Why you should be watching Parks and Recreation
James R | On 20, Apr 2014
We look back at how the show began.
Meet Leslie Knope. She’s the Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation in Pawnee, USA. And she loves her job. Boy, does she love her job. It’s textbook middle-management small-town bureaucracy that means diddly squat to anyone else – not even her co-workers – but for her, there’s nothing more important.
Parks and Recreation follows her around her duties, mockumentary-style, surveying children with questionnaires to see how much fun they’re having and trying to get a dirt pit filled in to create a new park. It’s edge of your seat stuff. And yet still she carries on, smiling like an idiot.
Clueless boss? Awkward workplace? Fly on the wall cameras? It may sound like another version of The Office, but NBC’s series is better than that. Why? That’s mostly down to Leslie herself.
Amy Poehler is perfect as the nice but dim do-gooder, her radiant smile inspiring sympathy as well as smirks. Unlike David Brent, you actually care about her: you wince with her, not against her, when you see her unrequited love for co-worker Mark, all based on a drunken one-night stand several years ago; you cheer on her attempts to get into the boys’ club at work, which sees her desperately open a gift basket worth more than $25, only to report herself to the ethics committee afterwards.
But she’s just the tip of the silly iceberg. The rest of the office are, if anything, even larger than life. Comedian Aziz Ansari is irritatingly laugh-out-loud as Matt, who wants to be a bad-ass womaniser but fails at every turn, Aubrey Plaza is gloriously straight-faced as morose intern Audrey, while Chris Pratt is adorably earnest as Andy, the buffoonish boyfriend of Anne (Rashida Jones).
Anne is the one sane person in the group, the everywoman who only becomes BFFs with Leslie because she complains about the pit outside her home. Andy, meanwhile, falls into it, rendering himself even lazier – and more dependent upon Anne – a trait that Pratt nails with hairy-chinned charm.
The show is almost entirely stolen, though, by one man: Ron Swanson. Played by the inimitable Nick Offerman, he delivers every line with the conviction of a Fox news anchor and the deadpan delivery of the Grumpy Cat. Over the course of the series, he reveals himself to be increasingly on Leslie’s side – a hater of the system more than anything else he hates. Which is a lot. That gradual shift from one-liner supporting role to the fully-fledged Ron Swanson is what helps Parks and Recreation to grow to its full potential.
The series takes its time to find its form and flesh out its characters – but by the point where Ron and Leslie are standing together against the (mostly non-existent) male oppression of local authorities, the cast are clicking like dancers in West Side Story, bouncing off each other at the kind of hectic pace you associate with Arrested Development. From Chris’ dreadful band (Mouse Rat – formerly Scarecrow Boat) to Leslie’s attempts to blackmail a zoning officer at a ceremony honouring her mum, the gag count climbs steadily – but more importantly, so does the empathy.
Clocking in at a slight six episodes, the result is a promising first season of a sitcom that is short and sweet in equal measure – and only gets better as it goes on. Textbook middle-management small-town bureaucracy? For 20 odd minutes, you could almost swear there was nothing more important.