Tom’s story is, as most Tom stories are, a largely silly and comedic one, but extremely well-executed, bringing back both Jean-Ralphio and Mona-Lisa for some of their funniest material to date, and introducing Dr. Saperstein, played wonderfully by the great Harry Winkler, as a new long-term nemesis. There is obviously much more still to come from this arc, but for now, what impresses me most is that the show has done so much good work maturing Tom over the last few seasons that, when confronted with all three members of the ridiculous Saperstein family, he organically becomes the adult straight-man of the subplot. I legitimately care about Tom and his business at this point, and I think seeing his relatively maturity contrasted with the sheer lunacy of Dr. Saperstein and his children makes for a very fresh, very funny comedic dynamic.
But the comic highlight of the hour is, of course, Andy bonding with his new, incredibly wealthy British friend – played fantastically by Peter Serafinowicz – while Ben looks on in confusion. Ultimately, this is all an excuse to take Chris Pratt off the show for a few months while he shoots Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy – also the reason this episode shot in London – but Parks has always been good at turning lemons into lemonade, and so what could have been a thin narrative workaround turned into one of the best Andy stories the show has done in some time. We not only receive a ton of great, warm laughs from the material in this episode, but also get to see firsthand the organic, understandable reasons Andy would choose to stay in London. As April says, this is an opportunity for him, and while I will be very sad to say goodbye to Chris Pratt for a good stretch of episodes, I am interested to see what this will mean for the character when he returns, and if his experiences in London change him in any notable way.
April, of course, gets the emotional highlight of the hour, as she cheers up Leslie by reading her the awards nomination letter, intercut with scenes of Ron, on Leslie’s instructions, travelling across Europe to reach the Lagavulin distillery. It is a great scene in so, so many ways – the cinematography on Ron’s European trek were absolutely stunning, especially considering this is typically a very visually modest show – not just for its moving, effective juxtapositions, but specifically because of how it positions April at the center of the scene. We have had many moments of emotional honesty from April before, of course, but I do think it is notable just how many scenes in “London” revolve around or heavily feature her particular, evolving personality – think also of the aforementioned scene with Andy, or Ron’s wedding, or multiple sequences with Leslie in London – and how crucial Aubrey Plaza is to selling each of those moments. Plaza is as gifted as a comic voice as anyone on this or any other TV show, but she is also a highly effective dramatic performer – see Safety Not Guaranteed for reference – and I love that Parks and Recreation is cashing in on that more and more these days.
Every other member of the ensemble, large or small, also gets their time to shine – Ann and Chris basking in the confusing joy of impending parenthood, Donna having Sherlock Holmes powers of perceptibility in recognizing Ann’s pregnancy, Jerry messing up by throwing a viewing party for Leslie’s speech, etc. – and from start to finish, “London” wastes not a second in using its expanded time to service every piece of this rich, beautiful fictional universe. Parks and Recreation has had episodes both funnier (“Flu Season”) and more emotionally powerful (“Fancy Party,” “Ben and Leslie”) than this, but I struggle to think of one installment that distilled everything the series excels at so perfectly. “London” is simply magnificent, and if this is what the show can still live up to six seasons in (the point at which The Office, in comparison, was careening off a creative cliff), I could not be more excited for whatever the show has in store, in whatever amount of time it has left. Six years later, Parks and Recreation has never been better.
Follow author Jonathan Lack on Twitter @JonathanLack.