Parks and Recreation's fifth season was, like its third, more of a "rest and rebuild" season, following an intense last season that focused on one major story. There was no big project or campaign this time; instead, Season 5 more broadly followed Leslie as she adjusted to her new position and responsibilities as a member of city council. The obstacles she faced throughout the season finally culminated in an almost clip show-style finale that suggested the direction for Season 6. In the meantime, more attention was also given to the supporting characters' own individual arcs.
Episode 2, "Soda Tax," was a highlight for me. In fact, it was seeing this episode when it first aired, having not watched the previous four seasons, that convinced me to go back and check out the series from the beginning. Tackling a real-world political debate of the moment (and still ongoing), it encapsulated what I would come to appreciate most about the series in general—its willingness to explore politics in a fun and funny way while also being informative and relevant.
Episode 11, "Women in Garbage," was another great episode—one where the show's writers took a real position, using the fictional character of Leslie Knope to voice legitimate complaints about gender inequalities in the work force. It was also amusing to see all the cameos by real political figures this season. They didn't add much of anything to the show, but, again, it's funny to imagine Amy Poehler and the crew having developed Leslie Knope into a savvy political player with real-world voice and influence, such that politicians like Joe Biden and John McCain would have to treat this fictional character seriously.
On the whole, however, I did find this season to be weaker than I've come to expect from Parks and Recreation, and, to be honest, I do feel the show has, at this point, exceeded its optimal length and is now entering the creative decline that is inevitable with any series that goes too long. Other than the occasional topical episode and the highlight of Leslie and Ben's wedding (the real climax of the season, despite it coming in the middle of it), the show and its characters felt pretty tired.
Putting the focus more on Tom and Andy's stories this season did not work at all for me. Those are fairly one-dimensional characters, who only work well in supporting roles, providing well-timed supporting humor. Trying to make us pity Tom only ever serves to take us away from what was fun about the character—his misplaced confidence and swagger. And Andy has always been a pure cartoon; everybody likes him, but it's not meaningful to root for him, because we're never really convinced that he's a real human being with real human feelings. Likewise with Chris. And, as great a moment as it was when Ben surprised Leslie by returning to Pawnee and proposing to her, his character seemed to become irrelevant almost as soon as they were married.
But my least favorite part of Season 5, by far, was the character of Jamm. The series' first true villain, Jamm, the corrupt councilman serving only his own interests, appeared on almost every episode to get in the way of whatever Leslie was trying to accomplish. I'm sure the character was meant to be unlikable, and I also don't doubt that he represents a reality of the bureaucratic world. Nevertheless, he was so utterly repulsive and uniquely despicable that I just couldn't enjoy watching him on any level.
As for Leslie, the show's center, the reality is that city council should be the ceiling, at least for a while. She can't just keep rising to a new office every year, so I'm not sure where else there is to take that character within however many seasons remain. I'm betting that the order to recall her will come to a vote, and that will provide a more focused arc again (although I don't know if that particular angle could sustain even a half-season). Maybe she will be recalled, and then she'll embark in a different direction. Who knows? Hopefully the show's writers . . . .