'Parks and Recreation' Season Premiere Review: Back to the Future

·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment

Parks and Recreation began its final season on Tuesday night with back-to-back episodes that took us back (to the exact spot last season left off) to the future (first words onscreen: “The Year 2017”). What follows here is a review with quite a few spoilers — warning — but I’ll try not to actually quote many of the show’s fine jokes.

The first of the show’s remaining 13 episodes was spent orienting us in the Pawnee of the future, a world in which Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope is on a quest for her greatest achievement: to establish a national park in the city’s environs. As she pointed out, she began her career (in our world’s Season 1) determined to turn a pit into a park, and now Recreation is about re-creation: turning Pawnee into a landmark of civic-minded public space.

The tech company introduced last season, Gryzzl, has become, as so much innovative tech is, now and apparently forever, central to nearly everyone’s life. It provides lots of distraction and ease, but it also divides the haves and the have-nots even more dramatically — and drama, cast in comic terms, was what Parks and Rec had a lot of on Tuesday night.

Related: 'Parks and Rec' Boss Michael Schur on the Final Season's Time Jump and Who's Coming Back to Pawnee

The two episodes played a little like a science-fiction origin-story: The show’s writers spent so much time orienting us in this slightly futuristic Pawnee, there were fewer big-guffaw punchlines, and more grinning-to-yourself moments. You had to constantly admire how well thought-out, how true to the spirit of the preceding six seasons of Parks and Rec, Tuesday’s hour was.

I’m still not sure I want to live in a world in which Leslie and Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson are enemies, but I’m willing to go along for that ride. I do know I want to live in a brave new world in which Jim O’Heir’s Jerry/Garry/Larry is now Terry, and sometimes Barry.

The show remains consistent in its world-view, which is more like a country-view, which is to say, Pawnee has always been a microcosm of nothing less than these here United States. The government intransigence that Leslie has encountered over all these seasons has been remarkably similar to what President Obama has encountered with Congress. Ron Swanson’s libertarianism is the sunny side of Tea Party reactionism. (That’s the difference between a sitcom and real life, kids: Optimism can trump cynicism.)

Pawnee is usually adversely affected whenever it comes in contact with celebrity culture, whether it’s the train-wreck emotionalism of local TV personality Joan Callamezzo (the superbly louche Mo Collins) or the fame Aziz Ansari’s Tom seeks and finds as a restaurant entrepreneur (he discovers that what he really wants is true love). Only Andy (Chris Pratt) can engage in the superficial glitz of show biz unscathed, because he is that rare thing — an incorruptible innocent, and thus the smashing success of the kids-music-job-turned-kiddie-TV-star Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show.

Video: Behind the Scenes of ‘Parks and Rec’s’ Final Season

It’s dangerous business (literally) for a sitcom on a major commercial network to traffick in these ideas, and perhaps on a nationally subconscious level, that may be one reason Parks and Rec never became a bigger hit — viewers sensed it was trying out some very mildly subversive things, and even mild subversion doesn’t play well in big chunks of the country. Parks and Rec has always been a show about big-D Democratic idealism — it’s a wonder Poehler and producers Michael Schur and Greg Daniels didn’t find a way to make Franklin D. Roosevelt a visiting dignitary, and now that I’ve written that phrase, it occurs to me they may well teleport him into the brave new world of Pawnee 2017 before this thing is over.

There. I got to the end of a review without doing what I’m tempted to do — just transcribe a bunch of the cool, funny twists the show’s writers gave us regarding 2017 movie franchises, tell-all memoirs, one jaw-dropping cameo, and the fate of Jon Glaser’s Councilman Jamm.

I really hope Andy and Aubrey Plaza’s April buy that “haunted and disgusting house,” though.

Parks and Recreation airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.