"Parks and Recreation" is back after its brief spring hiatus, and I have a review of tonight's episode coming up just as soon as I bounce some business ideas off Russell Simmons on Twitter...

"Live Ammo" was written and produced at a time when the plan was for "Parks and Recreation" to keep airing original episodes from mid-January through mid-April, closing the season earlier than the rest of NBC's Thursday comedies. Yet it somehow works perfectly as a post-hiatus refresher on the players and stakes of the campaign storyline — as well as smaller arcs like Tom and Ann's relationship, Chris recruiting Ron to be his new deputy and April having to take on some of Leslie's responsibilities — and a set-up for everything that's going to come in the season's final three episodes. It wasn't as explosively funny as emotionally rich as some other episodes have been this season, but there were still plenty of laughs, good character moments and a good overall (re)introduction to this final act of the season.

"Parks and Rec" has always had more than a little of the cock-eyed optimism of "The West Wing" in its DNA, and "Live Ammo" made the link complete with the guest appearance by Bradley Whitford, who even got to do a vintage Sorkin-esque walk-and-talk with Leslie through Pawnee City Hall.  Councilman Pillner was a fairly straight character(*), there to prepare Leslie for what she'll be in for if she winds up winning the election. But I'm okay with Pawnee politics occasionally featuring competent, non-quirky humans, and he did a good job keeping the plot moving and showing to Leslie again and again that hard work and good intentions aren't always enough to make things work on a bigger scale than just being deputy parks director. And Leslie's solution nicely sets up next week's debate episode, which at this point in time looks like a mismatch akin to Josiah Bartlet versus Rob "Crime? Boy, I Don't Know" Ritchie.

(*) Whitford didn't even have to regrow his "The Good Guys" mustache, especially since he didn't share any scenes with Nick Offerman and there was therefore no opportunity for a glorious 'stache-off.

I also liked the way that Leslie and April's stories moved in parallel to one another. Each is taking a major step up the ladder (though April's may only be temporary) and learning that the new job isn't quite as easy or awesome as they might have hoped. The show has previously had fun with other characters trying to do Leslie's job (most memorably with Ron trying to run a public meeting without giving out his name), but April's apathy and general hostility gave it a new spin, while also providing one of several opportunities this week for Tom to unexpectedly be awesome. Yes, he's lazy and selfish and douchey and everything else, but he has an awesome, very girlfriend-friendly apartment, he gives April a shockingly good pep talk (which, like Pillner's speech to Leslie, helps recalibrate her expectations for the job), and as we learned a couple of seasons ago, he sounds adorable whenever he says the word "puppy."

Chris and Ron, meanwhile, wound up bonding more than expected, as Ron not only had to come over to Chris' side to prove he could meditate — and, though Ron couldn't wrap his head around it, he turned out to be the best meditator of all (naturally) — but Chris then had to imbibe of some of Ron's whiskey to deal with the possibility of losing his job in the event of a Bobby Newport win. That only increases the stakes of the election (or gives the writers something to work around in the event Leslie loses and they don't want to say goodbye to Rob Lowe), but it also adds a wrinkle to the on-again, off-again Tom/Ann relationship now that Chris is reconsidering what he said goodbye to with Ann Perkins(!).

(Plus, the Ron/Chris story introduced Ron to another new ethnic meat delivery system, as he's excited by the "hot spinning cone of meat" you often find in the windows of your fine Greek restaurants.)

Add in some more of Leslie making Ben uncomfortable with her aggressive sexuality, some good use of animals, Andy being Andy ("What? This cat was in 'Boogie Nights'?"), Jen Barkley continuing to manipulate the Pawnee media, and Ron turning Chris' meditation lessons around for his own misanthropic needs, and you've got a fine return to Pawnee and this big arc after a few weeks away.

What did everybody else think?