Welcome, Parks fans, to the future—and to the beginning of the end. Last season’s feel-good finale ended with a surprise twist as the Parks and Rec universe leaped forward to 2017. The Knope-headed Pawnee branch of the National Parks Department was humming, the Knope-Wyatt triplets (2 sons, 1 daughter) were toddlers, Jerry was Terry, and an employee more incompetent than Jerry had been hired and fired (Ed, we hardly knew ya). Before jumping into the meat of the premiere, let’s check in with our favorite Pawneeans three years into the future.
Leslie Knope: Running the Pawnee office of the National Parks Service. Oversees over 1,200 people, all tireless creative geniuses—except Terry and Ed (John Hamm). She’s got bangs and is nursing a hell of a grudge.
Ron Swanson: Left the Parks Department two years ago to run his own company, the Very Good Building and Development Company.
Ben Wyatt: Still working happily in Pawnee city government, and being awarded Man of the Year for spearheading the Pawnee Bicentennial Celebration—his biggest civic endeavor since the Icetown fiasco.
Tom Haverford: Tom’s Bistro has taken off, and its eponymous owner is officially a mogul, named one of 35 under 35 by Indiana Business Monthly. Owns four eateries including the Tommy Chopper (chopped salads served from a decommissioned military helicopter). His fashion sense hasn’t changed at all.
Andy Dwyer: Working part-time for Leslie and starring in his own TV show, The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show. Sprained a shoulder cleaning out a gutter.
April Ludgate-Dwyer: Also working for Leslie, purchasing renters’ insurance, and no longer eating cereal out of frisbees, much to her horror. Deeply concerned that she’s become boring.
Terry (Larry/Jerry/Gary) Gergich: Works for Leslie, still the office punching bag. Renamed Terry because there was already a Larry at National Parks. Appears as Mailman Barry/literal punching bag on The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show.
Donna Meagle: Running Regal Meagle Realty and freshly engaged to paramour Joe.
With that out of the way, let’s get into it. The premiere picks up right where we left off in season 6, with Leslie talking a mile a minute to an ever-patient Ben en route to a meeting. Advancing Leslie to run a branch of the National Parks Service was an important move for a character whose ambition and skill had outgrown the municipal Parks Department. But it should surprise no one that she still takes an interest in the doings of Pawnee, particularly when those doings could include the creation of a new national park right in her beloved city.
In this episode’s A-plot (and possible season-long arc), the Newport family is selling 25 square miles of their land. The National Parks Service is bidding for it, naturally, as are Gryzzl, which aims to build its Pawnee offices on that land. Gryzzl has prospered along with Pawnee—Gryzzl tablets and Gryzzl-based social media abound in Pawnee. And like most tech companies, they’ve just got loads of cash to burn—namely $90 million to give Jessica Wicks-Newport for those dumb old trees.
Remember that grudge? Turns out Knope’s new nemesis is…(ominous music)…RON SWANSON. Our former Parks director has been hired by Gryzzl to build their new offices, to which Leslie takes personal offense. But their falling out goes deeper than that, back to the mysterious “Morningstar,” a term Leslie invokes with the same disgust as “salad” or “library.” Her temper is not improved when she attempts to recruit Donna and Tom only to find that they’re already working with Ron and Gryzzl.
Three years may have passed in the Pawnee universe, but Leslie remains the same as ever. Her single-mindedness and dedication to her principles can be an amazing positive, but it can also leave her startling unsympathetic to others. Leslie’s desire to have her own way can push everything else to the background—and wind up with her face-first in a cake. In the end, Leslie makes a stirring speech that plays to the Newports’ desire for fame against their greed and keeps the Parks Service in the running for the land. Also, she attempts to mend things with the friends her righteous idealism (and neglect) may have hurt—though not with Ron. That’s why the cookies say “Prepare for War.” But this tendency to tunnel-vision is one of the things that hamstrung her professionally before. She’s lucky her friends are so willing to let it roll off their backs.
The B-plot has Tom prepping a speech to introduce Ben at the gala where he will be honored for his work on the bicentennial. This seems to be another “more things change, more they stay the same” moment as, upon standing at the podium during the gala, Tom can’t help but extol his own accomplishments for the crowd. But it’s revealed that Tom regressed to form because his actual speech about his friendship with Ben made him too emotional.
Finally, Andy and April have to come face to face with the fact that they are growing up. They have a crockpot! They plan their week out! They got renters’ insurance even though it’s not required! Attempts at spontaneous fun at the gala leads not to a reprise of Janet Snakehole and Bert Macklin, but downing Zantac and refusing wine because it’ll make them sleepy. Naturally they decide to buy a house that wouldn’t be out of place on American Horror Story. A delightful Werner Herzog points out the property’s perks: It’s haunted. It’s disgusting. It’s got a stairway to nowhere, three bomb shelters, no kitchen, and used to be a holding cell for those who went crazy on the line at the doll factory. Sounds like the perfect first home for the Ludgate-Dwyers.
Jokes and Notes:
Sabermetrics fans will be pleased to know that Fwar, Dips, Winshares, and Gritt finally made partner at the firm of Babip, Pecota, Vorp, and Eckstein.
“I have the most valuable currency in America: A blind, stubborn belief that what I am doing is 100 percent right.” Leslie and our current Senate have the same motto.
We also get a Ken Hotate cameo. His son makes bolo ties and sells them on Etsy—he’s a huge disappointment.
“After 47 years living here, I decided to move to Orlando to be closer to Disney World.” I love Werner Herzog and hope he appears in more sitcoms.
Life in 2017: Shia LaBeouf is designing wedding dresses, and they ain’t cheap. Kevin James is the latest Jason Bourne.
Check out TV critic Jeff Jensen’s take on Parks and Recreation’s return to our TV screens.