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What to Watch: “Parks and Recreation”

William Neal | Thursday, January 24, 2013


Over the past decade, there have been several instances of experimentation with television series. In sitcoms, we saw plenty of shows stray away from the standard multi-cam, laugh track where every other sentence has to be a one-liner.  They have moved onto single-cam series like “Arrested Development”, “New Girl” and “Community”, the “mockumentary” style and shows that combine the two such as “Modern Family”. The “mockumentary” format made NBC’s “The Office” seem like  a one-of-a-kind (Ricky Gervais? Never heard of him.), so when “Parks and Recreation” first debuted in 2009, many viewers saw it as a rip-off with a less interesting premise. Its beginnings certainly weren’t perfect, but after sharpening out its dull edges through character development, new cast members and show runner Greg Daniels, “Parks and Rec.” quickly became “literally” one of the best shows on television. The problem was, and still is, that most viewers still haven’t given it a chance.

If you’re not familiar with the series, “Parks and Rec.” follows Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and her rag-tag team of government staffer misfits in their small, beloved (fictional) town of Pawnee, Indiana. Leslie and the rest of the show’s hysterical cast of characters work for Pawnee’s Parks Department, and if you think that doesn’t sound like a glamorous job … you’re absolutely right. On a daily basis, their department puts up with being the underdog of government branches and deals with the insane locals, all in efforts to create places for children to play.

If you ask me why you should watch this show, however, I wouldn’t give you this premise. Instead, I’d tell you to watch it for the best and funniest ensemble cast on television.

Let’s begin with Leslie Knope. Unlike the dimwitted Michael Scott (insert “that’s what she said” joke), Leslie is an idealistic and committed character who often seems to be the one glimmer of hope in her crazy little town. She’s the waffle-addicted, whirlwind-of-crazy figure of female empowerment whose first date topics include “whales,” “parades” and “electricity.”  And we can’t help but love her. Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), director of the Parks Department, is the true definition of a man. He’s the stoic government employee who ironically doesn’t believe in government, has two ex-wives named Tammy, a passion for meat-based products, hordes of underground gold, an alternate Jazz-playing persona, and one amazing mustache. Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) is a wannabe P-Diddy, a true entrepreneur (“Make a baby tuxedo clothing line!”) and a hustlin’ ladies man. Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) has the heart of a child, and the intelligence of one too. As a shoe shiner by day and FBI agent Bert Macklin by night, Andy can make anyone smile. April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) is the scowling dry-humored Puerto Rican assistant to Ron Swanson who may just be one of the funniest and most unique female characters currently on television (“Horizons are dumb. Never broaden your horizons.”) The list continues with funny and loveable characters such as Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) and Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones). I don’t have the space to do these characters justice, but believe me, you will not find a better ensemble of characters still on television.

Aside from the hilarious story lines involving penguin weddings, miniature horses, political campaigns and three-legged dogs, this is a show with a lot of heart. “Parks and Rec.” at its core is a story about a group of people who may have their differences but are always there to support each other. To sum it up, it’s a show about friendships. If you haven’t taken the time to see this outstanding sitcom, please tune in Thursday nights on NBC because this is a show that, for countless reasons, deserves to stay on the air.  Better yet, “Parks and Recreation” is a show that deserves to be watched by all who love to laugh. Always remember, “Pawnee Indiana: first in friendship, fourth in obesity.”