Once more unto the breach, dear friends – Panchayat is back, striving to convince us that there is more to the third season than a reunion with fan favourites.

The fictitious Uttar Pradesh village Phulera is now a battleground of competing ambitions. Shots are fired. Sides are taken.

Panchayat has maintained a steady two-year gap between seasons since its premiere on Prime Video in 2020. An enjoyable pursuit of trivialities, genial humour and lovely performances catapulted the TVF show created by Chandan Kumar, Deepak Kumar Mishra and Arunabh Kumar to popularity, while also making follow-ups inevitable.

The first two editions were guided by its hero’s mixed feelings for a self-imposed punishment posting. City slicker Abhishek (Jitendra Kumar) dragged himself to Phulera in order to gain work experience for an MBA. Abhishek had every intention to flee, but ended up developing unexpected bonds with the sarpanch Manju Devi (Neena Gupta), her husband Brij Bhushan (Raghubir Yadav), the panchayat office assistant Vikas (Chandan Roy) and council member Prahlad (Faisal Khan).

The sarpanch’s daughter Rinku (Sanvikaa) gave Abhishek yet another reason to stay. The 2022 season ended on an emotionally resonant note, with the teddy bear like-Prahlad mourning his soldier son’s untimely demise.

The picaresque novella-style plotting has made way for garden-variety politicking. Written by Chandan Kumar and directed by Mishra, the latest season is sluggishly paced and low on ambition despite raised stakes.

Jitendra Kumar in Panchayat Season 3 (2024). Courtesy TVF/Prime Video.

The odious legislator Chandrakishore (Pankaj Jha) wants to overrun Phulera’s ruling council and pack it with his candidates, led by the unctuous Bhushan (Durgesh Kumar). In the first episode, an adamantine lock doesn’t yield to a sledgehammer. Chandrakishore similarly bangs away at gutting Phulera’s tranquility.

Love bubbles away on the sidelines of war. Given the frequently dull turn of events, it’s perfectly understandable that Abhishek seeks distractions. Still keen on getting that MBA, Abhishek has persuaded Rinku to apply too. Their 1950s-style courtship is boringly chaste even by the standards of a show that resembles a 1980-era Doordarshan serial.

Apart from a bunch of entertaining sequences scattered across eight episodes, the series gives the strong feeling of treading on water. The cliffhanger ending is surely an act of fan service.

While Jitendra Kumar takes a backseat, Faisal Khan, as Prahlad, and Chandan Roy, as Vikas, get bigger play. These Phulera loyalists supply much of the crackpot humour that gives Panchayat its edge.

The equine-loving Chandrakishore and the mischief-mongering Bhushan have hilarious moments too. Neena Gupta and Raghubir Yadav regurgitate parts that, having been firmly established in the first season itself, do not evolve in any meaningful way.

Like Chandrakishore, Panchayat has developed a self-regard that doesn’t justify itself in an even-handed or particularly interesting way. And like Abhishek, the show’s makers find themselves stuck in Phulera, unable and unwilling to leave.

Panchayat Season 3 (2024).

Also read:

‘Panchayat’ review: Rural India is a jolly good place in this comedy of manners

‘Panchayat’ season 2 review: An entertaining game of trivial pursuit