Here it is folks, the first episode with Rob Lowe and Adam Scott! NBC has been touting the arrival of Lowe over the last two weeks, but it turns out, at least in this first episode, that it was Scott who was getting the bigger role. That didn’t matter as much to me as the question of how the show would do with integrating the new characters without messing up the winning formula they figured out this season. I wasn’t too worried after Michael Shur and Gregg Daniels seamless did the same for The Office in its third season. Good news: it worked out better than imagined.
“The Master Plan” revolved around two overlapping plots: the arrival of two state auditors (Lowe and Scott) and April’s 21st Birthday. The arrival of the auditors instantly frustrates Leslie, who thinks they’re going to come in and slash everything and fire everyone, as thought that fills Ron with giggling glee. While Lowe is the charming, handsome health supplement lover that points and makes eye contact to try and remember people’s names, Scott’s Ben is a more serious guy that blames the faulty Pawnee government for all the problems. Leslie lashes out at him harshly for asserting such a thing as Ron wonders what’s a “non-gay way to ask him to go camping with me.”
April’s 21st Birthday is a moment that she and Andy accept her as an adult, which means they two could get together. Andy has always seemed to be the one that was resistant to the idea, so knowing that he actually did like April was kind of sweet. Meanwhile, Ann and Mark have officially broken up, and though she’s glad for that fact, she also seems a little bummed that it didn’t work out. Tom too has a lot hedging on the party, as he’s invited several girls with the hopes that he’ll hook up with one of them.
The party doesn’t quite pan out the way that anybody wants it to. April and Andy have a tentative hello that seems to indicate things will go in the right direction, but then a really drunk Ann grabs Andy and starts talking to him about their relationship. April sees this and in the same jealousy we saw at the telethon, grabs the douche-supreme Jean Ralfio, which clearly does the trick on Andy, though both he and April end up pretty sad about it. Tom is striking out with every girl he’s brought with him, and as I said, Ann is really really drunk. It was finally a chance for Rashida Jones to get some big comic moments this season. I’ve felt she’s the most underused character on the show, and I was glad to see her get a really funny moment. If all of this weren’t bad enough, Leslie tells Ben to get out, and for the second time is really mean to him.
The next morning everything is vastly more complicated. Ann apparently made out with someone, but can’t remember who (her brief scare that it was Jerry was hilarious), and Leslie has to face the facts with Ben. After berating him again, they go out for a beer (at 10:30) to figure stuff out. Ben reveals who he really is: a guy who became mayor of his small Wisconsin town when he was 18, and subsequently ran it into the ground. Ever since, he’s been working as an auditor to try and prove he can be responsible when running a government, something Leslie can get behind, so she drops her beef.
April is still pretty upset about the whole deal with Andy, and there’s a great scene where Ron tries to comfort her despite neither of them wanting that to happen, and somehow there’s an understanding that was some great silent comedy between Nic Offerman and Aubrey Plaza. Andy too is a little heartbroken, as he plays his song for April, “November,” which was incredibly sweet, even though it was in Andy’s usual Dave Matthews style. Tom is the one that truly comes out on top, as he meets a cute bartender, Lucy (Natalie Morales), when he goes to settle his bar tab from the night before, and they share a few laughs over awkward, inappropriate sex jokes. He successfully asks her out, and it’s all capped off by a goofy excited smile from Aziz Ansari that absolutely killed me.
Back at City Hall, Ann discovers it was Rob Lowe who she made out with. Though he definitely was excited about seeing her again, she appeared to be super embarrassed about the whole thing. Leslie and Ron go in for their meeting with the auditors, and though they’re submitted a pretty good proposal for cutting the budget, they found out the government of Pawnee is being shut down, the product of a budget crisis. Predictably, though also hilariously, Leslie reacts in utter horror while Ron stifles girlish giggles.
“The Master Plan” was yet another example of why Parks and Rec is the best comedy on TV right now. It had a solid story that was full of laughs and was so well put together. Rob Lowe’s goofy character at first seemed about out of his range, but as he popped up more and more, I realized he’s absolutely perfect for it. Ben has shades of Scott’s other notable character, Henry Pollard on Party Down (I really wanted someone to ask him, “Are we having fun yet?!”), but he seems like he’ll perfectly fit in on the show. I really defy you to find a better “please get together” couple than Andy and April on TV, and Amy Pohler has really made Leslie one of my favorite characters on TV right now. Parks and Rec is firing at all cylinders going into the finale, and I’m really excited to see where they go from here.
Michael’s Score: 96
TUiW Grade: A