TV Diary | Parks And Recreation: “Dave Returns”
TV Diary | Parks And Recreation – Episode 4.15 – “Dave Returns” – Original Airdate: 2/16/12
Episode Grade: A
I’ll be completely honest – the fact that Louis CK was back on Parks And Recreation for the first time in two years in “Dave Returns” predisposed me to like this episode more than your average installment of the show. We can get that out of the way right off the bat. However, Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall made a really good point in his review of “Dave Returns” – the last time that CK guest-starred on the show, it was not only well before CK had hit the cultural zeitgeist but also before Parks And Recreation itself had developed into one of television’s best sitcoms as well. Looking at the episode through that prism, it’s obvious that not only has CK returned as a more confident performer but he’s returned to a more confident show. CK is pretty self-deprecating in his media appearances, poking fun at the fact that he’s not really an actor but two seasons of doing his own show – FX’s brilliant Louie – have clearly allowed CK’s acting to grow by leaps and bounds, culminating in an Emmy nomination last fall for Best Actor in a Comedy for crying out loud. So to watch him slip back into his role as Officer Dave – last seen joining the National Guard reserve in San Diego and asking Leslie to move out west with him – is to watch a performer whose confidence is at an all-time high. But that confidence extends to the show itself. As Sepinwall pointed out, in season two Parks And Recreation was just starting to jell into a comedic powerhouse. It had the unenviable task of trying to get past what was, politely speaking, an uneven first season that turned many people off to the show. It was struggling to not only hold onto the audience it had, but trying to coax back those who may have abandoned it after its less than stellar first campaign. Its second year was very strong, but it wasn’t until the end of that season and the introduction of Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt and Rob Lowe’s Chris Traeger that the show really found itself and discovered the dynamic that would propel Parks And Recreation to its current status as one of television’s best shows. And that sense of confidence was palpable all over “Dave Returns.” CK didn’t feel like a stand-up comedian doing a guest shot on a sitcom – he felt like one of our best comedic actors slipping seamlessly into one of television’s best and tightest ensembles. That Parks And Recreation managed to find an organic reason for his return – Dave is back in Pawnee to interview for the police chief job just as Leslie and Ben are trying to secure the endorsement of the outgoing chief – instead of just trying to capitalize on CK’s rise to stardom just makes things all the better. And that this is the first interaction that Dave has had with Ben makes every scene that CK and Scott share  a rousing highlight of the episode. Dave and Ben’s continual dorky one-upsmanship of each other – Dave is still as robotic and malapropism-prone as ever while Ben still retains his awkwardness and nervousness around police officers – is a hoot and Leslie’s attempts to play referee between the two provides Poehler some great material as well. That the show also avoided the temptation to devolve Dave from the level-headed albeit low-key guy that he originally was to some sort of maniacal jealous moron in the face of Leslie’s relationship with Ben was also a testament to CK and Parks And Recreation’s writers’ ability to find the conflict inherent in the situation without relying on cartoonish crutches. Simply put, “Dave Returns” is going to stand as a high-water mark of Parks And Recreation’s pretty brilliant fourth season, and that’s a credit to both CK’s ability as a performer and to Parks And Recreation as a well-oiled comedic machine.
 Obviously along with the comedic powerhouse that is Amy Poehler.
*While Leslie and Ben were busy trying to secure the police chief’s endorsement, the rest of the Parks Department spent much of “Dave Returns” in a recording studio laying down the anthem – “It’s kinda like ‘We Are The World’ only I think it can have an impact on society.” – that Andy wrote for Leslie’s campaign. The plotline seems to exist for two main reasons: to show that Andy can turn into an egotistical dick when other people are recording one of his songs and as an excuse for the pseudo-return of Ron’s Duke Silver alter-ego. Seeing the usually docile and simple Andy turn taskmaster – “Was that a joke? Were you just joking right now? Because that was hilarious-ly awful.” – when he doesn’t get the results he wants from the collective is a fun switch on the usually dim-witted character, while Ron enlisting April’s help to keep his secret identity concealed and then trading on his musical skills to help Andy’s song take shape was a nice return to the Duke Silver in-joke.
*Still not completely on board with the Ann/Tom pairing – most of the time here is spent with Tom desperately trying to get another chance with her before ultimately wearing her down – but it gives Rashida Jones something to do, which I do like. Hopefully Parks And Recreation’s writers find the sweet spot in this storyline (provided there is one) before too long.
*I’ve seen things before… and watching Chris murder “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” is something I hope to never have to see again. Ever.
*Tom Haverford Playbook Item #2: Ladies love a guy waiting for them in the rain. (NOTE: They don’t actually love a guy waiting for them in the rain, as Ann proves.)
*The way Adam Scott plays Ben’s awkwardness around police officers – “Pretty sweet sauce in there, eh Ace?” – will never not be funny.
*Jerry Abuse Item Of The Week: Having cymbals slammed in his face by April after almost outing Ron as Duke Silver to everyone.
*”I feel like you’re embawwased by me.” “That is accurate.”
*”OK… here it comes… 9/11…”
*”Yes, Leslie Knope is a female person with whom I was involved. We had romantical involvement.”
*”Double Endorsement. Oooh… that sounds like an Ashley Judd movie.”
*”You look like I could use some company.”
*”He’s in love with you and he has a GUN?”
*”I got you guys some tea with honey because honey’s good for your throat but mine’s just honey because tea is gross.”
*”I don’t want to brag but I have a ton of experience with women being mad at me.”
*”Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
*”I just said one thing to you and you’re contrairing me.”
*”No offense, Ron, but what do you know about music?”
*”Now if you’ll excuse me I’m about to endorse ten beers into my mouth because this has been a stressful evening.”
*”The four sweetest words in the English language: You wore me down.”
*As per usual, I’ve embedded the episode below via Hulu for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy.