Parks and Recreation 6.14 “Anniversaries” Review: Refreshingly Retooled

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When Ann and Chris drove off together and left Parks and Recreation last month, many fans (myself included) were wondering how the series would return after the Olympics without Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe. Despite the fact that neither Chris nor Ann had really been a central character on the show for a while, Parks and Recreation still had to fill in the big holes that their departure left for Leslie and Ben. How would the show’s arguably two main characters act without their best friends present? What direction could Parks and Rec take them in?

The answers to both of those questions came fairly early in “Anniversaries,” and they were both satisfying. Leslie has now regained her focus on the Pawnee/Eagleton merger that took place earlier this season and must find a way to get people to come together and get behind this new change before reaction to it becomes even worse. Meanwhile, Ben, who had planned an extravagant, over-the-top day of activities for himself and Leslie to surprise her with the day before their anniversary, finds himself still enjoying the perks of the day but with an interesting companion: Larry.

Both of these storylines in tonight’s episode were incredibly refreshing. It’s awesome to have Leslie be the focused, determined political leader that we can root for with a strong, feasible goal to work towards. When Leslie has an actual, legitimate problem that she needs to fix and her almost irritatingly enthusiastic work ethic doesn’t get in the way of other people’s ideas or intentions, Parks and Recreation works best and does not fall into the trap of having its main character becoming an annoying caricature like she had been in a couple episodes earlier this season. With the Unity Concert idea now in place, thanks to Andy, April, Tom, and the rest of the youth committee (I’ll think of a cooler word for it later), Leslie now has something that she can plan and perfect, and Parks and Recreation has given itself another big event, like the Harvest Festival back in season three, to which it write as it moves to the later part of the season.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Leslie’s myriad attempts to persuade people that the merger was a good idea, Ben’s adventures with Larry were even more of a breath of fresh air. I’ll make something clear first: Larry as a punching bag for the Parks department will never get old. However, it is important for Parks and Recreation to give more depth, interest, and attention to Larry as Jim O’Heir will now predictably have more screen time after the departures of Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe. The series can still make Larry the goofy, mess-up of a guy that he has always been, but it’s whole heck of a lot more fun when he’s involving other people, like Ben, in these wacky antics. Plus, I could watch the two of them quote Enchanted or take dance lessons together in every episode.

Even though much of the focus of “Anniversaries” was on Leslie and Ben, Parks and Recreation still found time to explore an interesting new dynamic between Donna and April, while also giving Ron the funniest subplot he’s had in a while, as, inspired by Yelp, he types up disapproving letters to people and institutions he does not like and sends them out. April’s struggles to discipline Donna and tell her how she truly felt were interesting to watch because they highlighted the more responsible April that has fully formed in front of our eyes over the past couple of seasons. Now that Ann has gone, April may need to fill that role of Leslie’s best friend, and perhaps she can even do it better than Donna could. In some ways, April and Leslie are incredibly similar, with their strong-willed dedication to projects that are really important to them, and with April now running the animal adoption agency and having to make the tough boss-like decisions that Leslie has made in the past, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between these two may change.

After being off the air for almost a month due to the Olympics, Parks and Recreation could have aired its most subpar episode ever, and I still would have been happy to sit down and watch it. However, “Anniversaries” was anything but mediocre and has me incredibly excited for this new, retooled Parks and Rec. Let’s hope the rest of this season is just as strong.

Other thoughts:

– Ron’s letter to Canada. Enough said.

– Ben’s reaction to Leslie getting him the Iron Throne was so perfect and exactly how I would have reacted if I had been in the same position.

– Actually, Ben was probably this episode’s MVP. Loved his speculation that Larry’s wife might have been hypnotized into marrying him, and his reasoning for being tense was because he has been worried about the Star Wars sequel, which is something that I totally can relate to. I, too, am afraid that they will use too much CGI and not pay close enough attention to the story.

– “Children are terrible artists. And artists are crooks.”

– “Dear Frozen Yogurt, You are the celery of desserts. Be ice cream or be nothing. Zero stars.”

What did everyone else think of last night’s episode of Parks and Recreation?

[Photo via Colleen Hayes/NBC]

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