For years, Parks and Recreation has lived on the brink of cancellation and suffered from unpredictable episode orders and schedules. As creator Mike Schur has discussed, the show’s fifth season was initially only given 13 episodes, while the rest were ordered later on. That meant that midway through last year’s Parks, a finale of sorts occurred with the wedding of Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott).
The following eight episodes then had to start a new stretch of stories and wrap up with another finale in May. In those four hours of TV, a flurry of new plotlines appeared: Leslie was suddenly being recalled from office, Ann (Rashida Jones) decided to have a baby, Tom (Aziz Ansari) faced new competition in his clothing rental business, Ron’s (Nick Offerman) girlfriend Diane (Lucy Lawless) became pregnant, and April (Aubrey Plaza) looked into a veterinary school that would take her away from husband Andy (Chris Pratt).
Now at the beginning of the sixth season, the show must restart again. Some stories have held over – Ann and ex-boyfriend Chris (Rob Lowe) have gotten together and are moving forward on the baby plan. Others are dealt with quickly – without giving anything away, the Ron/Diane relationship moves to its next level in the most delightfully Ron Swansony way possible.
But other issues have arisen; with Chris Pratt away becoming a superhero, the show needed to find a way to keep Andy out of Pawnee. So the hour-long premiere episode finds most of the gang in London, where Leslie is due to receive an award for outstanding women in government (and where, in real life, Pratt is filming Guardians of the Galaxy). There, Ben attempts to to drum up some charity funds from His Royal Excellency, Lord Edgar Derby Covington, 14th Earl of Cornwall-Upon-Thames, 29th Baron of Hertfordshire (the always delightful Peter Serafinowicz), but it’s Andy who wins over the British aristocrat and, in doing so, receives an intriguing offer from (per April) the Lord Fancyface guy.
Leslie, meanwhile, is dealing with Pawnee’s suddenly infuriated residents, who want her ousted from her city council seat. In the process, her relationship with April grows even closer; given that Rashida Jones is due to leave after the first 13 episodes of this season, April seems the likeliest bet to take over Ann’s duties as Leslie’s best friend. Meanwhile, Tom’s new nemesis arrives in the form of Henry Winkler as the father of twins Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz) and Mona-Lisa Saperstein (Jenny Slate), Tom’s crazy best friend and even crazier ex-girlfriend, respectively.
It is, most importantly, a very funny premiere. And the plot-heavy episode succeeds in lining things up for the season, though it suffers from having much of its cast in London while a few remain behind in Indiana. For a group as tight-knit as the gang on Parks, the episode feels disjointed without them all together. But all these story lines will hopefully reinvigorate Leslie’s ambitions; the show is at its strongest when it has a clear goal in mind for Leslie and her friends. Leslie Knope’s charm is based in her unrelenting optimism and fighting spirit, and she needs an adversary worthy of her awesomeness.