As requested, here is my plea/letter/essay about why I love Parks and Recreation, and why the viewers who tuned in during season 1 and despised the show should come back.
I’ll be the first to admit that I hated “Parks and Recreation” season one. The premise seemed exciting--a comedy about a wacky small town government, and Amy Poehler starring, who I love. As the season unfolded, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) was revealed to be a less obnoxious and peppy, but equally as clueless and naive, version of Michael Scott, the main character on the Daniels-Schur created show, “The Office”. That wasn’t the only problem. There was a total absence of smart jokes and the characters seemed unlikable. Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) was the lone stand-out, but even he wasn’t developed enough for my taste. After giving the first four episodes a chance, I turned it off, with the intention of turning it off for good.
The sequence of events that brought me back is an interesting one. It started after a long day, and I was planning on tuning in for an episode of The Office. The episode I had in mind was utterly forgettable, and I can’t even remember the title. I was exhausted and needed a break, so I turned on the television half an hour before The Office. At that point, Parks and Rec’s timeslot came right before The Office. I recognized the show right away, but for some unfathomable reason, perhaps fate talking, I didn’t switch off the television.
The episode was called “Woman of the Year”. A quick summary: Leslie Knope, the ever ardent feminist, dreams of getting a Dorothy Everton Smythe Female Empowerment Award. When a letter comes in the mail from the organization, she is certain that the letter is a congratulatory message for Leslie. However, as she reads, she is shocked to learn that the award went to Ron Swanson, her alpha-male, mustachioed boss, who could care less about a female empowerment award. Leslie is, naturally, mortified, but we learn later that giving it to a man was a PR ploy by the Dorothy Everton Smythe foundation to raise awareness about the award’s existence.
It was one of the funniest episodes, of any TV show, that I ever watched. Although I didn’t immediately understand who the characters had evolved into, it was easy to follow. Despite this being a very memorable experience, I forgot about the show because of my fatigue. Prolonging the forgetfulness was the fact that I stopped watching The Office on Thursday nights, and instead tuned in on Hulu the next day.
However, I purchased an account on Netflix in the summer of 2010. One of my first recommendations was “Parks and Recreation: Season 2”. A lightbulb went off in my head, and I remembered the episode. After watching “Pawnee Zoo” and having to pause to laugh for two minutes after the drunk Leslie in the gay bar scene, I proceeded to spend an entire weekend watching every episode in season 2. It was a moment, or rather weekend, chock-full of catharsis. The stress of life melted away and instead, this show made me happy. There was something about the humor and aim that made me forget everything and get lost in the hilarity and wackiness of Pawnee, Indiana.
There’s more. That’s my personal experience. So, why should you tune in? I have sprinkled the reasons throughout, but here it is, in no particular order:
1) Unlike the Greg Daniels and Michael Schur created comedy, “The Office,” the humor is of a different mold in Parks and Recreation. Unlike the cynical and often mean jokes of the former, the latter has a lot of heart. And no, this is not a case where, as apathetic assistant April Ludgate says, “that’s what people say when something sucks.” That’s not what I’m going for. The humor is optimistic, and the show aims to make you laugh out of happiness. You want to empathize with the characters, not hate them. It’s not designed for you to laugh at obnoxious and often offensive humor. Sure, Pawnee has a very disturbing history that is horribly illustrated in various murals in City Hall, but we’re not supposed to take that seriously. It’s not like “Michael Klump,” Michael Scott’s “fat person” character.
2) Leslie Knope, and Amy Poehler. The 5’1 Amy Poehler, although not clearly pint-sized in heels, is the most adorable character on TV. Her bubbly and positive attitude is just plain fun. Sure, she’s neurotic and wacky, but she is clearly very competent at her job, which sets her apart from the bumbling and clueless Michael. Her co-workers seem to respect her, even though her subordinates are quick to tease her. Instead of mean and vindictive teasing, it’s playful and smart.
3) Ron (bleeping) Swanson. Nick Offerman has a gift for physical comedy. You need only to watch “The Stakeout,” and you will discover how adept he is. In that episode, he has a hernia, and can barely move. It’s played brilliantly. The background of the character is hilarious in itself. A bureaucrat who hates government because he’s a staunch libertarian, yet is the Director of Parks and Recreation for the local government of Pawnee. His facial expressions are wonderful. Look at the end of “The Master Plan,” when Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) tells Leslie and Ron that the government is being shut down. With a sly grin and deep dimples, I laughed harder at one facial expression than ever before.
4) April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt). Beginning with the first episode, Andy Dwyer was an obnoxious, douchey, jobless, lazy manbaby, and happened to be dating Ann Perkins. April Ludgate was an apathetic college intern who only got assigned to the Parks department because she overslept the sign up time. She was also dating a gay guy, who already had a boyfriend of his own. Ann breaks up with Andy at the end of season one, when she finally had enough of his laziness and immaturity. For the first few episodes of season two, he pines after Ann and annoys the crap out of her, even though she is dating Mark. Over the course of the second season, April begins to develop feelings for Andy, and he, being clueless, only begins to recognize that he has feelings too at the end. Andy developed into a very likable and adorable manchild, more like a big teddybear as opposed to the jerk who uses people for his own benefit. April began to soften, but only around Andy. They were destined for each other.
5) Ben (Adam Scott) AND Leslie. In the most recent episode, Ben and Leslie acted on their mutual attraction and kissed. This could be problematic, as their boss, Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), has a strict no-dating-between-coworkers policy. When he first burst on the scene, Ben was a cold and emotionless state auditor who was plagued by his embarrassing past, in which he ran for mayor at 18 and won (“a little bit of anti-establishment voter rebellion”). However, being 18, he ran the place into the ground and was impeached. He tinkers with budgets along with his peppy and positive partner in an effort to show that he is responsible and mature. Scott signed on as a regular cast member for season 3, and it was noted that he signed on as Leslie’s love interest, so that cat was out of the bag from the start. Ben develops feelings for Leslie faster than she does, but eventually, the both like each other and the sexual tension is very real. It’s a fun spectacle and I squealed like a little girl when they kissed.
6) The city of Pawnee, Indiana. Pawnee is almost cartoonish, and has often been compared with Springfield, the setting of “The Simpsons”. Its townspeople are insane (as evidenced by their non-sequiturs in place of real questions in their town hall meetings). A running gag is how fat Pawnee’s citizens are, and some episodes of the show revolve around that fact. The town is its own character, and makes for much of the humor. I like the favorable comparison to Springfield, as it is very much like it.
7) The writers. Greg Daniels and Michael Schur created this wonderful show, and Mike Schur still acts as the showrunner (also known by his pen name, “Ken Tremendous”). It is important to note that when Daniels and Schur left The Office to create Parks and Rec, The Office’s intelligent writing took a nosedive. It’s not the case here. The writing is brilliant and the humor is smart. Although much of the dialogue is believed to be improvised, Poehler said that most of the jokes come from the pens of the writers.
I can probably think of more, but I’ve done enough talking. I can see why people were turned off by season 1, and I can see why they never wanted to give it another chance, no matter how many unanimously positive reviews the show gets. There’s a reason Entertainment Weekly named Parks, “The Smartest Comedy on TV”. I wish people would trust my judgment, and read the reviews, so they can see that this show is not the same show from season 1. It’s the funniest show on television, and if there’s any show that deserves a rating boost, it’s Parks and Rec by far.
A Parks and Rec fanatic