Local government is not something that lends itself to comedy but, thanks to NBC, small-town civil service has never been so funny. Parks and Recreation gives a behind the scenes look at the antics of the public officials of fictional Pawnee, in the heart of Indiana, and their trials and tribulations in making their town a better place.
Co-created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, part of the team responsible for the US version of The Office, it centres around the antics of the Deputy Director of the Parks department, Leslie Knope (played by SNL regular Amy Poehler). Aside from borrowing the mockumentary style of Gervais’s creation, they have also adopted similar characteristics for their main protagonist. Leslie is as socially and personally unaware as her Slough/Scranton counterparts, albeit with a sweetness and enthusiasm that grows on you. She’s a mid-level bureaucrat dreaming of becoming the first women President of the United States – rather her than Palin, right?
In the first season, her main goal is to deal with a giant pit present in the middle of a built up area, which had been earmarked for development, only for nothing to materialise. The pit is brought to her attention at a public forum by nurse Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones of The Office) after her boyfriend Andy Dwyer, a failing musician, falls into the pit and breaks both his leg. Together with Leslie, they set to push through plans to turn the pit into a park, and rid the community of this eye-sore. Unfortunately for the duo, their progress is drastically halted by an abundance of red-tape and incapable colleagues.
Leslie shares an office with the under-achieving Tom Haverford (played by Aziz Ansari of Human Giant), whose main aim is to belittle everything she does, while striving for a life-style more akin to a rapper in LA than a civil servant in suburbia. He’s crass, sarcastic and a bit of a sleaze, and one of the best characters on the show.
Challenging Tom Haverford for your cult-affection is Leslie’s boss, Director of the Parks department, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). As the name suggests, Ron is a moustachioed, full-blooded American who has a penchant for bacon and brunettes. He has a passive approach to his work and is firmly in favour of the privatisation of local government, with nothing but contempt for the public and his peers, aside from Leslie. Their relationship is the source of much angst for Ron, but his respect and admiration for her out-weighs the fact that her ‘can-do’ attitude is kryptonite to him. He is also an avid hunter and fisherman, and secretly moonlights as a jazz saxophonist named “Duke Silver”.
Other notable character – April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) plays a typically moody Indie-chick and Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider) is the City Planner who is as close as you are going to get to a comedic straight-man. A well respected official, treated almost as a King Solomon character, he cuts the forlorn figure of a failed-Architect whose duty is to baby-sit his co-workers. One thing that has to be said is that the casting is spot on; they are diverse and eccentric, while also being believable and relatable.
America did not take to Parks and Recreation at first, something which NBC had anticipated; the script was rushed into production and only 6 episodes were commissioned for the first season. With networks not afraid to lay a show to rest, rightly or wrongly (see Arrested Development), average viewing figures and mixed reviews looked to be an ominous sign for the show. But viewing figures picked up and critics warmed to the show in the last few episodes and NBC rewarded Parks and Recreation with a second season of 24 episodes. Season three premiere aired last Thursday (20th January) as part of NBC’s spring schedule, with 16 episodes lined up, and given the continuous improvement of the show, many feel this is the season that will attract more accolades and put it up there with NBC stalwarts Community, 30 Rock and The Office.
Parks and Recreation is a brilliant show which needs your attention – at first glances you will think you have seen it all before, but stick with it and you will soon realise that there is nothing on television quite like it. Unfortunately for those on this side of the lake, it is not clear when the colourful folks of Pawnee will grace our screens; the show is currently available in Canada, the Philipines, Australia, South Africa, Portugal and Sweden. Ratings suggest that we may never see the show on our screens – the award winning 30 Rock and The Office make sporadic appearances on Comedy Central, whilst It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia can be found in fits and starts on FX, networks over here will see such an acquisition as too much of a risk. It’s a travesty that more channels don’t use their money to purchase shows like Parks and Recreation. Maybe if you use yours and purchase the DVDs, network commissioners will take note and, at the very least, feel less inclined to spend money on the likes of James Corden…