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Parks and Recreation Season-Premiere Recap: Winning London

PARKS AND RECREATION -- "London"

Hello, darlings! I hope you all had lovely summers — I spent mine in Rosewood with some Liars and psycho killers — but I know that you must feel as I do about the return of Parks and Rec. Just hearing that peppy theme song is like curling up in bed after a long time away from home; you wonder how you survived without it and you never want to leave.

The beginning of this episode whooshes by in a blur of last season refreshers, plus some insta-quotable quips about Swanson sperm and how useless it renders standard methods of birth control. In what may be a land speed record, it takes less than ten minutes for this crew to find themselves at yet another wedding.

There is not a show on TV that does weddings better than Parks and Rec. Parks and Rec is to weddings what My So-Called Life was to angsty voice-overs, what Scandal is to funk-soundtracked crime-solving montages. On Parks, no one gets left at the altar; no one gets cold feet. Every happy couple gets the wedding it deserves. For Ron and Diane Tammy — just kidding, it’s Elizabeth — Louis, that means a spontaneous field trip to the fourth floor to tie the knot. Parks defies all the dumb rules about sitcoms and will-they-won’t-they romance and just lets these crazy kids get hitched when they feel like it in a way that feels true to who they are and true to the show. I do have some tiny quibbles with this particular ceremony, mostly that I don’t believe Diane wouldn’t want her children to be there. But that’s hardly worth noting in this waking nightmare … of happiness.

Watching Ron grow into the kind of person who would plan an elaborate proposal (it would be on their anniversary, in a canoe he’s already constructed) is one of the great joys of watching Parks. There’s some tough competition for this one, but I give the Most Romantic Line of the Episode to Ron’s “I’m tired of not being married to this woman.” It’s all very When Harry Met Sally (“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible”). It’s amazing how well Parks characters have grown and matured over time — an extra-impressive feat, given the confines of sitcom storytelling.

I’m having so many thoughts and feelings, I’m paralyzed right now. So let’s just skip to: ONE MONTH LATER.

One of the hardest parts of watching Parks and Rec is suspending disbelief about the idea that anyone on Earth could possibly hate Amy Poehler. Has ever a more well-liked lady graced our television sets? I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t want to be her best friend. But in Pawnee, Leslie Knope is the answer to the clue: “Who’s the worst?” Leslie has a 40-phase plan to address the issue of how deeply she is disliked, which should definitely work because nothing gets people to like you faster than desperately trying to convince people to like you.

April nominated Leslie for the International Coalition of Women in Government award — past winners include Janet Napoli-freaking-tano — and Leslie won! (Chris: “Oh my God, this is real! I just assumed you were lying.” April: “Thank you.”) The ceremony is in London. Where do they all get the money to fly to London and stay in that pretty hotel? A sudden influx of cash in the strapped Pawnee budget? Who cares? Tally-ho!

IND à LHR

Andy: I can’t believe we’re at Hogwarts!
Ben: That’s Buckingham Palace. Hogwarts is fictional. [A beat.] Do you know that? It’s important to me that you know that.

Ron and Diane were going to make like my favorite Girl Scout cookie and tagalong on the London trip as a honeymoon, but, in a very Kate Middleton move, Diane came down with debilitating morning sickness and sent Ron in her stead to take pictures. (I’d insist the baby daddy stay home and hold back my hair while I puke my guts out in the name of the olive- or chickpea-size human inside me that didn’t get there by itself, but whatever works for you, Xena.) Ron is very McKayla about all of Europe. He believes history began on July 4, 1776. “Everything before that was a mistake.”

Leslie practices her acceptance speech for April, who thinks Leslie should just walk up to the microphone and “meow really loudly for eight minutes.” Leslie’s having a hard time summoning up any good feelings about a place that, in sunnier days, she deemed the greatest town in America. But that was before Pawnee’s citizens started trying to remove Leslie from office. Poor Leslie. Her speech does not go well. She vents her frustrations about Pawnee — “People can be very mean and ungrateful and they cling to their fried dough and their sodas and then they get mad at me when their pants don’t fit” — and uses the term “pee-pee head.” Thanks to Jerry, this speech is viewed live back home. Uh-oh.

In better news, Leslie meets the symmetrically faced Heidi Klum and April meets a wolverine wrangler from Mongolia. And yes, “Wolverine Wrangler” is the new front-runner for the name of my future band.

Ron speaks the truth to Leslie: “You choose a thankless job, you can’t be upset when nobody thanks you. Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.” The first half of that is brilliant. As for the second, though, Leslie is a politician who can’t keep her job unless she wins elections/doesn’t get kicked out of office owing to her extreme unpopularity. She needs applause and acclaim, not for her ego but just to stay employed. Hmmm.

Leslie’s wedding gift to Ron, a magical mystery tour of the islands off the coast of Scotland, is magnificent. Again, I guess I’m just not going to ask about the finances of that situation. But seriously, Leslie is a public servant in Indiana! Where the hell is all this money coming from? In a more believable turn of events, April’s gift to Leslie is a reading of the letter she sent to the awards committee. That girl is getting a hug whether she likes it or not.

As for the boys’ European adventures, Ben and Andy have Sweetums business. We get a quick explanation of Chris Pratt’s Guardians of the Galaxy physique — Andy quit beer and lost 50 pounds! — and he and Big Ben are off to charm Lord Covington into supporting their after-school music program. Andy clicks with his British alter ego, Lord FancyFace, bonding over pronunciations of aluminum and a shared understanding of the rules of "calling it." FancyFace invites Andy to stay behind for three months to help him get the nonprofit off the ground, much like a remote-control helicopter. Then he sends Ben a bunch of Corgis as gifts. Sure, why not.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch …

Ann, holding up her left hand: “We just had manicures together! Sorry, that was misleading.” Nice one, you cunning, pliable, chestnut-haired sunfish! She and Chris spend the episode trying and failing to get the reaction they want from friends and co-workers about Ann’s pregnancy. Jerry pretending to be a baby looking for nipples is the most disturbing thing I’ve seen maybe ever. Chris and Ann share some sweet moments, but I’m disappointed they didn’t bring Chris to London, where people actually say “literally” like he does.

Tom’s unknown Rent-a-Swag rival turns out to be Jean-Ralphio’s dad. I love the scene where Tom barges in on Ann and Chris while Ann is getting a sonogram, but the Saperstein gang’s story line is a little strained and weak to me. (And how many Sapersteins do you know? Ann really didn’t put it together that her doctor was Jean-Ralphio’s dad?) All it seems to do is sideline Tom from the main action while beating the dead jaguar coat that is Mona Lisa and Jean-Ralphio’s bit. I didn’t buy that Dr. Saperstein would somehow be out of the loop on his kids’ utter ridiculousness, either.

That said, this entire storyline might be worth it for this Jean-Ralphio gem: “My dad never gives up on anything. Except for my mom. When she turned 30, he was like, ‘GET OUT.’”

DONNA WATCH: Donna doesn’t go to London. In Pawnee, her hypercompetency wins the day: She knows exactly how far along Ann is, that Chris just switched to boxer briefs, and how to track down who is running Rent-a-Swag’s rival store. I’m just realizing now that with Parks and Rec, The West Wing, and Suits, we officially have enough “Women named Donna who are office secretaries/assistants and know absolutely everything, even the things their bosses don’t” for a trend story! You’re welcome for the heads-up, New York Times.

Miscellaneous

“What else does your family own?” “Have you heard of Scotland?”

“Thirty-five percent were confused by the way the question was posed.”

“I need to calm down. Let’s go walk past Colin Firth’s house again.” “Who is that?”

“Our hedge maze is so vast, I once got lost there for two days.”

I’m off to go gallivant around Europe like some … European. Send me your favorite lines from tonight’s episode on Twitter at @jessicagolds, where I promise the air is not filled with the foul stench of European socialism.

Photo: Tim Whitby/NBC