Parks and Recreation returned from its 30-Rock-induced hiatus this week with a reappearance of Leslie’s season 2 boyfriend, Dave (Louis C.K.). During his brief time on the show in season 2, Dave was one of my favourite characters, with his winsome combination of awkwardness, formality, and sincerity. Too bad the Dave who returned this week didn’t feel like the original Dave at all. I’ll explain after the jump.

I have no clue why, but comedies keep insisting on pushing characters to unlikable extremes for humour’s sake. It almost always backfires, making the audience hate the characters and generating more frustration than laughter. This week, Tom got on my nerves in his ridiculous attempts to woo Ann, and Andy was kind of annoying as the harsh, overzealous campaign song writer. But none of that frustrated me as much seeing Dave come back to the show and trying to win back Leslie underhandedly.

Just once, I’d like to see a show where an ex of a main character returns, and neither has feelings for the other. Everything Dave did tonight was so freakin’ predictable, straight from the playbook of a bad 90’s multi-camera sitcom. And moreover, it didn’t mesh well with his character. I didn’t believe that someone as meek and respectful as Dave would repeatedly try to steal his ex away from her current boyfriend. (Cuffing Ben to a urinal was about 896 steps too far.) It just didn’t make sense at all, and it made him seem like a total jerk.

So, overall, “Dave Returns” left kind of a bad taste in my mouth. Nothing depresses me more than seeing characters I used to like morph into unappealing versions of their former selves. I will say this, though: it was nice to see Leslie acting sane, just like last week, and I was pleasantly surprised that her campaign didn’t have any major screw-ups that were swept under the rug. I felt as if Leslie actually earned her endorsement from the outgoing police chief, and I’m happy to say that Leslie is back into likable territory after a few weeks where she seemed like a foolish, incompetent mess.

Also likable this week: Ron and April. I loved seeing the return of Duke Silver, especially the contribution he made to Leslie’s campaign song. (It was one of those great moments of Swanson sweetness that felt earned and totally uncontrived.) And April is fast becoming the best thing about this show, bringing a lot of oddball laughs in her various attempts to keep the Duke’s identity secret.

Even if “Dave Returns” left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth because of Dave, Andy, and Tom, there was enough good from Leslie, April, and Ron that it almost balanced out. I don’t think “Dave Returns” was a great episode of Parks and Rec, by any means, but it gave me hope that the writers have recognized the problems with the election storyline – i.e. Leslie’s apparent inability to run a campaign and the fact that it tends to keep the core cast fractured – and are working to fix them.

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