The early episodes of last season’s quasi-Office mockumentary, Parks and Recreation, were a little muddled, but toward the end of the six-episode season, the folks at the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department — led by earnest, affable, slightly moronic deputy director Leslie Knope — finally started to come into focus. Last night’s season two premiere picked up right where we left off in May, not only with the storylines, but with the actors and characters finally breaking out of their Scranton, PA archetypes.
The draw (and glue) of Parks and Recreation has always been Amy Poehler, and last night’s episode, “Pawnee Zoo,” proved that she has almost shed the “poor man’s Michael Scott” label. (And to be fair, it took Steve Carell a season and half to shed the poor man’s Ricky Gervais image.)
Toward the end of last season, Poehler was bringing a vulnerability and tenderness to Leslie Knope that made her the most huggable character on television. Last night, that nuanced characterization held fast as Leslie found herself in the middle of a town-wide controversy when she accidentally performed a wedding ceremony for two gay penguins at the Pawnee Zoo.
Things begin to unravel early in the episode, when Tux and Flipper start honeymooning right in front of the kids. Leslie points out: “At least they’re married.” And a zoologist in the crowd tells her that she misintroduced the penguin couple: “Those are both boy penguins. So, you should have announced them ‘husband and husband’ — technically.”
When Leslie gets to work the next day, she’s already receiving fan mail from Pawnee’s gays. (“‘Leslie, hey girrrrrrrrl! Thank you for supporting the cause of gay marriage!”)
As a public servant, Leslie is not allowed to take an activist’s stance on any issue. She’s in the middle of defending herself, when her intern, April, introduces Leslie to her boyfriend and his boyfriend, who are throwing a party for her at Pawnee’s gay bar, The Bulge.
April: This is my boyfriend, Derrick. This is Derrick’s boyfriend, Ben.
Leslie: Hey! Wait, sorry — what is this situation?
April: What do you mean?
Leslie: How does this work?
April: Derrick is gay, but he’s straight for me and he’s gay for Ben and Ben is really gay for Derrick and I hate Ben. It’s really not that complicated.
Leslie:: [To the camera-man, back in her office] The thing about youth culture is that I don’t understand it.
Derrick: None of the other politicians ever take a stand, and it means a lot to the gay community.
They unfurl an Obama-esque poster that says “Knope” and Leslie is power-less to resist their offer to honor her at The Bulge. Back in her office she calls herself “Queen of the Gays.” Which is funny, because just as she says it, she meets Pawnee’s own Queen of the Straights, Marsha Langman, from the Society for Family Stability Foundation.
Leslie: So, what can I do for you and the fine people at the SFFSF?
Marsha: [Cheerfully] Well, you could resign! Ha ha ha! If you’re up for it.
Leslie: Oh, you’re serious?
Marsha: When you performed a marriage for gay penguins, using taxpayer money on government property, you were symbolically taking a stand in favor of the gay marriage agenda.
Leslie: Oh, I’m sorry, but, um, hold on a second there, Marsha. That was just not my intention at all.
Marsha: Why else would you marry penguins?
Leslie: Because I firmly believed that it would be cute. And it was.
Marsha: Leslie, are you married?
Leslie: Um, no. Not yet, Marsha. Soon, probably. I have a plan. But no. Not now. Not dating anyone yet. Focusing on my career.
Marsha: I thought so. So, you couldn’t possibly understand that when gays marry, it ruins marriage for the rest of us. So, either you annul the wedding, or I will publicly ask for your resignation.
Leslie goes to The Bulge later that night to announce that she wasn’t really taking a stand for gay marriage; she was only trying to do something cute, but she gets so swept up by the gay love for her, that she shouts into the microphone, “I just have one thing to say: Together we can change Pawnee forever! Let’s dance!“
Later, she interviews: “You know why tonight is so fun? Because everyone is so gay. And they know how to have fun. And the dancing! It’s just, everyone is who they are. And who they are is just stone cold gay.”
The next day, she gets called to Pawnee Today to defend her actions. It’s not pretty. See for yourself:
Leslie refuses to annul the penguin marriage, and when she visits them at the zoo — surrounded by graffiti that says “Flipper and Eve! Not Flipper and Steve!” — she has an epiphany and decides to take them to Iowa, where gay marriage is legal. Also, she wants to stop at Six Flags on the way, to let them ride a water slide.
It’s good to see Parks and Recreation returning in top form, and even better to see Poehler mocking the “pro-family” agenda. She may not be Queen of the Gays, but she’s certainly in the royal court.
Did anyone else catch Parks and Recreation last night? What would you like to see in the coming season?
Thanks to Schilbo for the tip!