Parks and Recreation, the NBC comedy that ended in 2015, has become my metaphorical comfort food. How did I miss this gem when it aired?
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In case you missed it too, Parks and Recreation follows a group of misfits who run the parks department in Pawnee, Indiana. Although libertarian Ron Swanson is the department’s director on paper, Leslie Knope, the deputy director, is the cock-eyed optimist who keeps the department — and pretty much the entire town — moving forward.
They’re joined by Tom Haverford, a suave, tiny man from South Carolina who is more interested in fashion than work; April Ludgate, a sullen, cynical young woman whose apathy rivals Ron’s; Jerry Gergich, a sweet, bumbling, flatulent man who is a walking punchline; and Donna Meagle, a well-coiffed, sassy woman who proudly has a revolving door on her bedroom.
In the pilot episode, we meet Ann Perkins, who seems to be the whole package but makes terrible decisions, and who becomes Leslie’s best friend. Ann has a live-in boyfriend, Andy Dwyer, a dummy who would be irritating if he wasn’t so sweet.
Later in the series, we are introduced to Ben Wyatta and Chris Traeger, two auditors from the state government who come to Pawnee to straighten out its financial woes. They begin the series as antagonists, but quickly become as beloved as the rest of the misfit crew.
This group of characters have become like family to me.
When I finish an episode (I’m binge-watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix), I lie awake in bed wondering about their love lives and reflecting on their personal journeys.
The cast members are also taking up residence in a corner of my heart. I’m becoming fond of them now, even though I already knew most of them from other TV shows and movies. I find myself looking them up on IMdB and searching YouTube for their interviews and bloopers.
The evolution of Parks and Recreation as a TV series has been fascinating and terribly satisfying. I’ve heard Parks and Recreation compared to The Office, but that is an inaccurate analogy. I can see why someone would say that, because of the office settings, the in-fighting and the humor that comes from socially awkward situations. But where The Office is a dismal take on being an office drone, Parks and Recreation has a sunny message about overcoming the odds and forging deep friendships. It’s a cliché, feel-good TV show, full of saccharin moments and bittersweet scenes.
Like I said previously, it’s compared to The Office, and in Season 1 it was much more like The Office. But somewhere near the end of the first season, and certainly during Season 2, the show found its groove and became a somewhat different show.
Creators Greg Daniels and Michael Schur realized that Amy Poehler’s ability to play Leslie as an unstoppable, positive force of nature was a gold mine of comedy. By positioning her to be the Little Engine That Could, they could have the other characters bump up against her and come away stunned. Their negative personality traits become amplified next to Leslie’s loyalty and perseverance.
They also realized that letting each character relish their flaws makes for delicious humor. Ron revels in his apathy; Tom flaunts his material materialism; April wields her hatred for mankind like a bludgeon; and Andy’s clumsy ways are his most endearing quality.
It’s not only the creators and writers who can be credited with letting Parks and Recreation evolve into a heartwarming comedy.
Most of the cast are masters at improvisation and used their own creativity to find their way. In one interview I watched on YouTube, Pratt and Aubrey Plaza, who plays April, talked about how the relationship between their characters blossomed out of their improv with each other on set. A more perfect pairing of partners on TV is hard to imagine.
Watching Parks and Recreation a few years after it finished on NBC gives me a strange perspective; I feel nostalgic, even though I’m watching episodes I’ve never seen before. For instance, when the gang head to London in Season 6, Chris Pratt, who plays Andy, shares several scenes with Peter Serafinowicz, who plays Lord Edgar Covington. I was enjoying their scenes on two levels: 1) They’re hilarious as they become fast friends, even though one is gentry and the other is an American oaf; 2) Serafinowicz also shares the screen with Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy, which sees them on opposite sides of the law. Watching that, I was a giddy geek girl!
I’ve literally (and I’m thinking “literally” in my head the same way Rob Lowe says it as Chris) become addicted to watching Parks and Recreation. I find myself being pulled toward my living room. I would be perfectly happy to sit on my reclining couch and watch every episode, one after the other, until it’s over.
However, if you’re a big fan of any TV show (and if you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you are) you know that binge-watching is a blessing and a curse at the same time. I may be pleasantly anesthetized and floating in a euphoric state while I’m watching it, but as soon as it ends, I will be maudlin. I will miss the motley Parks and Recreation staff, even though I can watch it again; it’s not the same the second time.
Parks and Recreation makes me want to climb into my TV, pull up a chair and eat waffles while I watch their lives unfold. It’s a warm, cozy feeling. I completely lose myself in the show. I root for them; I laugh at them; and I cry for them. I think I love Parks and Recreation because it portrays the world how I would like it to be, along with a plentiful supply of waffles.
Was Parks and Recreation one of your favorite TV shows? Let me know in the comments!
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