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Primer for Pawnee

There’s only so much time in a day, so narrowing down what’s essential viewing to catch you up with a television series could only be beneficial. This is especially true when a series has been on air for more than a season. Wading through multiple seasons and obtaining DVD box sets can seem like a daunting task to any viewer.

The fourth season of the critically lauded NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation” returns after a brief winter break to its regular Thursday night spot at 8:30 p.m. With the recently announced casting of “I Love You, Man” and “Role Models” star Paul Rudd as Leslie Knope’s (Amy Poehler) opponent in her city council race and Entertainment Weekly giving the series the title of “TV’s Smartest Comedy,” “Parks and Recreation” seems like surefire comedy gold for the spring season.

The Oracle selects four episodes of the series to help introduce you to the citizens of the fictional Pawnee, Ind., all before the series returns Thursday with the episode “The Comeback Kid.”

“Hunting Trip” – Season 2, Episode 10

Available On: Netflix Instant Play and Hulu Plus

If there’s one thing you’ll learn early on about Leslie Knope, deputy parks director of Pawnee’s Parks and Recreation Department, it’s that she is steadfast and determined in regards to all of her goals and ambitions.

In her continuous effort to form a tight-knit family with her fellow co-workers, Leslie invites herself and fellow women of the Parks Department on the secret all-male hunting trip with Ron (Nick Offerman) and Mark (Paul Schneider), much to the pair’s chagrin. On the trip, it’s a battle of the sexes, leading up to Ron accidentally receiving a near-fatal shot to the head by one of the group’s inexperienced hunters.

While the revelation of which of them accidentally shot Ron is hilarious enough, it’s the fact that Leslie continuously covers for the individual even when the law becomes involved that makes this episode worth singling out. “Parks and Recreation” plays upon the theme of group unity that echoes through the series from here on out. Leslie does help to form a family; it’s just a little bit of a fractured one.

“Harvest Festival” – Season 3, Episode 7

Available On: Netflix Instant Play and Hulu Plus

Love is most certainly in the air for many of the show’s characters as the Pawnee Harvest Festival grows nearer, all while Leslie books Pawnee celebrity and miniature horse Lil’ Sebastian to appear at the festival. Everybody in the Parks Department is overjoyed, except for new assistant city manager and Leslie’s crush Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), who doesn’t understand the appeal of a miniature horse.

As for the show’s other potential relationship, Ron’s droll assistant April (Aubrey Plaza) tells the doltish city hall shoe shiner Andy (Chris Pratt) that she loves him, to which he replies, “Dude, shut up! That is awesome-sauce!” “Harvest Festival” winds up into a swirl of relationship stress and grief as fellow co-worker Tom (Aziz Ansari) accidentally lets Lil’ Sebastian escape from his pen and blames it on Ben.

The search for Lil’ Sebastian takes a backseat as the relationship issues between Ben and Leslie, as well as Andy and April, are untangled in a way that seems both grounded in reality and remarkably truthful for a show that was once written off as a failed attempt at recreating the success of “The Office.”

“Pawnee Rangers” – Season 4, Episode 4

Available On: Hulu and

Parks Department Director Ron Swanson represents the exact opposite of Leslie Knope. While she’s a go-getter in service to her community, Ron’s more content to sit back and fashion canoes out of rare wood while his employees scamper about in service of the democratic government Ron so deeply loathes.

Though instead of Ron existing solely as the same sort of one-dimensional department head as Michael Scott from “The Office” was, “Pawnee Rangers” represents a much-needed departure for the character, as he attempts to teach a group of young boys from Pawnee the many joys of the great outdoors.

Leslie starts her own group to do the same, but the Pawnee Goddesses are far more indulgent and typical of the “material girl” stereotype. When Ron’s Pawnee Rangers choose s’mores and video games with the girls over tents and sleeping bags, Leslie feels as if she destroyed Ron’s own ambitions, sparking a touching moment between the two showcasing a rare instant for sentimentality he usually reserves only for Lil’ Sebastian.

“Citizen Knope” – Season 4, Episode 10

Available On: Hulu and

Arguably the most tender and thoughtful episode of the series’ four-season run, Leslie and Ben seemingly lose everything following the discovery of their secretly developing relationship over the course of the third and fourth season, a workplace relationship forbidden by their superiors.

Leslie is suspended from her duties at the Parks Department, but in typical Leslie fashion, she attempts to do everything she can do to continue working during her suspension. When she also discovers that the publicity surrounding her workplace relationship could severely hurt her chances of running an effective campaign for city council, she’s torn.

Without spoiling too much, Leslie finds solace in her co-workers and best friend Anne (Rashida Jones), and with the blessing of Ben, attends a Christmas party held in her honor by her co-workers at the parks department. While the episode doesn’t exactly drip with Christmas spirit, it evokes the classics themes of a film like “It’s A Wonderful Life” – in that everybody has people who are willing to support them even in their weakest moments.