01/19/2011 01:21 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Parks and Recreation : A Who's Who of Pawnee's Finest Bureaucrats

Parks and Recreation returns for a third season this week, and never before has a sitcom proven so well that all politics are local politics. Simple municipal projects, whether filling in a giant pit, or making sure that a megalomaniacal confectioner doesn't make our children obese, can quickly become hopeless boondoggles that, without the help of tireless bureaucrats like Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the Hilary Clinton of Central Indiana, would overwhelm even the most red-white-and-blue of Americans. Leslie's civic projects are never the easiest of endeavors, but thankfully for us, it's usually quite hilarious when she fails — and lucky for Leslie, she has a competent team that makes these red-taped failures possible. Just like in your town. So before the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department returns to NBC Thursday night, let 's catch up on the employees who show us why the civic process doesn't always turn out as we expect. Well, except for Jerry. He just ruins everything. (Spoilers ahead.) — Martin Moakler for HuluLeslie Knope As Pawnee's Deputy Parks Director, Leslie Knope is a career public servant with good intentions. Unfortunately, the road to City Hall is paved with not only those good intentions, but a lot of red tape and cronyism, as well. To her credit, for every roadblock erected in front of her, she has managed to thrive, whether she's supporting gay penguin marriage, protecting her hometown from the scourge of teenage vandals, or proving that government can still provide a service to the people, even if the State of Indiana tells her otherwise. Tom Haverford On the surface, it would appear that Tom (Aziz Ansari) is simply Leslie's right hand man, but he is so much more than a city employee. He is an amateur nightlife impresario, an aspiring catalogue photographer and, perhaps most notably, inventor of DJ Roomba. But Tom's most passionate about the ladies. It's obvious this peacock's got game (even if it's a game not all the shorties at the Snakehole Lounge are necessarily playing), but he still holds a torch for his ex-wife, Wendy. Sure, it was only a green-card marriage and now he's currently dating Snakehole bartender Lucy, Tom was a little hurt to learn that his ex and Leslie's boss, Ron, may now be an item. Ron Swanson A libertarian at heart, Parks Director Ron (Nick Offerman) would like nothing more than to see his city's government privatized. It would give him more time for his drunken woodwork; jazz performances as his alter ego, Duke Silver; and wooing Tom's ex-wife. But much to his own chagrin, after working with Leslie Knope for so long, he has grown to respect and care for his family of employees enough to think that maybe it's alright if a little taxpayer money is thrown away now and then. Ann Perkins Staid nurse Ann (Rashida Jones) wandered into a Parks Department community outreach meeting one day just hoping to get the pit in her backyard filled. Little did she know that Leslie would make it her pet project and envelop Ann in the slow, turgid whirlwind of municipal bureaucracy. While Ann normally finds herself the incredulous outsider in the maddening process — seriously, how much time could it take to fill a hole in the ground? — it would seem it's a welcome respite from her poor choices in men ... although, not for long.

April Ludgate When April (Aubrey Plaza) first started at the Parks Department, her sullen apathy seemed a better fit for the Pawnee DMV. As she's spent more time at City Hall (first as an intern, then as Ron's assistant), however, she's gradually let go of her teenage desire to be an outsider, and acclimated herself into the motley Parks crew who accept her despite her too-cool-for-school attitude. After dumping her boyfriend Derek and his boyfriend Ben, a relationship maintained for shock value, she's turned to the older — but way less mature — Andy, Ann's ex. Andy Dwyer Andy (Chris Pratt) found himself broke and homeless when ex-girlfriend Ann threw him out after realizing he was nursing two broken legs long after they'd healed. (It was the bureaucratic pit — and plenty of alcohol — that caused the inury.) It took getting dumped for this man-child to start acting like an adult. After camping out in the very pit that destroyed his relationship, Andy eventually found a job as a shoeshine at City Hall; refocused his energies on his underappreciated band, Mouse Rat; and tried to win the affections of a girl not quite old enough to drink. It takes baby steps to become an adult.

Ben Wyatt After bankrupting his hometown when he was its 18-year-old mayor (the nation's youngest!), Ben (Adam Scott) has spent every moment since proving to the world that he is a responsible adult by teaching schoolchildren how government works. In Leslie, however, he sees the idealism he felt before he was impeached and subsequently grounded by his parents. He's advised Leslie to make tough decisions if she wants to be elected to public office, but it was Ben who paid a performer to go on stage when Leslie insisted on throwing a children's concert despite a city government shutdown. Chris Traeger While Ben is Leslie's foil, Chris (Rob Lowe) is Ron's. For instance, when the mustachioed libertarian is happy to see the government do nothing and thus save taxpayer money, Chris resonantly lauds Pawnee's municipal aspirations — but he's nowhere to be found when there's no money to fund these projects. While he may have set his sights on Ann, his constant exercising, vitamin supplements, and urge to be the planet's first sesquicentenarian only highlight his vanity, vapidity and insouciance for all things Pawnee. Donna Meagle Donna (Retta) is the one person in Pawnee Parks whose life hasn't managed to spill out onto the office floor. She only gets involved when absolutely necessary, but even then, there's a limit, because she is often just concerned with herself. She once even voted for the KKK because they promised lower taxes. Donna is an enigma, but one with a sensual air that drives even the men of South America wild. Jerry Gergich OK, fine! We'll include something about Jerry (Jim O'Heir). Jerry has worked for the city for a long time, but he probably only managed to accomplish that by accident. He's always getting hurt or just being a jerk. He's apparently an accomplished pianist and artist, but he called his proposed painting for the Pawnee mural competition a "murinal." Who does that? Loser! He's supposedly set to retire in two years, but he'll probably find a way to screw that up, too. Who's your favorite Parks and Recreation character? Leave it in the comments!