For its first episode in what feels like months, Parks and Rec makes a welcome and impressive return with a lightning-paced tour de force. If Michael Bay made an action-free workplace sitcom about droll Midwestern civil servants — and he really should — it’d probably look a lot like this.
April’s sole job in the parks office is to prevent Ron Swanson from having to speak to anyone ever. Her secret? Simply schedule all his meetings on some nonexistent date, like March 31. The problem is, March 31 does exist — an odd thing for someone named after a month to get confused about — so on this particular March 31, 93 people are arriving for appointments; that’s roughly 93 more than Ron can stomach the thought of. Leslie, of course, is thrilled and would actually prefer to book seven more and go for an even 100. Ron just needs “more Ron Swansons,” so he enlists every warm body he can find, which isn’t many: Andy, Ann, and April. (Jerry is excused, and Donna isn’t around for some reason.) Much of the episode is devoted to rapid-fire scenes of these characters fielding complaints from (or in Ann’s case, doling out free medical advice to) the citizens of Pawnee, while Ron comes to a slow boil. Though expressly told not to say yes to anyone, Andy may have promised someone a new aquatic center and certainly made his interest in the Pawnee ultimate league clear as day. Go Lightning!
Leslie is little hope in making a dent in the 93 meetings, as she’s completely consumed with her first of the day: the landmark-ravaging goings-on at the Turnbill Mansion. Miss Pawnee 1994, Jessica Wicks, last seen at the Miss Pawnee juror’s table alongside Leslie and Tom, is throwing an 85th birthday party there for her husband, Sweetums scion Nick Newton Sr., and making some ad-hoc renovations in the process. (If Pawnee is a live-action Springfield, with its ever-expanding cast of recurring minor characters, then the withered, wheelchair-bound Newton is clearly its C. Montgomery Burns. Even the nude-painting-on-the-wall gag, while funny, has to be a nod to Marge’s portrait of Mr. Burns, right? Discuss. Or don’t. It’s your workday, misuse it as you wish.)
Of utmost concern to Leslie — who is not a stick in the mud, but merely trying to keep a party from happening — is the imminent destruction of the Turnbill gazebo. Immortalized in another of city hall’s endlessly amazing racially insensitive murals (one of the show’s best running gags), this was the site of Pawnee’s first and most ill-fated interracial marriage. (Why endure me explaining it when you can watch Leslie tell the tale in the clip below?) Self-professed “golddigger-digger” Tom tags along, hoping to make time with Jessica in advance of Newtown’s presumably imminent expiration. It does not go well, even as Leslie chains herself to the mansion’s front gate to keep out the bulldozer. Turns out the gate swings open to the side, not in the middle. (“Nothing’s bruised, except for my ego. And maybe my arm, from being chained to the mechanized gate.”)
But wait: If the episode is titled “94 Meetings,” and there are only 93 on the docket, there has to be one more! Good eye. The last meeting is April telling Ron she’s quitting after he chides her for blowing her one responsibility. He kinda has a point, but after Andy tells him how perfect April is for Ron — hey … he was actually talking about himself! — Ron goes to the Ludgate home to beg her back. It may not surprise you to learn her parents are the world’s most chipper humans. It may surprise you that they call their perpetually frowning daughter Zuzu, a secret Ron keeps in return for April promising not to divulge his Duke Silver alter ego. Oh, and she comes back to work. Duh.
Not entirely sure why Mark would solicit Leslie’s advice in how to ask Ann to move in with him, but it’s worth it for Leslie’s sweet, dumbfounded reaction. And since that relationship subplot kinda just sits there, some solace can be taken in the knowledge that the whole thing is gonna go away with Paul Schneider’s departure. His straight-man services were somehow not required in the all-hands-on-deck meetings crisis, so if he’s doomed to Boring Boyfriend status, then good riddance.
The AV Club’s Leonard Pierce thinks this was one of the best episodes of a strong season.
TV Squad’s Kona Gallagher thinks reintroducing the idea that Leslie was once in love with Mark was a key point.