'Parks and Recreation' returns 

click to enlarge The cast of NBC's 'Parks and Recreation.'
  • The cast of NBC's 'Parks and Recreation.'


The bankrupt government of Pawnee, Ind., is back in business. Budgets have been slashed, but at least there's a youth basketball league (as mandated by state law). Sure, there's only enough money to fund two teams, but still.

And so begins season three of NBC's highly underrated Parks and Recreation, which takes great pleasure in poking gentle fun at small towns, government and interoffice relationships. Oh, and its setting: the mythical town of Pawnee, "the Akron of Southwest Indiana," where residents' favorite search engine is Alta Vista and they vigorously debate which book would be better to put in a community time capsule, Twilight or Crazy From the Heat: The David Lee Roth Story.

The city's fragrance king – whose latest scent is called Allergic – is named Dennis Feinstein. "His real name is Dante Fiero," Tom (Aziz Ansari) explains, "but he changed it to Dennis Feinstein, because that's way more exotic in Pawnee."

The first six episodes of this season include some hilarious references to our state. Sharing here (but without spoiling), expect to see or hear about Bob Knight, the Indianapolis Colts, obesity issues and odd roadside attractions. It's worth watching just for these.

But the overarching story this season is the decision to revive the Pawnee Harvest Festival – "Where fun meets awesome meets agriculture" – as a way to raise money for the cash-strapped Parks Department. "I tried to buy fertilizer the other day," Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) says. "Request denied. I literally can't buy (bleep)."

While the staff is busy getting the city's businesses and citizens to buy into the festival activities, they're also actively into each other's business. Ron (Nick Offerman) is dating Tom's ex-wife, so Tom goes after Ron's ex (played with gleeful sluttiness by Megan Mullally). Ann (Rashida Jones) has a serious crush on Chris, the robotically perfect budget overseer played by Rob Lowe. April (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy (Chris Pratt) dance around each other before figuring things out. And Ben (Adam Scott) is interested in the ever-oblivious Leslie.

Parks and Recreation, which was unceremoniously outsourced from NBC's Thursday night lineup by Outsourced, remains relatively subtle. Like the network's other sitcoms, there's no laugh track, and you need to pay attention to catch visual jokes and facial expressions. And like the other Thursday night sitcoms, it's well worth your time. I mean, how can you not want to spend time in a place where the morning radio show is called "Crazy Ira and the Douche"?

ALSO THIS WEEK

I don't know where the Science Channel is on my TV, but I'll be searching it out to watch An Idiot Abroad (10 p.m. Saturdays), the new show from The Office creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

For this eight-episode series, they send their friend Karl Pilkington, a guy who would be happy to never leave his street in the United Kingdom, to experience the Seven Wonders of the World and sample local customs in each country. This week's premiere finds Pilkington visiting the Great Wall of China. He's not impressed. "It's the All-Right Wall of China," he decides. As for local cuisine, "I didn't think it'd be this mental in the food department," he says as he watches people eating chicken fetus.

The more he squirms, the more Gervais cackles. I didn't find it quite that funny, except for the kung fu and massage segment. But the scenery is spectacular, and so are the experiences. Too bad they're wasted on him.

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