You know that feeling you get on vacation when you wish you didn't have to come back home? I wish that we were still in Paris traipsing around with Ben and Leslie, eating unpasteurized cheeses and looking at famous spots from movies. Instead, "New Beginnings" brought us back to Indiana and back to work for Leslie. The episode dragged -- a lot. With far too much set-up for how Leslie has outgrown her position at the Parks department, Ben adjusting to his Jekyll and Hyde role as City Manager and Chris and Ann getting… not married but locketed, it all just felt a little bit forced and off pace. And aside from a few laughs (courtesy of Ben Wyatt and Ron Swanson), I spent most of the episode feeling really uncomfortable and wishing I could fast-forward to next week. I'm not even sure I can do best lines this week, since most of the stuff that actually cracked me up were visual gags.
Ben, the Parks Dept. and Pranks
So Ben wanted to be the cool new boss, but he still had to fill his old role of being the heavy who lays people off and takes away health care from their spouses. So he threw a party, filled with some "illegal" cheese he "smuggled" in from France. Donna, April and Andy weren't having his new highly-wound attitude, though, so they had the police pick him up and make him think he was going to jail. Fun prank, right? No. And they didn't take kindly when he sent out a warning note for their files. Andy tells Ben the best way to get them to respect him is to pull pranks, and he sets up an elaborate one that involves near-death experiences and a team of divers. And while the whole thing just seemed like nonsense, especially given that Ben's always technically been in a senior role (even when he was advising on Leslie's campaign), Ben's face after the blood packets exploded almost saved the entire episode.
Ann and Chris and the Proposal
I think I've figured it out: The producers were so worried that we'd be upset about Chris and Ann leaving that they decided to make them totally hateful characters that even kindly jewelry store clerks can't tolerate. That's got to be the reason that a sweet proposal (even with Jerry/Larry choking on a cracker) turned into headache-inducing nonsense that involved them talking about how cutesy and unconventional they were. When she finally opted for the locket, I was as desperate as the shop owner to get them out of my sight.
Ron, Bacon and The Employee of the Month
Ron was quietly awesome, per usual. He gave Leslie open and honest advice about passing the business end of Parks to Tom and about how they know this was just a stop-gap job for her. But his best moment of the episode was when Leslie said that she had an idea about how to save their bacon, and he glanced at the ceiling, afraid that someone had found his actual bacon hidey hole (and later climbing into the tiles to make sure his treasure was still there). The second-best moment was him unintentionally winning an Employee of the Month plaque and high-tailing it to one of his cabins in the woods and slicing it to pieces before burning it to ashes.
Leslie, Tom and the Lemonade Stand
You'd think Leslie would have learned from the H2Flow presentation that Tom now actually knows enough about business to be competent employee. It's not like working on the City Council took her so out of the loop that she didn't know about his business. She came back to the Parks Dept., miserably failed an interview for her job (way too eager about government for Ron Swanson's job) and had to learn all of the weird in-jokes that she missed while she was away (like the spirit dogs). So she attempts to force Tom to use her tried and true method of business planning to push through his proposition to replace Stu's Stews with a modern lemonade stand, and replaces the dogs with kangaroos (which, actually was kind of amusing). But the Tom stuff bugged us -- she was so set in her ways that she clearly forgot that Tom was her friend (though still not above potentially blinding people with lasers), and needed to be reminded of that by Ron. And then, of course, Tom's presentation was brilliant, and Leslie learned a valuable lesson about hair products.
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