A charming mockumentary style sitcom that not only gives a little slice of life in smalltown America but could give the US version of The Office a run for it’s money
At first glance Parks and Recreation may almost seem like a spin-off from the American version of the critically acclaimed series The Office. It even shares some of the behind-the-scenes staff, particularly with regards to creators Greg Daniels and Michael Schur who acted as writers and producers for the American remake. The mockumentary, fly-on-the-wall style seem to be straight out of the Ricky Gervais playbook. However, beyond the character interviews and clever editing is a charming, heart-warming sitcom that also, on occasion is cleverly satirical towards American politics.
Amy Poehler stars as Leslie Knope, the bright, plucky and determined deputy director of the Pawnee, Indiana’s parks and recreation department. Her goal is to transform the scenery of her home town (ranked the fourth most obese town in America) as well as progress up the bureaucratic ladder of the town’s government. She idolises prominent female American stateswomen such as Hilary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and her own mother, a major player in the town’s education system. However, her enthusiasm is quite met by her bumbling staff, the towns people of Pawnee or even her own boss.
The first series focuses on a rather dangerous pit located in a residential error that has not only become a dumping ground for some of the residents but is also a health and safety hazard to those located nearby. Knope’s quest to transform the pit into a park begins when she is introduced to Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) and Andy Dwyer (Chris Platt), a young couple who’ve fell victim to the pit, with the latter falling into it after a drunken night out and breaking both his legs.
The rest of the staff in the parks and recreation department aren’t quite as taken with Knope’s cause. Her assistant Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) is more preoccupied with chasing women and following trends, whilst the department’s intern April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) is a young, uninterested, college student who would rather nap or text than perform her duties. Knope’s boss, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is perfectly happy to allow her free reign of the department because not only will she do all his work for him, but he actually believes in her dedication and enthusiasm for the job. Swanson is a man’s man who has keen interests in guns, steaks, carpentry and hunting and Offerman’s performance as the deadpan delivery, no nonsense libertarian is widely considered to be one of the greatest sitcom characters currently on television.
The show’s first series isn’t without it’s troubles. Knope’s comes across as just a bumbling and chaotic as her peers for the most part. However, from the second season onwards, Knope’s character is tweaked and she becomes much more level headed and intuitive, if not still a little too enthusiastic for her pencil-pushing job. The show begins to focus on one-off storylines that quite often echo the state of American politics for the most part, with reoccurring storylines such as the pit/park dilemma, the ever-shifting romantic relationships of the characters and saving Pawnee from financial bankruptcy; a storyline which introduces two new characters, portrayed by brat pack alumni Rob Lowe and comedic actor Adam Scott, as two state auditors who eventually fall for the people of the town and end up working closely with the parks and recreations department in order to save it.
What separates Parks and Recreation from it’s sister sitcom is the hugely iconical characters that stand high on their own two feet, rather than being American interpretations of Ricky Gervais’ characters. The satirical elements aren’t quite as steeped in politics as BBC’s The Thick of It but are instead wrapped in a warm light-hearted glow that ensures the show never takes itself too seriously. The show is about to enter it’s fifth season in the States, and with good reason. Considering that US version of The Office seems to be winding down, if you’re a fan I can see no better show to fill the void.
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