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It's the premier of Parks and Recreation's fourth season, with which we return to Pawnee and those low-level government employees we just can't get enough of. Essentially setting up the season's longer running storylines, “I Am Leslie Knope” came with big changes for a number of characters; though some turned out to be more welcome than others. Though this episode wouldn't make it onto the list of funniest, it had all the trademark heart that few other comedies can match.
The fast-paced cold open was the perfect way to kick off the season, thanks to embodiment of manliness that is Ron Swanson. In most cases fleeing from a woman would be a sign of weakness, but the Parks Department Director does it with such style that he comes off like a spy who's making his getaway after his cover's been blown. The sureness and determination of his movements while procuring his “bug-out bag” from its hiding spot in city hall created an outrageous scene – not to mention the still charred remains of his facial hair. Topping it off with the image of Ron running -the single greatest contribution to physical comedy of the modern era- ensured that even if the rest of the episode was dry, there would still be one hilariously memorable moment.
As it turned out, the rest of the episode did fall a little short of its usual comic benchmark, but not all the blame can be placed on the new plot developments taking place. With Tom leaving the department at the end of last season to focus on his and Jean-Ralphio's joint venture, Entertainment 7twenty, he now doesn't have much reason to visit his old workmates. Whereas he was always around to snap off a one-liner or hit us with one of his infectious grins, now we only see him in passing, and that's just not enough Tomcat. The company is obviously doomed to fail, mainly because as Andy points out, there isn't much they do besides putting their logo on stuff no one wants – actually the drum roll keychain wasn't bad. Bu hopefully Jean-Ralphio's bank roll runs out sooner rather than later, because while seeing Tom live his dreams is a nice thought, getting him back in the office would make an even nicer reality.
Andy and April thankfully didn't take off anywhere in the three weeks that pass between the opening segment and the rest of the episode. Andy is still the same ol' loveable lug, but April was taking on a new demeanor to go along with her hairdo. Being half-hipster and all slacker, caring was never really April's thing, but she has found her assertive side and it's working for her. They haven't lost their appeal as a couple, but the relationship needed a new dynamic, as things had been becoming stale since their sudden marriage basically pushed the romance side of things as far as they can go. Thus it was a smart move to have April take on the role of Andy's manager in the season two finale, and it should provide that extra spark needed to keep things interesting.
With her job in the health department keeping her in the center of the action, Ann has rebounded from her season three lull. She is certainly staying busy, if only thanks to Chris all but volunteering her to diagnose any men with genital problems. After the two started rebuilding a friendship at the end of last season, no one could have blamed Ann if she ended it right then. It's just impossible to stay mad at a guy like Chris though, even when he's pointing out how he ruined your day; “Oh, my god! Your in-box is literally filled with penises.” The subplot of a man sending out a photo of his junk to every female in the government may seem tasteless on paper, but the episode squeezed some excellent material from it, and showed they still can come up with something for Ann to do.
Ron was too busy avoiding Tammy 1 and preparing his audition tape for Whisker Wars to help bring down the mumps-stricken pervert, but that doesn't mean he wasn't around to score a few more laughs during the episode. Leslie was just after a little advice on her problem with Ben when she drove out to Ron's cabin, instead she ends up with her coffee privileges taken away and an invitation to do a little fishing...with firearms. Not all that helpful for her, but absolutely hilarious for us. It may take a little time, but that outer shell of ice always melts and Ron comes through for the people he knows are worth coming through for. In this case he did so with a very sweet spin on the line that became synonymous with his character; “I'm Ron Swanson and you're Leslie F***ing Knope.” Which is how Leslie finally gains the strength to make the tough decision that she's been avoiding the entire episode.
Ben and Leslie splitting would be upsetting no matter what the circumstances, but given the timing, it actually came off as more annoying. The two crazy kids never even really got together before they were breaking up. Well to be fair there was a lot of making out then breaking up, but still. Not unlike Ann and Chris's short-lived relationship sparking up only to burn out with little reason for it, the suddenness of their split didn't come off very naturally. And once again as soon as we become invested in two characters as a couple, they call it quits.
At least Leslie's attempts to keep the news from Ben resulted in some charmingly comedic moments; especially her all female yacht club(“Anchors aweigh, ladies!”). Her sudden sobbing in response to Ben's L-shaped eclair was equally amusing. Of course seeing how humorous the two are together only made it worse that they would be splitting up. But the end did come in a well portrayed emotional scene, with some believable tearing up on both their parts, and Ben couldn't have given a more simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking gift in the “Knope 2012” button. Maybe -hopefully- it won't be so easy for them to call it quits, because it would be a terrible waste to give up their adorably awkward chemistry so soon. And if it is completely over, Leslie announcing her candidacy and the season long storyline that comes with it should provide some distraction from the missed potential in their relationship.
Grizzly Adams style Ron just wasn't enough to put this episode over the top, and “I'm Leslie Knope” ended up feeling slightly disappointing after the anticipation that had built over the summer. But if Tammy 1 is anywhere near as funny as Ron's second ex-wife -and judging by her brief appearance at the end of this episode, she is- than this season is only going to get funnier as it goes along.