With Leslie Knope’s season-long bid for city council as its foundation, the fourth year of “Parks and Recreation” is its best, balancing an unabashed, and ultimately refreshing, idealism with hilarious situational comedy. The DVD release is a solid one, though fans of the show will continue to wonder about the absence of a Blu-ray edition.
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Packaging/Materials: Four-disc DigiPack with slipcover
Running Time: ~7:51:00
1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Dolby Digital: English 5.1
English SDH, Spanish
The Episodes: 4.5/5
When NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” premiered in the spring of 2009, it drew more than a few comparisons to “The Office” with its single-camera documentary format and a work environment notorious for fostering incompetence. While a quasi “Office” spin-off, set in small town government and starring Saturday Night Live alum Amy Poehler sounded promising on paper, in practice it just didn’t work. For one, “The Office” was itself a re-make, and one that got pretty lucky given the track record for such things. The chances of repeating that success with a local government-themed version? Slim to none. It also turned out jokes about government bureaucracy were kind of tired, and perhaps so close to the truth that they were no longer funny, just irritating.
Fortunately the “Parks’” writers got wise to the problems and made a refreshing and canny shift. Poehler’s Leslie Knope went from being a bumbling government lackey, to an idealistic and hard-working Parks employee trying to do right by her hometown of Pawnee, even when the odds are against her. The more negative character qualities were shifted to those working under or around Leslie, allowing the skewering of local government to continue, but without compromising the show’s protagonist. By removing the more cynical qualities found in the series’ initial episodes, the show ultimately found its unique voice, embodied by a main character who is at turns quirky, relatable and inspiring.
In the fourth season, Leslie sets out on a journey she has dreamed of since she was a child – running for public office. The season-long bid for city council will bring out both her best and worst qualities, first as she tries to avoid a scandal arising from her new relationship with her superior, assistant city manager Ben (Adam Scott), then as she seems poised for defeat by her dim-witted political opponent, Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd). Leslie’s friends and fellow Parks employees rally around the cause, with the steadfast Ann (Rashida Jones) acting as campaign coordinator, perennial schmoozer Tom (Aziz Ansari) taking on public relations, and the lunkhead Andy (Chris Pratt) in charge of personal security. The rest of the office staff – even the consistently unimpressed April (Aubrey Plaza) – chip in on the campaign, but all their hard work could be for naught given Newport’s backing by the largest business in town, Sweetum’s Candy Factory (owned by Newport’s father). Not surprisingly, Leslie’s Libertarian boss Ron (Nick Offerman) maintains a measured distance, but offers his sage advice (and various cuts of meat) at moments of crisis.
The season will also have its share of apolitical laughs as the supporting players’ personal lives inevitably bleed into their day jobs. Ron’s past comes back to haunt him in the form of Tammy 1 (Patricia Clarkson); Ann and Chris (Rob Lowe) become friends again and struggle with finding love (but not with each other); Tom tries and spectacularly fails at his all-style-no-substance business venture; Andy and April start working on their bucket list; and the hapless Jerry (Jim O’Heir) celebrates his 16th (leap year) birthday at the swank guest house of fellow office worker Donna (Retta).
Hilarious character development blended with the year-long political throughline make for a season firing on all cylinders, balancing high minded idealism with sometimes outright ridiculousness. With the fifth season due to premiere in a few days, it will be a challenge to repeat last year’s success, but the show is now a definite “must see” come Thursday nights.
"Parks and Recreation: Season Four" on DVD includes all 22 episodes that aired between 2011 and 2012 on NBC. "Parks and Recreation’s" fifth season is scheduled to premiere Thursday, September 20th at 9:30/8:30c.
Video Quality: 4/5
Like its NBC comedy counterparts “30 Rock” and “Community”, “Parks and Recreation” continues to see only DVD releases, despite the series’ high definition origins. Meanwhile, “The Office” has been getting Blu-ray editions since its fifth season, a move that may have made sense in the show’s heyday, but is making less and less as NBC’s comedy flagship has started taking on water.
Equity in Blu-ray releases notwithstanding, the presentation for “Parks” fourth season is a strong one, with good color, contrast and black levels across the board. As expected, the main issue with the standard definition treatment is the limited detail, particularly in wide and establishing shots. Fortunately, the show’s documentary-style tends to keep things framed tightly, minimizing most of the transfer’s more noticeable issues. Problems like noise and compression artifacts are also hard to spot with the show’s consistently bright and even lighting scheme.
All 22 episodes are framed at 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen displays.
Audio Quality: 3/5
Dialogue in the 448 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is consistently clear, detailed and intelligible. Surround activity and LFE are minimal to non-existent, though the track exhibits satisfying depth and dynamic range throughout.
Special Features: 3.5/5
The extras include deleted scenes for 19 of the 22 episodes, extended versions of the last three episodes, and a variety of video pieces used within the show. Though the set lacks any kind of in-depth, behind-the-scenes content, the material is entertaining enough. The campaign ads in particular should get repeat play.
Pre-Menu Advertising (5:03): Promotional spots for Universal Studios properties like “Smash,” “Suits,” “The Office,” “30 Rock,” and “Go On.”
Knope 2012 Sticker: Show your support for Leslie’s campaign with this official 4-inch round sticker.
Episode 1: I’m Leslie Knope (5:49)
Episode 2: Ron and Tammys (7:50)
Episode 3: Born and Raised (6:12)
Episode 4: Pawnee Rangers (3:48)
Episode 5: Meet N Greet (4:53)
Episode 6: End of the World (1:46)
Webisodes: Road Trip (8:42): See what happened on the rest of April and Andy’s drive west, from dealing with April’s arachnophobia to fun with state borders.
Four Corners (2:24)
Calling Leslie (1:53)
Building a Home (2:06)
Leslie Tribute Video from Tom (1:09): The complete video biography featured in “Episode 5: Meet and Greet.”
Episode 7: The Treaty (4:50)
Episode 8: Smallest Park (4:18)
Episode 9: The Trial of Leslie Knope (5:26)
Episode 10: Citizen Knope (9:28)
Episode 11: The Comeback Kid (2:28)
Episode 12: Campaign Ad (5:18)
Campaign Ads: The complete TV ads featured in “Episode 12: Campaign Ad,” including 11 of Bobby Newport’s hilarious non-sequitur spots.
Ben’s Campaign Ads for Leslie (1:15)
Bobby Newport Campaign Ads (2:38)
Leslie Positive Ads (:48)
Episode 13: Bowling for Votes (2:59)
Episode 14: Operation Ann (4:39)
Episode 15: Dave Returns (5:23)
Episode 16: Sweet Sixteen (4:52)
Episode 17: Campaign Shake-Up (6:29)
Episode 18: Lucky (3:59)
Episode 19: Live Ammo (3:29)
Catch Your Dreams Music Video (4:31): The complete Leslie Knope campaign song, written and performed by Andy (AKA Mouse Rat), with backing by the Knope Campaign Staffers.
Extended Episodes: As with the deleted scenes, the extended episodes are presented in stereo audio. Dialogue is sometimes hard to make out without raising the volume, which in turn tends to make ambient sounds too loud.
Episode 20: The Debate (26:01)
Episode 21: Bus Tour (25:29)
Episode 22: Win, Lose or Draw (27:27)
Gag Reel Uncensored (17:04): Surprisingly un-funny and over-long, the bloopers mostly consist of cast members cracking up during a take, sometimes for undiscernible reasons.
The Swanson Zone: The line between Nick Offerman and his character Ron Swanson gets blurry in this series of vignettes showing him enjoying nature and his woodworking.
Ron Canoeing (1:35)
Ron Cutting Wood (2:04)
Ron’s Bobblehead (1:26)
Odds and Ends:
Andy’s Testimony (4:17): An extended version of Andy’s statement to the court in “Episode 9: The Trial of Leslie Knope.”
Congratulations Amy (1:46): The cast congratulates Amy Poehler on an award win.
New Year’s Eve (:24): The cast rings in 2012.
People’s Choice Awards (2:11): Video piece for the awards show, with “Big Bang Theory’s” Kaley Cuoco.
The Voice Promo (2:32): Tie-in piece for NBC’s singing competition reality show.
The Episodes: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 4/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5
Universal Studios Home Entertainment delivers a solid DVD presentation for the endearing and hilarious fourth season of “Parks and Recreation.” The extras don’t have much in-depth material, but for the most part it proves entertaining, even in repeat play.