16 Mar TV Recommendation: Parks and Recreation
It was only a matter of time until we made the following recommendation. After a glowing 1300-word review of Greg Daniels’ first crack at a mockumentary, The Office, it is fairly obvious that we would eventually get around to reviewing the TV show from which our blog derives its name and logo. Much like The Office, Parks and Recreation is a single camera, mockumentary comedy; however, rather than focusing on the lives of characters working in your prototypical office environment, Parks and Rec takes a look into small-town government through the lense of political satire.
The show is centered around Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation department, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), and is set in the fictitious town of Pawnee, Indiana. Leslie is an optimistic ball of energy with a relentless work ethic for improving the town she’s called home since infancy. She seems to be in over her head at the start of the series, but proves her competence time and time again throughout the course of the story. Leslie is generally opposed by her immediate supervisor, Libertarian, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). Ron hates all-things government, but generally gives in to Leslie’s unwavering positivity and enthusiasm. He is the epitome of ‘man’ and loves whisky, woodworking, and red meat. Ron Swanson is widely regarded as the show’s best and funniest character with his monotone demeanor and strong ideals. Other hilarious members of the Parks’ staff include April Ludgate (Aubery Plaza), the sarcastic, apathetic intern and later full-time employee; Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), Leslie’s underachieving subordinate with big dreams of becoming a “tycoon” or “mogul”; Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir), the devoted father and butt of all jokes at the Parks department; and Donna Meagle (Retta) an independent woman with an exciting, yet ambiguous personal life.
The first order of business for the Parks Department of Pawnee (and the overarching plot of the entire series) is fixing the pit behind Ann Perkins’ (Rashida Jones) house known as Lot 48. In the show’s pilot episode, Ann shows up to a local forum that Leslie is running air her grievances regarding the vacant lot after her then-boyfriend, Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) falls into the pit and breaks both his legs. Ann, a nurse at the local hospital, had been supporting her unemployed boyfriend for some time, and is reduced to waiting on him hand and foot as he remains couch-ridden and lazy. Despite his overbearing immaturity, Andy is a lovable character who does eventually find his way. The events that follow the local forum spark the most unlikely and closest friendship of the entire series between Leslie and Ann. Leslie gets both Ann and Andy part-time jobs at the Parks Department; and although Andy spends the better part of the first two seasons trying to win Ann back after their break-up, the two are able to coexist at City Hall and become friends.
Towards the end of the second season, we have our introduction to the show’s final two main characters/cast members, Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe). The two are auditors who first arrive to slash the local government budget, but develop strong relationships with the people of Pawnee and end up sticking around for the long haul. Chris is literally (see what I did there) the most upbeat character of the show; edging out even Leslie with his over-the-top positivity and optimism. He is a health-nut, and eventually falls in love with Ann after several romantic arcs between the two characters. Ben on the other hand, is more up-tight and awkward, often playing the “bad guy” role for the auditing duo of Chris and himself. Ben has several nerdy quarks including a love for numbers, and other things such as Star Wars and Game of Thrones. The romantic dynamic between he and Leslie begins fairly early on; and after several instances of flirting, dating, dating in secret, trying to be friends, and trying to keep their space from one another, the two are happily married before the end of season five.
Parks and Recreation seemed to wrap up their story of the Pawnee Parks Department at the very fulfilling end of season 6, jumping 3 years ahead in the future to show all is well with Leslie, her new job, and her family (Ben and their triplets); however, the critically acclaimed comedy was renewed for another 15-episode season, essentially giving the show a victory lap and a second fantastic series finale.
Being that Parks and Rec was initially supposed to be a spin-off of The Office, the two Jeff Daniels comedies will forever be compared to one another; and to be honest, it’s a very interesting conversation to have. Now, I don’t know if it is the fact that The Office came first, or if I was just more connected to those particular characters, but I think I’m still partial to The Office over Parks and Rec; however, that being said, I must concede that Parks is definitely the superior of the two shows.
Parks and Recreation is just very plainly a better written show. The plot is more concrete in each episode and the comedic writing is a lot smarter. If you’re not fully paying attention while you’re watching Parks, then you will definitely miss something funny. Line to line, there are hilarious moments that really play to the characters’ tendencies. Also, I think Parks and Rec finds that happy medium between the depth and breadth of their characters. The employees of the Parks Department are inherently good people, and are far less selfish than the characters of The Office (Leslie in particular is basically a Saint; easily one of the most lovable and kind characters I’ve ever watched). Also, the emotional depth of ALL the main characters of Parks and Recreation match up with that of Jim and Pam from The Office. The problems they face are generally more interesting, and their character progressions are more defined as well. Even the recurring characters play a larger role in the Parks storyline than they do in The Office; Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz) plays a hand in all of Tom’s business ventures, Tammy II (Megan Mullally) habitually returns to stir up trouble with Ron, even Andy’s FBI alter-ego, Burt Macklin becomes a recurring character of sorts and plays a vital role in Andy finally developing some real aspirations.
When it comes down to it, The Office plateaued when Park and Recreation really took off; and yet, I still have a tough time deciding which show was best. It’s apples and oranges, really. There is a lot of heart in both shows. I could go on comparing Parks and Rec to The Office all day (personally, I see more similarities between Parks and Modern Family), but both shows deserve all the praise they’ve received over the years, and both shows deserve your attention. If you like one, then you should find no problems getting into the other.