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<I>Parks & Recreation</I>: Back and Better Than Ever

It's hard to believe that when this sitcom debuted, I almost wrote it off. I watched the first season mostly out of loyalty to Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari, but man, am I glad that I stuck with it. This show has gone from must-watch-because-I-feel-obligated-and-am-too-lazy-to-change-the-channel-before-The-Office-starts to something I genuinely get excited about each week.

When the press screeners for this new season arrived, I devoured six episodes in one sitting and have no problem at all admitting that I'll watch them again when they air live. That's the power of Ron Swanson. Actually, that's the power of this really fabulous ensemble cast. They all just gel so well together, and while I felt bad that Paul Schneider left, it's really opened the show up to some funny opportunities, especially between Rashida Jones and guest star Rob Lowe. Leslie trying to pimp Ann out in order to benefit the Parks department was pretty great, and something we couldn't have with Ann and Mark still coupled up (or really even split up, but with awkward interacting).

Adam Scott as the former idealistic 18-year-old mayor of a small town, facing off against Poehler's still-optimistic Leslie Knope is a pretty great new dynamic. And Ben and Chris' mandatory furlough of the Parks office last summer led to a fantastic joke involving Leslie going around to all her fellow employees (who have been occupying their time answering phones in a call center, selling women's sneakers or doing some scenic painting) informing that they were back. A great meta joke, considering that this show was shelved for the fall and is just returning after what seems like an eternity.

And as for the fantastic Ron Swanson, he's just a curmudgeonly as ever, and now that he's dating Tom's ex-wife, it's given the dynamic between the two guys a whole new twist. One that was really brought to light when Tom was selected to referee the youth basketball teams that Ron and Andy were coaching, and Tom clearly let his jealousy get the best of him. How else could you explain Ron Swanson's Pyramid of Greatness not being the most effective coaching tool ever? But Andy probably needed a win more, since April came back from her break with a hot Venezuelan boyfriend.

So many randomly wonderful things in one episode, it's almost like Community levels of absurdness (and just wait until you see the one where Tom has a cologne or Ron lands in jail). If nothing else, the show has absolutely outgrown its original branding as an Office clone. Personally, I certainly look forward to Community and Parks & Recreation far more than I do The Office at this stage of the game. And I really can't wait to see how Leslie pulls off the Autumn Festival, mostly because I would really like to gawk at the extremely obese residents of Pawnee. It sounds like the Biggest Loser, but funnier. At least, I hope it doesn't become her Icetown.

If you like Parks & Recreation, but you haven't watched Party Down yet... what are you waiting for?

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