Of the four NBC sitcoms on last night, I got the most pleasure from Parks and Recreation. It’s a measure of just how terrific P&R has become that even when it breaks its format with a mostly-outdoors episode, it still moves its ongoing story lines along briskly and provides a constant stream — a babbling brook, in Leslie Knopes’ case — of laughs.

The core plot was about Leslie’s efforts to make this year’s Pawnee Parks summer catalog the best ever. Over-planning as usual, she organized a pep-rally-ish picnic that would include former heads of the parks department. They turned out to be as surly and cynical as Leslie is chipper and optimistic. (And included Family Ties‘ Michael Gross as a gasbag pot-head — hey, kinda like what Stephen Keaton probably would have become!)

The rich texture of the characters in this show was on full display here. Amy Poehler can now show us Leslie’s stern, disapproving side as well as her dopey one (sometimes combining both, as in her prissy neologism, “We really made love to the pooch today, Ron”).

When it comes to romance, P&R may actually be more believable than The Office or

30 Rock these days. How discreetly P&R let us know of Ann’s disenchantment with Mark simply by the noncommittal gazes in the photos Tom took of the couple for the catalog. (Was this introduced to set us up for the fact that Paul Schneider is leaving the show?)

And what rare joy April displayed when she and Andy played catch with picnic food, and engaged in a “sweater-swap!”

A couple of final observations:

• What were the odds that, the week after Fess Parker died, Ron would show up at the office in a coonskin cap?

• The moment when April excited Andy with her fantasy of having sex with the oldest of the parks commissioners and wanting to “chew his eyebrows off” was one of the most inexplicably bizarre and funny images I’ve heard on TV in a while.

• Leslie and Ron achieved a moment almost equal to Mary Richards and Lou Grant when they shared a diner meal. Why would anyone eat anything other than breakfast food, Leslie asked contentedly. Ron, biting into a bit of extra-crispy bacon: “People are idiots, Leslie.” Amen.

What did you like best about last night’s Parks and Recreation?

Episode Recaps

Premieres: Thursday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. on NBC Stars: Amy Poehler, Adam Scott, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari What to expect: Leslie (Poehler) heads to…

Parks and Recreation

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