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'Parks and Recreation' recap: Viva Pawnee!

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parks_and_recreation_lParks and Recreation has been all about dropping knowledge this past month, and the latest episode – focused on Pawnee’s sister Parks Department from Venezuela – continues that awesome and educational trend. Leslie Knope? Not the pushover we met last season! Tom? Not so bad a guy! Ron loves gold-plated guns more than he hates socialism. April gets her “fiery and exciting” personality from her Latina mother. We are learning so much, those of us committed to this wonderful, unpopular little show!

In lieu of needless protraction on last night’s installment, which focused almost entirely on Leslie’s waning patience with Fred Armisen and his Venezuelan delegation, I thought we’d cut right to the chase and talk about what this show is doing so right. A lot of things, it turns out:

Appropriately utilized guest stars
Where 30 Rock might take a more Hollywood Squares approach to guest spots (and not wrongly so, given the show’s manic energy), Parks requires something more subtle from its temporary additions. The two we’ve gotten so far – Louis C.K. as Leslie’s cop crush, Dave, and Fred Armisen as a Venezuelan parks official – have fit in perfectly, nailing the subtle vibe of Pawnee without losing an ounce of comedic power. Louis C.K. should honestly be a regular.

Current events
Without taking trips to Sorkin-ville, Parks’ scripts have introduced some hot-button issues this season – from gay marriage to politician sex scandals and the war on drugs – in a way that feels authentic to the setting and characters. And funny! Tonight’s Hugo Chavez jokes were great (turns out Armisen’s crew wasn’t a Parks dept. at all, but the Committee to Humiliate and Shame America) and with all the wild, true stuff that happens everyday – balloon boy! – there’s a limitless supply of stories to tell.

Know your Knope
Retired to the same mystery island as The Office’s season 1 Michael Scott, last season’s Leslie Knope would appear gone and happily forgotten. In just five episodes, Amy Poehler’s character has been transformed from a whacked-out, friendless delusional into something that more closely resembles a human being. A sometimes fun human being (see last week) with a strong feminist streak (see two weeks ago) who wants people to like her, but won’t be stepped all over in the process (this week). New wrinkles, week after week. Good ones!

And that’s just scratching the surface. We haven’t talked about background characters (hola, Donna!) getting their due. Or the recurring Pawnee mural gag. Or (fill in the blank). There’s something really special about watching a show – particularly one you’ve been rooting for – begin to come together, learn from its mistakes, and grow into a formidable and wholly satisfying half hour of television. I’ll just say it: Parks and Recreation is the best comedy on NBC right now. Viva Pawnee! Viva Amy Poehler!

What about you guys? Have you fallen as hard for P&R as I have, or is it still missing that certain je ne sais quoi? Consider the comments section your official Parks Department suggestion box.

Originally posted October 16 2009 — 6:41 AM EDT

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