By Jay Panandiker
While Parks and Recreation may not be the most popular television show, and while it rarely gets over five million viewers a night, it is one of television’s best and smartest comedies. The NBC comedy, now in it’s fourth season, is one of TV’s most underrated shows. The show, which comes from the producers of the more popular show, The Office, follows the Parks and Recreation Department of “America’s fourth most obese town,” Pawnee, Indiana.
The cast is led by Saturday Night Live’s Amy Poehler, who plays Leslie Knope, a mid-level bureaucrat. In the first episode, Knope is befriended by local nurse, Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) and Perkins’s longtime boyfriend, Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt). The rest of the cast includes bureaucrats Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider), and the Director of the Department, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman).
The show’s first season received many negative reviews, saying that it was much too similar to The Office. Some claimed that Knope came off as ditzy and a female version of Michael Scott. Through the first season’s sixth episode, the show was constantly “on the bubble,” primarily due to its slow pace. One of the quintessential examples of this is “the pit” story-arc, which was dragged on through the whole season. Essentially, Knope hopes to convert a abandoned pit at a construction site into a city park. Initially, the pit storyline created a great segue to allow Perkins and Dwyer to enter the lives of the government officials (a drunk Dwyer fell into the pit breaking both his legs, forcing Perkins to assist him with every action). The arc initially provided a good storyline, and it would have provided a good side plot to the season. However it was pushed so far out of the plot that nothing was ever achieved. The first season ended with no real mention of the new park. In addition, the cameras spent a majority of their time focusing on Knope’s professional life. This led to more restricted plots, and several characters having such minor roles that went unnoticed.
However, after almost being cancelled, the show’s second season showed one of the greatest television comebacks. In the second season, the writers addressed many of the complaints made by critics and viewers alike. The show began to develop elements that are now some of its greatest assets, particularly the character development and use of satire.
First, the show embraced the idea of an ensemble cast where each character had a more equal role. Characters that had remained relatively quiet in the first season such as April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), Donna Meagle (Retta), and Jerry Girgich (Jim O’Heir) became more significant players in the plot.
Tom Haverford, who in the first season was a funny but minor Scrabble-playing underachiever, received a complete episode dedicated to his personal life. More is revealed in the relationship between Perkins and Dwyer, eventually resulting in a break up. The second season can be characterized as a series of looks into the personal lives of characters, particularly Knope, and a budding romance between Ludgate and Dwyer. The Leslie Knope — Ron Swanson friendship, which develops in the second season, represents the quintessential liberal-libertarian compromise. In the first season. Swanson was more antagonistic, but he became friendlier as the show progressed.
In the second and third seasons, the producers of the show also made an effort to become more topical. Rather than just slapstick or situational comedy, the show began to expand into satire and political humor. The comeback season began with Leslie attempting to marry two zoo penguins, which turned out to be gay. Consequently, Leslie gets into trouble with several religious groups. One of the most brilliant bits of these new styles of humor involved a city council member engulfed in sexual scandals, an allusion to then-South Carolina Governor, Mark Sanford. In the final two episodes of the season, there was a story arc involving a government shutdown, which introduced two new characters: Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and Chris Treager (Rob Lowe). The two are government accountants, who are in charge of reassessing the town budget. Lowe’s character is very upbeat. He is friendly and obsessed with his personal health, whereas Scott’s character is more of a “comedic straight man.” The two actors have proved to have a great presence on screen and have played a key role in making the show so much better.
Parks and Recreation is now one of television’s smartest comedies. It has a perfect mix of lowbrow and highbrow comedy. The show has evolved from The Office’s younger brother to what Time Magazine labeled the second best show of the year, and what Entertainment Weekly named TV’s smartest show. Parks and Recreation has become the quintessential example of a comeback show.