If you tried Parks and Recreation last season and didn't laugh much at Amy Poehler's smiley-face antics as Leslie Knope, small-town bureaucrat, you really should be watching the show's second season. I liked the series' low-key comedy the first time around, but I'm loving these new episodes. Poehler and the writers have finetuned Leslie's character to be more sharp-tongued, less clueless, and more fearless.
The bright-eyed energy that Poehler brought to Saturday Night Live (she often seemed the only cast member not striving to be cool) initially translated on Parks as gullibility. Now, though, we see that Leslie is a go-getter whose life was shaped in part by feminism (judging a beauty pageant, she applies what she calls ''the Naomi Wolf factor'') as much as by a need to be liked by others.
The others include her boss, Ron (Nick Offerman), who has the grimmest deadpan in prime time, and co-worker Mark (Paul Schneider), Leslie's unrequited love. But romance for Leslie has taken an unexpected turn in recent weeks, as the great stand-up comic Louis C.K. reins in his rage persona to portray a cop with a sweet crush on her.
Parks' droll quietness is both its greatest distinction and its impediment to wider popularity. Other regulars including Human Giant's Aziz Ansari as a horny wise guy and The Office's Rashida Jones as Leslie's pal aren't outsize caricatures, and the series itself turns on the smallest event: transforming the town dirt pit into a park. But fill that pit with Chris Pratt as Jones' woeful ex-boyfriend, and give Poehler a chance to light the screen with her brimming optimism, and you've got a terrific show. B+