Photo Credit : NBC
“Parks and Recreation” started its life as “just” a slightly different version of “The Office.”
By : SHAWNA BENSON
“Parks and Recreation” started its life as “just” a slightly different version of “The Office.” After all, the creator, Greg Daniels, had previously been the showrunner for “The Office” and was now introducing another show about people in a workplace talking to an invisible documentary film crew. The first season wasn’t an instant hit and suffered from the comparison to its big brother, but the show did well enough in the ratings that NBC decided to give it a second season.
Photo Credit : NBC
The turnaround was remarkable. Within the first few episodes of season two, “Parks and Recreation” proved it was no carbon copy, but a funny, thoughtful look at government on a micro scale. It’s not lofty and prestigious like “The West Wing,” but “Parks” is more relatable. After all, there are hundreds of communities like Pawnee, Indiana across this country, and within those communities, thousands of public servants. I’m sure every small town government has a Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler, “Saturday Night Live”), a true believer in her work and the importance of it, just as every town has a Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman, “Children’s Hospital”),a cynic who believes that his role in government is to show up, do the job, and collect a paycheck. At the end of season two, Rob Lowe (“Brothers and Sisters”) and Adam Scott (Party Down) joined the cast as state auditors sent from Indianapolis to help Pawnee resolve its budget overruns. Lowe does amazing work as the impossibly upbeat Chris Traeger – a man who only seems capable of calling people by their full names, runs up to 12 miles a day, and can help you with your feng shui. Scott’s Ben Wyatt was elected mayor of his home town in Minnesota at the tender age of 17, whereupon he bankrupted the town by putting all of the money into “Icetown,” a teenager’s dream of a winter fun park. Now that he’s twice as old (and infinitely wiser) he finds his biggest obstacle to resolving the budget crisis is Leslie, who does everything in her power to keep her budget from being cut. After suffering a shutdown of their department over the summer, Knope rounds up her troops to kick off the fall and reintroduce the Harvest Festival to Pawnee, in an effort to help close the budget gap.
Like “The Office” and other great comedies, the fun of “Parks and Rec” is in the characters. Aziz Ansari’s Tom is the would-be playboy of the office, if only he had any game. Aubrey Plaza’s droll and seemingly disconnected April is a candidate for worst assistant ever, and Ron likes it that way. April has a nascent romance with Andy (Chris Pratt), who used to work in the parks department, but now runs a shoeshine stand elsewhere in City Hall. Andy previously dated Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones, “The Office”), a nurse at the local hospital and best friend to Leslie. Ann drunkenly kissed Lowe’s Chris at the end of season two, and now must decide whether she wants to start dating him, given that Chris is only here for a short time to help the city get back on its feet.
Helpfully the premiere provides a quick overview of the significant developments in season two, so new viewers can catch up quickly and join the fun; and the show is fun – it’s silly at times, but beneath the silliness is a show with a heart and brains. I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a couple of sentences on the awesomeness that is Ron Swanson. Amy Poehler was nominated for an Emmy for her work on the show last year, but Offerman also deserves recognition for his consistently great work. Ron is loveable in spite of his general disinterest in Leslie’s plans. Like most great characters though, he is full of surprises – despite his gruff cynicism, he is one of Leslie’s strongest supporters, often coming through in the clutch when Leslie needs someone to back her up. In one of the best episodes of last season, we met Ron’s ex-wife Tammy (played wonderfully by Megan Mullally, Offerman’s real life wife). Thankfully she returns to wreck havoc on Ron’s life once more in the fourth episode of season three, which is not to be missed. Fans of the show know it is the hidden gem in the NBC comedy lineup. Hopefully, more people will discover it this year, so it can continue to shine brightly well into the future.
The season premiere of “Parks and Recreation” airs Thursday January 20, at 9:30 PM ET.