I just finished a Parks and Recreation marathon, and I adore this show! I watched season 4 as it aired on TV and enjoyed it a lot, but now that I’ve watched all the earlier seasons, I think it’s kind of genius. Parks and Recreation excels at developing its characters over time and creating the sense of an actual town outside its City Hall setting through recurring secondary characters, extended story arcs, and ongoing jokes (Pawnee: First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity!)
I initially didn’t watch Parks and Recreation because I thought it would be snarky and cynical like The Office, but it’s much warmer and more heartfelt than that show. Most of that has to do with Leslie Knope, played by the fully-invested, brilliantly engaging Amy Poehler. She’s intelligent, dedicated to her friends, and unabashedly optimistic in her belief that government can make a positive difference in people’s lives. Leslie’s trajectory as a character is the opposite of Liz Lemon’s on 30 Rock: over the course of the show, Liz has become increasingly absurd and infantilized, difficult to recognize as a real person. Leslie started out as manically upbeat, almost self-deluded in her optimism, and kind of absurd (I’m thinking of season 1’s “The Banquet,” when Leslie shows up for an awards dinner in a suit and helmet hair). Since then, her character has lost the manic edge and become more relatable, but she’s still unapologetically intelligent and fiercely feminist, ambitious in her plans for herself and her hopes for her city. I never thought I’d tear up over a city council election, but thanks to Leslie’s sincerity and idealism, I did just that.
I think that, like 30 Rock, Parks and Rec took a few episodes to find its footing. I, too, avoided it because I thought it would be like The Office, a show that seems to exist solely to mock its main character (the absurdly oblivious boss played by Steve Carell–I can’t think of his name). And for the first few episodes I worried that might be the case with Parks and Rec as well; Leslie had the potential to be such a caricature. But once the writers discovered how lovable Leslie is–not perfect (she’s a control freak, she can be a bully, she’s often oblivious and she sometimes demands more of other people than she has a right to ask), but lovable–the show became something really wonderful. And all of the secondary characters are so delightful as well, also in their imperfect ways. I’m a big fan.
All the supporting cast really is spot on. I think one of my favorite Ron Swanson moments is his uncharacteristically giddy reaction to seeing Li’l Sebastian in the Harvest Festival episode. And Rob Lowe is inspired.
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