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Parks and Recreation -- TV Review

The Bottom Line

One of NBC's finest and funniest sitcoms makes a midseason return because NBC is NBC, and there's no room for logic.

Airdate:

Jan. 20, 9:30 p.m. (NBC)

Cast:

Amy Poehler, Adam Scott, Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones

The third season begins after cutbacks have left the department decimated for three months.

Leslie (Amy Poehler) goes to round up the troops (who have taken odd jobs during the work stoppage) and races them back to the office, only to find that the budget doesn't really allow them to do anything. So she tries to persuade state auditors Ben (Adam Scott) and Chris (Rob Lowe) to loosen the purse strings. Ben is dubious, but perfect-human Chris comes around with the help of sentimentality and the lure of Ann (Rashida Jones). Lowe's character is really beginning to jell, and he's outstanding in the second episode when Pawnee is overrun with the flu. If you've never believed Lowe can make you laugh out loud, pay attention to that episode.

During its debut season, Parks took five of its six episodes to get beyond seeming like a less-funny version of The Office. By the sixth episode, the characters were more defined, their quirks and rhythms understood, but the show didn't exactly arrive until Season 2, with 24 superb episodes that made it the best comeback story on television and a top-tier comedy.

Why? Nuanced characters, superb writing and a willingness to be different in its premise from other formulas.

True, NBC deserves credit for sticking with a show that had dismal ratings and seemed to fail its freshman tryout, but the network proceeded to choke horribly by giving egregiously unfunny Outsourced the fall slot, right when Parks was on a creative roll.

But put your bitterness aside -- seriously, one day, NBC will be run like a real network -- and bask in the fact that our Pawnee pals have returned, and there are plenty of excellent episodes in store.