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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Farewell To Parks and Recreation

The first season of Parks and Recreation, which thankfully is only six episodes long, is horrendous. It's still close to being unwatchable to this day. Having left The Office midway through its run, writers Michael Schur and Greg Daniels tried to create a second version of that show with Amy Poehler taking on Steve Carell's role. It was a disaster. I started watching Parks and Rec when it originally aired because the trailers looked funny and I was excited to see a vehicle for former SNL alum Amy Poehler. Then I quickly bailed after seeing the final results.

Despite the train wreck that was Season One, NBC, for some reason, greenlit the show for a second season. I did not watch it, but my roommate at the time did. He gave the show another chance and tried to convince me to do the same. I was rightfully skeptical at the time, but he did just get me hooked on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I watched Episode One of Season Two and from the beginning moments where Leslie Knope starts rapping The Fresh Prince's "Parents Just Don't Understand", the show that we all know and love not only stopped being bad, but became one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. The show has never looked back since, and I was hooked.

Parks and Rec managed to do two rare feats as a sitcom: it mined for comedy gold in characters who not only were good at their job, but were not bumbling idiots in everyday life, and it managed to be funny throughout the entire long run of the show. It's a difficult feat being both funny and surrounded by characters who are good at what they do. The four main characters in Seinfeld are all terrible human being who fail at the mundane, I don't know how many downer moments and people there were on Cheers, Michael Scott is an awkward idiot on The Office, and everyone who works for Liz Lemon on 30 Rock is not good. Those are just a few examples of other sitcoms, but Parks and Recreation didn't go that route. Leslie Knope is not only great at her job but she just wins at life. Ron Swanson is a bad ass sonuvabitch that always gets what he wants. Tom Haverford may have his douchey moments, but he clearly knows how to wheel and deal. In the early days of the show with Mark Brandanawicz, he was seen as the guy who could always get stuff done. Despite the professional success of these characters (who would all go on, save Brandanawicz, to succeed at bigger and better things), Parks and Recreation was always positive and hopeful. It's contemporary How I Met Your Mother was the exact opposite as its characters, whether it be in love or professional success, constantly failed. It's predecessor Scrubs was always about how bad life was at a hospital and how messed up these characters really were. I could go on and on about sitcoms where the workplace was terrible, but that wasn't Parks and Recreation.

What's even more impressive is that Parks and Rec managed to sustain its high level of success for six straight seasons (after Season One). Very few sitcoms can say they managed to still be good and funny after season 4 or 5. Parks and Rec is amazing at Season 7. 30 Rock, The Office, Seinfeld, Scrubs, HIMYM, and Arrested Development all either ended on a sour note (season) or stopped being funny after its fourth or fifth season. Personally, there are shows like The Office and Seinfeld where, in its peak, Parks and Rec on its best day couldn't touch it, but I'd still probably choose Parks and Rec over the vast majority of other sitcoms thanks to its longevity. Parks and Rec might have repeated story lines (Unity Concert / Harvest Festival), but no one ever critiqued it for Jumping The Shark. That's because it never felt like it was old and tiresome and you always wanted more.

I found it impressive that the show was able to hit a higher gear after Adam Scott and Rob Lowe joined the cast extremely late in Season 2, basically the start of Season 3. Season 2 of Parks and Recreation was very, very good with Ann dating Brandanawicz, the beginning of the April and Andy romance, and Leslie and Ron generally being awesome people. I never heard a complaint at the time nor have I really heard one later about the second season of this NBC sitcom, but the show shook up the status quo anyways. As it turned out, it was for the better. It was never that Paul Schneider (Mark) was a bad actor, but it turns out that when you have two phenomenal comedic performers in their own right in Lowe and Scott in their prime, your project just is that much better because of them.

Adam Scott's Ben Wyatt started dating Poehler's Leslie Knope, and again the show was able to find comedy gold in two characters who are amazing at what they do thanks to Scott playing the straight man to Poehler's Knope. This dynamic caused the show to still be good once the status quo was again changed thanks to Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe leaving the show.

A will-they won't-they moment is essential to any sitcom. Friends, Cheers, Scrubs, HIMYM, New Girl, and The Office (who had like three or four of them) all had their own version of this classic trope, and Parks and Recreation was no different. Yet for some reason, Parks and Rec did it better. It never felt forced or a weak link in the show, even when Ben and Leslie couldn't date each other thanks to a contrived storyteller plot device. What's even better is that the show took that plot device extremely seriously (Chris Traeger put Leslie Knope on trial! Remember that?). Despite the eventual love obstacle Leslie and Ben had to overcome to stay together, Parks and Rec was still able to successfully chug along after Cinderella met her Prince Charming. For most shows, the moment the will-they, won't they ends is the exact moments the sitcom dies. The moment Pam and Jim get married on The Office is literally the exact moment the show becomes terrible (the next episode after the two-part marriage ceremony is an episode called "Mafia" which is freaking awful and the show doesn't get much better from there). Parks and Rec still has many classic moments and laughs after Ben and Leslie get married, because the show and these characters goals were always bigger than any one relationship.

In the end, everybody gets what they want and deserve. Gerry gets his real name back and becomes interim mayor of Pawnee. Donna is still rich and fabulous with Keegan-Michael Key in Seattle, Ann and Chris have a beautiful family in Michigan, Tom becomes the mogul he worked so hard for with a gorgeous girl by his side, April and Andy are still perfect together, just in a different city, Ron is always happy doing the things he loves, and Ben is a Congressman and Leslie is a big-wig political bureaucrat in Washington D.C.

Like the show they were on, these actors all went on to have incredible success. Aziz Ansari is one of the biggest stand ups in the world, Nick Offerman is a movement onto himself, Chris Pratt is now the biggest movie star in the world, and Amy Pohler can literally do no wrong.

Parks and Recreation was always a show about fairness and the belief that the world is fair. If you do right by the world, the world will do right by you. As we all know, the real world doesn't work that way, and for many moments on the show, it didn't work that way for Leslie and her friends either. It took 6 seasons for Leslie to finally fill Lot 48 with a park and she gets recalled from local government while guys like Jamm and Dexthart get to keep their jobs. But in the end, Leslie always wins and her positive point of view and her unselfish ability to help others (at some points to a fault) saves the day. In this world of local government in Pawnee, Indiana, what is right and fair is also the end result. What's ironic with Parks and Recreation, is that it's now unfair that we don't get any more of this show in our lives.



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