“Parks and Recreation” is in its sixth season on NBC, and I’m always surprised that I find myself having to convince others to watch it. Created by Mike Schur and Greg Daniels, creators of “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” is centered around the town of Pawnee, Indiana, and the men and women who work in the Parks Department and in the local government. The premise sounds boring, right? No more boring than a paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania, I assure you.
Here are 5 reasons I cannot believe you aren’t watching “Parks and Recreation,” and if after reading it, you aren’t the least bit curious, then you are a terrible judge of what is funny, and what is not.
1. Leslie Knope is the Perfect Heroine: When we first met Leslie in Season One of “Parks” she was nothing more than a female clone of Michael Scott (Steve Carrell’s now famous character from, “The Office.”) Kind of brash, rough around the edges, incompetent, but very dedicated to what she did. Fast forward over the next 5 seasons, and we have the Leslie of today; The passionate, feminist, waffle-addicted, over achiever. Whether championing gay marriage by performing a ceremony for two male penguins, giving an important speech while hallucinating with the flu, or taking heat from the town that both praises and ridicules her on a regular basis, Leslie wears her hometown love with pride. All of those qualities are great, but what really makes Leslie a realistic heroine is that she doesn’t always win. The citizens of Pawnee fight every good thing she tries to bring to the town. She’s seen by her co-workers as an annoyance. Her own boss, Ron, wanted to fire her on many occasions. She’s a steamroller. It’s her flaws that make her better. When she overcomes something, especially in spite of one of those flaws, that’s what makes you want to cheer for her all the more.
2. The Deep Bench of Incredible “B” Characters: One of “Parks” greatest strengths is its incredibly strong supporting cast. On many sitcoms, the supporting characters have gimmicks, gags, and are overall pretty predictable and under-developed, save for those gags and gimmicks. “Parks” takes their supporting characters to a new level. They constantly mix up character interactions, so you never get the same pairings of characters back to back; each character interacts well with every other character. Sure, they all have their gimmicks too, but the key to “Parks” characters is that they are so well developed, the gags aren’t relied on in every episode, and by doing so, those gags don’t grow stale. We all know that when Jerry gets nervous, he’s going to fart, but he’s also a family man, with a beautiful wife and 3 daughters. April is rough around the edges, but she loves her husband and her dog, and has even teared up when talking about them. Donna may mention her Mercedes a lot, but her social networking skills rival that of a 13 year old girl, and she can land any man she wants. Tom abbreviates words that don’t need to be abbreviated, and he’s also an entrepreneur, wanting to better himself and find a way out of working for the local government. Andy will do something dumb that makes you go, “Oh, that Andy…” but we also know that he is a fine musician, has a huge heart, and is willing to fit into any box needed to help his friends. Those qualities make you anticipate what these supporting characters will do next, and make those gimmicks and gags all the better when they happen. “Parks” supporting characters can put other show’s lead characters to shame, however, the mix is so wonderful, they work best as an ensemble, and that’s just fine with this girl.
3. Romance? What Romance? Romance is usually the undoing of any show. Writers are constantly faced with the decision to either bring a couple together, or keep them apart until the show is nearing its end. On most shows, when that central couple finally end up together, the show grows stale, and rather than those characters growing, it becomes a question of, “Now what?” which in most cases means some sort of separation, just so that the writers can bring back the magic, and make you want that couple together again. “Parks” has romances, the show’s central characters are all “coupled.” Leslie and Ben, Chris and Ann, Andy and April, even Ron Swanson finally settled down for the third time.
Here’s where the show gets it right, yet again. The heart of the show comes from the characters themselves, and their genuine affection for each other, as a whole, and not because of a “will they, won’t they?” or because of one character pining for another. The show doesn’t rely on any of the romances to lead the show, they’re just story lines. Once a couple is together, they still interact with other characters. Nothing about that character changes, necessarily, that character is just coupled. It’s a satisfying end to a storyline, but not one so pertinent that the entire universe of the show hinges on it. Because of that, the show is able to focus its attention on other elements, and the story lines don’t grow tiresome.
4. Rob Lowe was Literally, the Best Change to the Show: Nearing the end of Season 2, “Parks” was faced with a dilemma. They knew they needed to regroup and re-balance the cast in order to continue to be successful, and bring the characters to a new level of growth. So they cut some characters loose, and brought in Rob Lowe and Adam Scott as Chris and Ben, auditors from the state sent to cut the budgets of the town, and save them from financial meltdown. From the second Rob Lowe uttered his first sentences as Chris, you knew there was a positive change in the air. Chris is a hypochondriac, health nut whose idea of a light run is a 15K. Chris’s interactions with each character elevate every scene that he’s in, mostly because Rob Lowe is such a strong force in every scene that the other characters kick it up a notch when they share screen time with him. Chris uses the word “literally” to describe everything. He’s the ever-positive ray of sunshine on the show, and watching Rob Lowe portray him makes you forget he was ever a member of the Brat Pack. Chris’s storyline in Season 5 centered around his internal battle to fight depression with the help of his therapist, Dr. Richard Nygard. The storyline was anything but depressing, as Rob Lowe made what is, on paper a pretty serious issue, and made it laugh-out-loud funny, to the degree that we laughed every time he cried. It comes as a complete surprise how well he fits into the Pawnee Universe, and what a hole will surely be left in it when he departs the show later this season.
5. Ron Swanson: Ron is the show’s breakout character, portrayed brilliantly by Nick Offerman. We don’t know much about Ron, but we know the basic information we need to love him. He likes meat. He likes scotch. He likes (and also hates) women named Tammy. He values privacy and buries gold to avoid banks. He’s a libertarian, and hates the very government he works for. As the show has unfolded, we’ve seen Ron go from what could have easily turned into a cartoon role, and become a character with so much dimension that in any every day situation, I could tell you exactly what Ron Swanson would do. Ron is very much the patriarch to the “Parks” family, treating Leslie, Tom, April and Andy like they were his own children, even though he’d never publicly admit to it. His lessons on life work in the Pawnee Universe, and in our every day universe. Here are some of his gems, to tell you everything you need to know about Ron (anything else can be located on the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness, which you should Google after reading this:)
“The only thing I hate more than lying is skim milk. Which is water, that’s lying about being milk.”
“Clear alcohols are for rich women on diets.”
“Honor. If you need it defined, you don’t have it.”
“Turkey can never beat cow.”
There you have it. If you want to experience “Parks and Recreation” after reading this, my personal suggestion is this: Start with Season 2. Watch until you’ve finished, and then watch Season One last. You’ll be amazed that it’s the same show.
“Parks and Recreation” airs Thursday nights on NBC.