Television

The Joyous, Wondrous, Wildly Overdue Return Of 'Parks And Recreation'

Adam Scott and Amy Poehler star in tonight's return of Parks & Recreation. i i

hide captionAdam Scott and Amy Poehler star in tonight's return of Parks & Recreation.

Byron Cohen/NBC
Adam Scott and Amy Poehler star in tonight's return of Parks & Recreation.

Adam Scott and Amy Poehler star in tonight's return of Parks & Recreation.

Byron Cohen/NBC

The 2009-10 season of NBC's Parks & Recreation, which followed a lukewarm six-episode run in the spring of 2009, was probably the most impressive comeback in the history of broadcast comedy. In a single season, it went from a show that was widely shrugged off as the product of talented people in the wrong project to one that made many, many lists of the best shows of the year. Its momentum was such that Parks & Rec stayed in production at the end of shooting that season so they could have the show ready to go in the fall of last year, in spite of star Amy Poehler's pregnancy.

So naturally, in its infinite wisdom, NBC benched the show to make room for Outsourced, which was bad, and unfunny, and sort of offensive, and certainly utterly devoid of imagination.

But tonight! Tonight, Parks & Recreation comes back and finally, for the first time, gets to live right where it belongs — after The Office. And having seen the first six episodes of the season, I would say this: this show is being made as skillfully right right now as a half-hour comedy can be made. It has a large cast in which absolutely everyone is very funny, it has incorporated two new characters who already feel essential, and it's being written with effortless, upbeat joy that serves as a great reminder that while bittersweet comedy is a wonderful thing, not all great comedy has to have much bitter in it. Some of it is mostly sweet and still great.

I should mention: I was recently lamenting to someone that the advent of DVDs and Netflix have made some people sticklers about shows, even shows they want to try. They want to watch from the beginning, so they put off watching until they can find time to catch up. There are shows where this makes sense (obviously your heavy episodic dramas would qualify), but this is not one of them. There's a simple, one-minute "Previously On" introduction at the start of tonight's episode, and that will tell you everything you could possibly need to know to understand what's happening.

(I hear you: Blah blah, layers of humor, OH YOU GET SO MUCH MORE WHEN YOU KNOW ALL THE HISTORY, blah blah, yes. Ideally, yes. But jumping into this show right now is 100 percent fine, and this is a perfect example of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the very, very good.)

Trying to list all the things that are clicking in these first six episodes would take a very long time and, frankly, become repetitive. Just as it's hard to explain why jokes aren't hitting, it's hard to explain why all of a sudden, on a particular show, everything is hitting at once. But that's basically where this show is. They've brought out both the oddball and the great citizen in Amy Poehler's character, Leslie Knope. They've polished Aziz Ansari's Tom Haverford into a caricature of a horndog who's still tremendously endearing. Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson balances sheer, mustachioed hardcore manliness with just the right amount of sly affection for the people he works with.

New additions Rob Lowe and Adam Scott (Scott was the star of the much-lamented Starz comedy Party Down) came on at the end of last season, and Lowe has come up with a characterization of state bureaucrat Chris Traeger that brings to the table so much manic, overwound excitement about absolutely everything that you find yourself thinking, "That is a weirdo ... and a blowhard ... and kind of a great guy." Scott and Lowe play off each other perfectly, as Scott does most of the work cleaning up after his frightfully excited boss.

But wait! I haven't talked about Chris Pratt! Chris Pratt plays Andy Dwyer, a man so lovable it will convince you that intelligence in the traditional sense is highly, highly overrated. Andy might be my favorite.

I've gotten to the point where just the theme song makes me happy, and how can it not? (Just don't watch this version, or you will hear it for the rest of your life.) It's on tonight after The Office, at 9:30 p.m. Eastern. You will not be sorry.

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