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Wednesday, 17 March 2021

REVIEW: Why Parks and Recreation is the perfect show for this lockdown.

 Over the last year, many of us have returned to TV shows that we’ve loved in the past; the familiarity of revisiting our favourite fictional worlds can be comforting during an uncertain time. I decided to do this with NBC comedy Parks and Recreation: it is a show that I’d watched in full a few years ago, but I chose to return to the city of Pawnee and its residents when it arrived on Netflix earlier this year. My rewatch has served as a reminder of just how wonderful this series is, and how it is one of the best comedies of recent years.

Originally pitched as a spin-off of the US Office, Parks and Recreation is a mockumentary created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, who both worked on The US Office. It follows Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. During a town meeting, nurse Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) asks Leslie for the construction pit by her house to be filled in after her boyfriend Andy (Chris Pratt) falls in and breaks both his legs. Leslie is determined to turn this pit into a park, but her quest to complete this project marks only the beginning of this long-running comedy, as we explore the lives of the Parks Department: their friendships, relationships and hilarious endeavours.

The first season is infamously slated, even by loyal fans, although my rewatch has shown me the value of those first six episodes. The show was, naturally, finding its feet, and the comparisons of Leslie to The Office boss Michael Scott were perpetrated by the way she was treated by her colleagues, who found her enthusiasm for her job strange. The major shift in season 2 is how Leslie is presented: no longer an incompetent remake of Scott, she becomes a highly effective leader, whose dedication to her town is admired by those around her. It's something Schur and co learnt from Michael Scott. The US Office also has a ropey first season because it tries, and fails to emulate the crueller aspects of the original. David Brent works in the BBC version, but American audiences don't want to watch that character for 22 episodes. Like, Parks and Rec, the writers realised the key to making Michael Scott the was for his colleagues to view him as a loveable bafoon. Yes, he still does ridiculous things and Jim can still give the camera the 'I can't believe what I'm seeing' face, but it makes for a more enjoyable watch. 

The other characters on the show love Leslie, and therefore we as an audience do too. As well as this, at the end of a successful second season, the arrival of state auditors Ben and Chris (Adam Scott and Rob Lowe) truly completes an already well-established cast. From this point on, Parks and Rec is consistently brilliant, right until the end of its seven-season run.


The appeal of Parks and Rec is rooted in the characters themselves. The joy of workplace-based comedies is that the job brings together a group of people who would never be friends under any other circumstances but who bond over a common purpose, and it is great to watch this play out within the Parks Department. All of the central characters are inherently good people, yet the writers aren’t afraid to highlight their flaws. For example, Leslie is pushy, Tom (Aziz Ansari) is arrogant, and Ron (Nick Offerman) is stubborn. However, these flaws create space for the characters to grow and develop over the seasons. They learn lessons and improve as individuals, yet this progression is never forced and it never appears overly sentimental.

This effective character development is a testament to the way that the characters are treated with care and with love by the writers – and this includes the supporting cast of Pawnee residents. From Tom’s endlessly entertaining business partner Jean-Ralphio, to eccentric talk show hosts Joan Callamezzo and Perd Hapley, every character is memorable and endearing in their own way.  I would argue Pawnee is as rich and developed as Springfield is in The Simpsons. We acquire a detailed knowledge of everyone’s quirks and conceits: Leslie’s obsession with Joe Biden and waffles from JJ’s Diner, Ron’s hatred of government (despite being a government employee himself), Ben’s love of calzones and Game of Thrones – and of course, Chris’s incessant use of the world ‘literally’. Leslie Knope is undoubtedly the heart of the show – and seemingly, of Pawnee itself – and Amy Poehler is the most fantastic lead, however Parks and Rec really is a true ensemble. Every character is necessary and important, and the generous writing allows every cast member to shine.

The way in which the two central relationships of the show play out is something else that I think separates Parks and Rec from other sitcoms. Leslie and Ben are definitely one of my favourite ever fictional couples: when Adam Scott joined the show, Ben was intended to be just the next in a series of love interests for Leslie over the course of the show, but their dynamic was so compelling that the writers couldn’t bear to break them up. They’re soulmates, yet they are both already well-rounded characters, so they complement rather than complete each other. By contrast, Andy and April (Aubrey Plaza) are polar opposites, but Andy’s chaos balances out April’s cynicism and they bring out the best in one another. They might be silly and irresponsible but they have such a committed relationship. With both relationships, there is no unnecessary drama, yet the pairings always remain fresh and compelling. Both couples are unapologetically in love, which is perhaps much more fun to watch than manufactured break ups or affairs.

But just as important as the romantic relationships in Parks and Rec are the friendships. Although she finds true love with Ben, Leslie would probably say that her greatest love affair is with her best friend Ann. It is such a beautiful and rare example of authentic female friendship on screen; instead of constantly fighting, they are nothing but supportive of one another, which is so refreshing to watch. There are so many other examples of sweet, albeit unconventional, friendships within the show, including Tom and Donna (Retta), the founders of the now iconic phrase “Treat Yo’ Self”, and Ron and April, who are perhaps kindred spirits in their intolerance of others.

Aside from anything else, Parks and Rec is a comedy, and it is very, very funny. There is brilliant dialogue (although the best joke in the show is arguably Chris Pratt’s improvised line about Leslie having “network connectivity problems”), hilarious looks to camera, and excellent physical comedy. Who could forget the infamous ice rink scene, to the tune of Gloria Estefan’s “Get on Your Feet”, or the wide-ranging effects of Tom’s new drink Snake Juice on the gang? There are also a host of running gags throughout Parks and Rec that reward dedicated fans: just some of my favourites are Andy’s alter ego Burt Macklin, FBI, Ben’s failure to grasp the appeal of famous horse Lil Sebastian, and Ron’s secret identity as saxophonist Duke Silver – as well as his feuds with ex-wives Tammy 1 and Tammy 2.

Creator Michael Schur said at a 2019 panel that the argument Parks and Recreation was trying to make was “believing that if you work hard, and you put your head down, and you have good people around you who are part of your team, that good things are possible” – and the show definitely achieves this over its seven seasons. It celebrates the everyday, it roots for the underdog, and it acts as a love letter to small towns and their citizens. Parks and Rec promotes friendship, kindness, and the power of community, and this is why I’ve loved returning to the series recently. Above all else, it is a feel-good, funny show, and perhaps this is what we all need at the moment.

Contributed by Erin Zammitt

Parks and Recreation is now Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

1 comment:

Hugsz said...

Thank you for the breakdown and yes it's perfect for lockdown! You're an expert at this! The people on the spoiler app https://www.spoilr.app/

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