It’s a true sign of comedic prowess when a show re-invents itself without anybody noticing. Parks & Recreation used to be a show about Leslie Knope and her crack team of Parks & Rec workers, but in season four it became an underdog story about Leslie’s run for public office. “Dave Returns,” as well as the handful of episodes before it, had nothing to do whatsoever with Pawnee’s P&R Department. It’s a dramatic directional alteration, but it’s hard to care when the show is so freaking funny.
This week was sort of a freebie though, because it’s hard not to be funny with Louie CK as a guest actor. The man is the definition of successful comedy right now, yet instead of playing a rival candidate like Paul Rudd did, Louie CK plays an extra-awkward ex-boyfriend of Leslie’s. It’s easy to see that Louie himself had some creative input, his character very much mimicking the subtle humor found in his FX show Louie. And it was hinted at that he may be vying for the job of Police Chief, which would be a dream come true for fans of both shows.
It’s easy to gush about Louie CK, but the real star of this week’s episode was Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt. His fear of cops was a running gag that never seemed to get old, and it resulted in a return of one of Ben’s best character traits: his awkward inability to face his fears. Flashbacks to his terrible interviews on TV and radio were channeled as he started one sentence with “9-11…” and prompted every cringe-full interjection with warranted hesitance. It’s easy to see why Leslie fell in love with Ben Wyatt, because he’s hard not to like as a character and member of Parts & Rec’s team.
While we weren’t being gifted with the magical comedy trio of Poehler/CK/Scott, the other half of the plotline was fairly give-or-take. Because the show is entirely focused on Leslie’s campaign, a lot of these side developments can feel like those episodes of The Office where half the team goes on a trip and we’re stuck suffering half the time with those left behind. Having Andy in charge for once was a good spin, letting Chris Pratt stand in the spotlight for a while. Ron Swanson stayed a minor character, as he’s been since getting a lot of screen time earlier in the season. And hopefully the writers won’t be spinning this Tom-and-Ann story for too much longer, because it doesn’t seem natural despite its obvious humor.
Still, most comedies can’t live up to the bar that Parks & Recreation has set over its last couple of seasons. Its only rival is 30 Rock, a legend in its own right. If you’re missing out on these two comedies, then one whole hour of your Thursday night is sadly wasted time. Join team Knope at least and stay with Parks & Recreation, a comedy that deserves the numbers The Big Bang Theory is stealing every week.