Tuesday, March 10, 2015


It wasn't intended to be the show that it became. Pulled out from writers from "The Office", and borrowing it's style, "Parks and Recreation" was a mid-season replacement for NBC that was supposed to be a satire on local government. Leslie's last name, Knope, was supposed to be a symbolic reference to the kinds of luck she would have being the sole caring government employee who was out to do good, in a department and with a crew of co-workers and friends, who expected the worst and did little more, often seeing Leslie's hope and gleeful naivete of the ways of the world and of an ungrateful public were gonna continually smash all her attempts and dreams at making Pawnee, Indiana, much less the world, a better place. Something happened though. Something I suspect happens more often than we like to think, or admit occurs, especially with people who work in government. To me, while it was gradual, it happened with an episode in the show's second season, one of the more lesser-recalled episodes oddly called "Christmas Scandal". Up until then, everybody was more or less amused by Leslie's undaunted determination, and by "everyone", I mean the other characters in the show, but in the episode, she ends up becoming part of a scandal that renders her unable to perform her duties that day, and while she has to fight off Councilman Dexhart's accusations. That's when everybody's perceptions, completely turned on Leslie, and in doing so, for the show, and in many ways the audience, when they realized exactly how much she actually did in just one day. (And  how far she was willing to go to make sure she'd get back to her job or serving the people, literally bearing her ass on television to prove the Councilman was lying.) It's the episode where suddenly, everybody would become apart of Team Knope, including us the audience. We weren't laughing at her floundering around to reach her inevitable failures, we were cheering for her to succeed, in the face of overwhelming odds; even Ron knew secretly that without her the government could not stand and that without her, despite his incredible disgust and admonishment of government, that ultimately, a few episodes later when Ben Wyatt threatens to fire Leslie as a part of the slashing of the city's budget, Ron insisted that she stay on, asking for himself to be fired. Not that he wouldn't have rather have been working for the Parks department, ideologically it makes sense for him not to work for the government, but strangely, he was doing it to make sure someone, Leslie, not only should run the department, but that she basically is the only thing that works at all.

It was that episode that I realize that "Parks and Recreation" was going to be something special. It didn't get all of it's kinks out 'til Adam Scott and Rob Lowe joined the cast in the 3rd season, and Paul Schneider's city planner Mark Brandanawicz character was written out, (Originally a former Knope love interest who became Rashida Jones's Ann love interest, her first believer as a government worker/fighter who actually did care and was willing to do whatever it took to serve the public.) No longer, was Amy Poehler a Michael Scott of the local government that we saw struggle and truly believe that she was making a difference when in reality she really wasn't, instead her idealism won people over, and like all the great pieces of government legislation, she led the fight to eventually did make real change in America. This was the episode show where would start to transition from those seemingly small issues of a "Parks and Recreation" department, like, a giant hole in the ground, to inevitably becoming a show where the characters big dreams would start to seem, attainable. That's what I found myself enjoying about the show more and more over the years, and I couldn't help to then compare it to another show that got me those stirring feelings about the role of government and the struggles between the idealism of the government workers and frustration of bureaucracy that struggles to keep them in the way. Yep, I'm sure some of you know where I'm going with this comparison, but I always did see "Parks and Recreation" as the comedic flipside of "The West Wing". It takes in a modern-day Mayberry but it is local government and all the little pitfalls and quandaries, they're the groundlings to the great theater that is the federal government, and most of them are relatively content with that, at least in the beginning. Hell, Leslie is content with that, she would love to spend her days and nights fighting city government officials trying to organize concerts and harvest festivals and state fairs and fixing park swings. That why when we see the last episode and see that she became so much more, we're more proud.

That said, why was "Parks and Recreation", so, ignored? It's been one of the funniest and smartest shows on TV for years, Amy Poehler was a breakout "SNL" star when she followed this Tina Fey path to NBC Thursday nights, especially since, it really did sorta hit both the cynical and idealists sides of government work pretty hard on-the-nose? I'm sure the lack of interest in this mockumentary style is apart of the problem (Although why "Modern Family"'s never seems effected by it, I'm not sure) It's strange that sitcom-wise, I could seriously argue that NBC, over the last decade when they've clearly been at the bottom of the rating they have far outshined any other major network and most cable networks by a mile for comedy, in terms of quality especially, It garnered the same audiences that loved "30 Rock", and "The Office" that they were looking for, except not as much. In fact, in many ways, I'm happy the show was allowed to end, frankly. It's got numerous half-seasons and was on the brink of cancellation numerous times, despite an ever-growing fanbase and creating some really iconic characters. I associate myself more with Leslie Knope but it Nick Offerman's character of Ron Swanson that was the most famous character. Yet, the show never had the best Neilsen Rating, and frankly the Awards bizarrely overlooked the show constantly as well. Amy Poehler has been nominated for an Emmy every year for Best Actress but never wins (And she's the only performer on the show that gets nominated, nothing for Offerman, Rob Lowe, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt even?)  and the show only got nominated once for Best Comedy Series, bizarrely.

This brings up another question, 'cause as great as the show was, 'cause it is somewhat difficult to determine "Parks and Recreation"'s place in television history. It's an original story using "The Office" technique, the first one in America, but I wouldn't necessarily say it's groundbreaking as it was inevitable and unlike "The Office" where the whole show was predicated on this conceit that the film was a documentary that was being taped, that kinda became inconsequential at some point. While I loved the last season, I think we can all kinda count on one hand how many shows did that jump x amount of years into the future thing successfully, and this show, almost pulled it off completely perfectly, it still feels a bit like a stretch. It did allow for the absurd and surreal to go hand-in-hand with the mundane realities of government bureaucracy. It gave a human element to it, to all the characters, we really cared about them and when the show finally got a real grasp of where they wanted to go, the characters completely fit right in and grew with the show. The show's lucky they had enough time to do that. Rod Schneider's character fell off when they figured out they didn't have anywhere to go with him. Louis C.K. had a long story arc that spread through much of season two that easily could've gone on longer, believably. This show actually had longer than most shows nowadays to really get it's rhythm together and get it's cast right and it's characters right, much more than most shows that constantly were under threat of cancellation. The show was always on and off the air sporadically, even this finale season, was limited to twelve episodes over two months, like NBC just wanted to get rid of it, like they really had anything else?

It's a shame a "Parks and Recreation" doesn't get the recognition as this comedic version of "The West Wing", most of the time, I hear "Veep" getting that, but "Veep" is just pure cynicism. "Parks and Recreation" turned cynicism into idealism. That's a tough thing to do, and they did it through a character that went from the butt of the joke and then turned her into the coach that everybody around. Leslie and the show were inspirational; I think a lot of people miss that in the translation. This is one of those shows that's works more strongly when you consider the show in it's entirety, which is somewhat tricky 'cause it isn't that clear in the beginning couple seasons where it ends up going from the beginning. That's the thing, the show itself changed from cynical to idealistic. I don't think it was planned to do that, it just sorta happened that way, but while in many ways it's a strength, it does make it somewhat more difficult to follow if you just catch a random episode, something that wasn't as problematic with "30 Rock" or "The Office" the other two shows it will forever be paired with, and I do think those shows will hold up better. It's a shame though, 'cause it really should be placed on a higher pedestal than that. It was more than just "That other show" that NBC had with the critical acclaim and cult following that not enough people watched at the time.

Hell, I considered "Parks and Recreation" was arguably the best show on television for awhile there, when it wasn't on hiatus. It took chances, it created amazing characters; it led to some really special television moments. It was the little show with the ambition to be so much more, just like Leslie Knope, and just like Leslie, it continued to succeed even when it seemed more and more unlikely that it would. On top of being smart and funny,  She wasn't inspiring in a hit-you-over-the-head "Full House" way either. A strong female character who easily could've been Tracy Flick-annoying, and here she is, making you care, and make you cheer for her to make the world a better place, and frankly, we not only believe that she can, we're hoping she does and sometimes we feel like we're helping her do it. I know I embraced it; I know Washington really embraced it, both sides of the aisle..., I hope others will in the future.

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