At the end of its third season, the NBC show Parks and Recreation seemingly threw many pieces up in the air in a pseudo "Moldovian Massacre" of comedic proportions. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler, Baby Mama) was selected for future political aspiration but was left with the difficult choice between her dreams and her heart in a clandestine relationship with Ben (Adam Scott, Party Down), her boss in the City offices. But the beauty of the show is that many of the decisions Leslie and her co-workers in the Pawnee, Indiana Parks Department make are executed with such brilliant timing and a mix of poignant moments that the ride to get to that decision (and others made in the show) is worth the ride.
(Some slight spoilers here, so tread accordingly.)
The other big moment at the end of Season Three was Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman, The Men Who Stare At Goats) and the discovery that his first wife Tammy was in town. Ron's second wife Tammy (played by Offerman's real-life spouse Megan Mullally) had appeared in said season and her wreaking havoc on Ron and on Pawnee as a whole was legendary, but the referred "Tammy One" was a woman that made everyone shake in their boots, to the point where Ron immediately takes all 200+ days of his personal leave and retreats to a secluded cabin. Aside from the guest star who plays Tammy one (an interesting choice which I will not spoil) doing a tremendous job, Ron's choice serves as a metaphor of sorts for others in the cast over the course of the season. This metaphor is one where the sleepy little Pawnee-ans are apprehensive and then eventually embrace their decision or grow into the ramifications of the choice they make. Consider for a moment April (Aubrey Plaza, Funny People), Ron's secretary and a notoriously guarded young woman. In season three she almost stumbled into a marriage with the lovable doofus Andy (Chris Pratt, Moneyball). But in Season Four she takes a more prominent and even serious role within the Parks Department whether it is spearheading a project or even providing advice to her friends. Would anyone have imagined that a year ago? Hardly. And along those same lines, Plaza's expansion of skills in the character is fascinating. Tangentially, Pratt's willingness to take a bump or two for a laugh is amazing to watch.
There are moments of general hilarity as well. Leslie's friend Ann (Rashida Jones, The Social Network) decides to take up a relationship with Tom (Aziz Ansari, 30 Minutes Or Less). Tom made a separate leap of his own in attempting to start a new business with friend Jean-Ralphio (the amazing Ben Schwartz), but the business is...well...different. And the chemistry that Ann and Tom share may be stilted but is funny to see. And what of Chris (Rob Lowe, The West Wing), the City Manager who seemed conflicted at the end of Season Three? Well he does go through his own personal mini-drama of sorts when a daughter of Jerry's (Jim O'Heir, Accepted) breaks up with him. But instead of exhibiting a lack of confidence in Season Four that I thought he would come in with, he inhabits a sort of patriarchal role in a way to Leslie and Ron, reassuming a supervisory and confidant role in a surprising turn of sorts.
What of Ben and Leslie? Are they still a couple? Is Ben even still on the show at the end of the season? Well, both characters make their own bold decisions, and perhaps this is something that is crystallized in "The Trial of Leslie Knope" during the season. Leslie decides the relationship with Ben should be made public as part of her political aspirations. But she also wants to inform Chris, who strictly forbids such relationships as they may compromise how the City does business. Leslie may not be ready for the ramifications but Ben helps and takes bold steps, and both feel more comfortable with the results. Each undergoes their own small transformation, and with the help of talented guest stars Paul Rudd (as Bobby Newport, son of a Pawnee business magnate thrown into the candidacy because it's something to do) and the underrated Kathryn Hahn (as Newport's campaign manager) help build the campaign to a not entirely unexpected ending.
Through the fourth season journey of Parks and Recreation, there were several metamorphoses which occurred for the characters and the actors that portray them. Many show a tender side that we may not have anticipated working as well as they did. And while the season may not have been an exact replica of the third which people may have expected, the show continued to move events forward while allowing the supremely talented group to stretch their legs further in their roles. Compared to previous seasons this one is 'different,' but in some of the nicest ways possible.
Season Four's 22 episode run spans over four discs and all are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Minor bemoaning about the show not having a proper high-definition release aside, the presentation of the episodes is quite good, with the source material being pristine and the images in said material looking sharp and vivid. There are no distracting moments of edge enhancement or other image processing that I picked up on. You may not have any Blu-rays to gawk at, but these discs are perfectly acceptable.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround which accompanies the show's episodes are solid, but they are hardly revelatory material. Dialogue sounds consistent during the show, the music is replicated nicely and fills a fairly shallow soundstage. There are occasional moments of low-end fidelity and channel panning, but if there is any directional activity, is was pretty subtle and missed on my end. Still, this is a comedy show so don't expect to be wowed, and at the end of the day it is good listening material.
From a packaging perspective the discs are laid out the same as last season, but the big takeaway from this season's DVD extras is the lack of episode commentaries. One could see the commentary participants in the third season as perhaps show runner Michael Schur washing his hands of them, but such is life. There are, however, deleted scenes for the season's first 19 episodes, with a total runtime of 1:34:49. Many of them explain things that were summed up in one line in the show or are alternate takes of a sequence, but most are hilarious and well worth watching. It should be noted that the footage from the extended episodes of the season are part of this group, along with the extended episodes themselves (specifically "End of the World," "The Debate," "Bus Tour" and "Win, Lose or Draw").
There are additional extras, though they tend to lack a bit. Disc One includes a video tribute to Leslie from Tom (1:09) which appears on "Meet 'N' Greet," while there are four webisodes centered on April and Andy's trip to the Grand Canyon (8:42), which appears on "End of the World." Disc Two has a series of Campaign Ads (4:41) from the Knope and Newport campaigns, while Disc Three has a full music video for the Andy-penned ditty "Catch Your Dreams" (4:31). Disc Four starts with a gag reel similar to last season's (17:03), where Pratt is the unquestioned star. Next is "The Swanson Zone" (5:05), three Offerman-centric featurettes of varying engagement. "Odds and Ends" is a series of brief pieces, ranging from Andy's ceremony at Leslie's trial (4:17) to mock pieces for the NBC show "The Voice" (2:32) or a tribute to Poehler (1:46).
The fourth season of Parks and Recreation may lack some of the more jocular moments of its third season, but Season Four has plenty of poignant moments to go with the ones which make it as good as its prior installment, and may be better in others. Technically it is about the same as its older brother and is a slight downgrade in the bonus material point of view, but is absolutely worth your time regardless.