barriers ahead of her while in the Parks department, dealing with the city council as a whole proves a lot more challenging. And this battle between her idealism and drive versus the selfishness and indifference of the general public makes for an interesting contrast.

And while I do enjoy Rob Lowe's continued involvement in the series as Chris Traeger, this season really felt like he didn't fit into everyone's plans all that well, especially after getting separated from Ben from a career-perspective. He just appears from time to time, but the full impact of his contributions to the narrative just fall shot. It's really not easy to juggle so many characters all at once without someone suffering from a lack of good character development.

Most surprising episode remains to be "Jerry's Retirement" which covers precisely that topic. Jerry (Jim O'Heir) has largely been presented as a one-dimensional character who is mostly the butt of jokes. This one episode nicely explores his character and managed to add so much nuance to him that I rather liked. In some ways, this one episode felt like a lot more character development compared to Chris Traeger.

The season as a whole had a nice sense of focus given Leslie's goal eventually links back to the now infamous empty lot that helped begin this series so many seasons ago. And while it was quite the struggle to get things done, the eventual payoff just totally felt earned and made so much sense once the season wrapped up.

Parks and Recreation is a great series and this season was a great exploration of having a stronger longer term plot while still celebrating the near-randomness of its largely episodic format. Thus the season gets a good 4.5 crazy ideas for the empty lot out of a possible 5.

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