"Parks & Rec: Season 4" finds just the right balance between over-the-top humor and solid storytelling.

William D. Lee's picture

One of the staples of NBC's Thursday night line-up has been "30 Rock," created by and starring "Saturday Night Live" alum Tina Fey. In 2009, Fey's Weekend Update partner Amy Poehler joined her as the lead on "Parks and Recreation," created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur. Daniels is the showrunner for "The Office" and Schur has been a long-time writer on the show as well as playing the role of Dwight Schrute's cousin, Mose. Much like "The Office," "Parks and Rec" is filmed documentary-style and follows the exploits of government employees in the small town of Pawnee, Indiana.

Poehler stars as Leslie Knope, the optimistic deputy director of the parks and recreation department. Knope navigates the never-ending red tape of bureaucracy while dealing with the eccentricities of the townsfolk as well as her own co-workers. The list includes her boss, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), a hyper-masculine Libertarian, who detests the government and tries to do as little as possible. Both Knope and Swanson report to city manager Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), known for his excessively cheerfulness and liberal use of the word "literally."

Debuting as a mid-season replacement, "Parks and Rec" met with mixed reviews in its first season. The show was criticized for its broadly drawn characters and for being too similar to "The Office." Luckily, the writers began hitting their stride in the second and third seasons. For season four, the series frequently moves outside the confines of city hall and explores the characters further than they have before. The season begins with Leslie being presented with the opportunity to run for city council, which jeopardizes her budding romance with colleague Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) as policy prevents city employees to date each other. Overgrown frat boy Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) quits his job with the department to form his own company, Entertainment 7twenty. The bizarre start-up is a goldmine for comedy as the oblivious Tom bleeds money by hiring beautiful models to sit around in ultra-modern furniture and giving away free iPads like mints. Even one-note characters like the sardonic April (Aubrey Plaza, always a highlight) and her dim-witted husband Andy (Chris Pratt) have grown with the latter going to college and becoming an integral part of Leslie's campaign. Only Leslie's best friend, Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), seems to have stagnated. That's no knock on Rashida Jones's performance, but Ann only seems to serve as the straight man for everyone else.

"Parks and Rec" has seen its share of guest-stars such as Parker Posey, Will Forte, Pamela Reed, John Laroquette, Nick Kroll, Justin Theroux, and Nick Offerman's real-life spouse Megan Mullaly as Ron's second ex-wife Tammy, a sexually aggressive woman who always drives Ron to the brink of sanity. The opening episodes of season four introduce Patricia Clarkson as Ron's first ex-wife, also named Tammy, an IRS agent whose icy demeanor frightens all, except April. Louis C.K. returns as Leslie's former boyfriend, Dave, while Paul Rudd is introduced as Leslie's political rival Bobby Newport.

The episodes included in this set are:

-Disc 1-

  • "I'm Leslie Knope" – Leslie's lifelong dream may come true when she is asked to run for city council, but it may also spell the end for her budding romance with Ben.
  • "Ron and Tammys" – Ron becomes a quivering mess when his domineering ex-wife Tammy One arrives for an audit.
  • "Born and Raised" – Leslie's political aspirations are dashed when a local talk show host uncovers the fact that she was not born in Pawnee.
  • "Pawnee Rangers" – Leslie's all-female youth group, the Goddesses, set up a rival retreat against Ron's no-nonsense Pawnee Rangers.
  • "Meet 'N' Greet" – Ben is upset when Andy and April throw a Halloween party at their house without permission. Tom turns a fundraiser for Leslie into an event for his own company.
  • "End of the World" – A doomsday cult hold a candlelight vigil for the end of the world as Leslie grows jealous when Ben flirts with another woman.

-Disc 2-

  • "The Treaty" – The tension between Leslie and Ben bleeds into a Model United Nations conference. Ron tries to convince Tom to return to the department.
  • "Smallest Park" – Ben helps Leslie with one final project before he transfers to another department.
  • "The Trial of Leslie Knope" – When Leslie's relationship with Ben comes to light, she is called before a departmental committee.
  • "Citizen Knope" – Leslie tries to make her time on suspension productive as the rest of the gang work together to create the perfect gift.
  • "The Comeback Kid" – Leslie and her staff must get the campaign back on track when her poll numbers drop.
  • "Campaign Ad" – Leslie and Ben clash over the tone of her political ads following the entrance of Bobby Newport into the election.

-Disc 3-

  • "Bowling for Votes" – Leslie organizes a bowling night to sway uncertain voters and Jerry sets up an all-night fundraising event.
  • "Operation Ann" – Leslie tries to set Ann up with a date for Valentine's Day while the usually cheerful Chris is depressed after a break-up.
  • "Dave Returns" – Leslie is reunited with her ex-boyfriend, Dave, while currying favor with the retiring chief of police.
  • "Sweet Sixteen" – Leslie throws a party for Jerry after learning everyone forgot about his birthday.
  • "Campaign Shake-Up" – Leslie looks to gain the endorsement of a prominent citizen as Bobby Newport hires a new campaign manager.
  • "Lucky" – Leslie and Ben prepare for a crucial interview with a well-known journalist and Andy celebrates taking his finals.
  • "Live Ammo" – Leslie speaks with the retiring councilman she's looking to replace when the department's budget is slashed.

-Disc 4-

  • "The Debate" – Leslie's knowledge and preparation are pitted against Bobby's pandering and manipulation of the voters.
  • "Bus Tour" – The landscape of the election is changed when Bobby Newport's influential father passes away.
  • "Win, Lose or Draw" – Everyone is on pins and needles as the votes are tabulated on election night.

The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The transfer is sharp and close enough to a high definition broadcast signal. Picture quality is clean with natural skin tones.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The sound is fairly straightforward with dialogue coming in crisp and clear.

On Disc 1, you'll find Webisodes: Road Trip (8:42) is a 4-part series following April and Andy on a road trip to the Grand Canyon. Also included is the Leslie Tribute Video from Tom (1:09) from the episode "Meet 'N' Greet."

Disc 2 includes Campaign Ads (4:41), which are the promos done for the campaigns of both Leslie and Bobby Newport.

On Disc 3, you'll find the "Catch Your Dream" Music Video (4:31), a campaign promo set to a song by Andy. There is also a wealth of deleted scenes on the first 3 discs.

The rest of the bonus materials are on Disc 4. Gag Reel Uncensored (17:03) is an extended assortment of outtakes while The Swanson Zone (5:05) is a 3-part series featuring Ron Swanson doing manly activities like canoeing and wood carving. The Odds and Ends section includes: Andy's Testimony (4:17) sees Andy on the witness stand during Leslie's hearing, Congratulations Amy (1:46) finds the cast congratulating their castmate on her Power of Comedy award, New Year's Eve (0:24) sees the cast wishing everyone a Happy New Year, People's Choice Awards (2:11) features "Big Bang Theory" star Kaley Cuoco checking out the talents of each cast member, and "The Voice" Promo (2:32) finds Cee-Lo Green dropping by the department.

Film Value:
"The Office" has been on a downswing for years, "30 Rock" is wrapping up, and poor "Community" is treated like an unwanted stepchild. This leaves "Parks and Recreation" as the shining star in NBC's sitcom roster.  "Parks & Rec: Season 4" finds just the right balance between over-the-top humor and solid storytelling.


Film Value