Let's face it, we left the fourth season of Parks and Recreation with an ending that was fairly expected. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler, Baby Mama) was leaving the Pawnee, Indiana Parks Department for the Pawnee City Council, part of a rise to a self-fulfilling stardom. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Ben (Adam Scott, Party Down) had decided to go to Washington to help manage various congressional campaigns, taking along the dour Parks Department alumnus April (Aubrey Plaza, Funny People) for the ride. And that is where we find them and the other Parks Department employees at the beginning of Season Five?
Well, the big thing with Ben gone and Leslie doing other responsibilities is the challenges the supporting cast was facing. These obstacles of various resonances were hardly things that would destroy their development, rather than in overcoming them the growth of the Pawnee Parks Department (and by extension the ensemble) would come through. Leslie's former boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman, The Men Who Stare At Goats) is in a relationship with a single mother played by Lucy Lawless and attempts to reconcile his belief structure with that of his feelings for her. Chris (Rob Lowe, The West Wing) is without a relationship but is rapidly coming to terms with the fact he is getting older, even if he has to go to intensive therapy sessions to do it. Leslie's best friend Ann (Rashida Jones, The Social Network) has been jumping from identity to identity before realizing she wants to be a mother. April's husband Andy (Chris Pratt, Take Me Home Night), while remaining the compass for the show's physical comedy and general yuks, has a small intention of being a police officer. And Tom (Aziz Ansari, 30 Minutes Or Less) attempts once again to start a business outside of the department on his own.
Having the supporting cast have their own "A" storylines, or even enough recurring appearances to make this feel multi-episodic, is welcoming to see as they get their own chances to stretch out and do thing. With deeper actors such as Lowe and Jones, there are occasional tender moments that help reinforce why their presence on the show is so welcome, and for others like Pratt that may be working on them, seeing their work in progress as it is was welcome to experience. This was a subtle yet welcome new approach for the ensemble without abandoning their individual character's mythology. Ron is still Ron, Tom is still Tom, etc. Heck, we even get a look at Jerry (Jim O'Heir, Accepted) outside of work, with a family that is simply baffling to behold when we see them. Trust me, it is worth it for the surprise.
However, the more the season unfurls, it became clear to me that the turn was done as overcompensation due to another decision. I believe show made a clear error by separating Ben and Leslie at the beginning of the season as Leslie was clearly distracted by not having Ben around, and Scott's minimized presence in the beginning of the season made for an adverse impact on the show overall. Ben and Leslie made for a mix of enthusiasm, emotion and humor that not many shows can brag about at the moment. The advancement of the relationship between the two is easily the best thing to watch in Season Five, and it is not close.
I do not believe in using "Jump the Shark," "Nuke the Fridge" or whatever phrase suits your preference that illustrates when a show has reached a wendepunkt that it cannot recover from. But I do think that the fifth season of Parks & Recreation is one where it can last either another two seasons or four, depending on the performances of their supporting cast. The coming sixth season will prove to be more intriguing to view than this for casting news that I prefer not to reveal, but the long game the show has built was more interesting for me to see than whether or not Season Five had another "Ron and Tammy" episode or another Jean-Ralphio sighting (not really and yes respectively, in case you were curious). But it is up for the show's writers to decide if they want more of the former or the latter now.
22 episodes, spread over four discs, with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation over all discs. I am going out on a rather big and safe limb by saying the film is shot in high-definition and the standard definition viewing is perfectly fine without any prolonged moments of artifacts or image haloing, and the image replicates the color palette naturally and without complaint. The video quality is pretty much what I anticipated and is consistent with prior releases.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for all of the episodes, with the results being as expected. Dialogue is consistent, channel panning and directional effects are present though not entirely dominant, and there are moments of subwoofer engagement through the course of the season which provide for convincing and immersive experiences.
The bonus material is similar in content and format to the third season, meaning a distinct lack of commentaries or generally fun things. Disc One has twenty two deleted scenes (33:55) that include a proper introduction of Jam, a funny impression of Leslie from April and Ben Wyatt really hating spiders. Three webisodes (4:52) feature Andy going around Washington and showing the sights, while three promos (:47) show the Washington cast…in Washington. Ron does a public service announcement about a bacon shortage (1:16) which is charming, while a music video for the Mouserat song "Menaceball" (2:32) is unspectacular. The third disc has yet even more deleted scenes (25, 33:23), which include more of Ron getting sick and generating chuckles. The gag reel (21:27) shows off the between takes genius of Pratt, and the complete filibuster that guest star Patton Oswalt did for an episode in the season (8:39) closes things out.
The fifth season of Parks and Recreation makes a significant error in judgment in keeping two of their main characters away from each other and in doing so, the season tends to lose some comedic momentum, sacrificing it for slightly more serious character development. It hits more often than it misses, but if someone mugged me for the information as to which Parks and Rec season was the best, this may not be in the top three, and that ain't good. Technically it is still good and from a bonus material perspective just mines more out of the same vein in the cave. A rental to catch up on the show if you need it, but I do not think it is mandatory.