Treat yo’self to Parks and Rec

Awaiting Mad Men’s return and having missed the boat on Downton Abbey (I’ll get there, don’t worry), I’m left in a bit of the television doldrums at the moment.  Though I’m enjoying the zombies of The Walking Dead gnawing on delicious face meat once a week, I can’t honestly say it’s my favorite thing to watch on the tube.  The husband is putting a dent in Supernatural on Netflix and while I watch with him, that show’s a little too dudemeistery for me — muscle cars, classic rock, bedding hot ghoulie gals.  The show I look forward to without fail and the show that likewise never leaves me hanging in this, my time of need, is Parks and Recreation.

When it first aired on NBC in 2009, I really wanted to like it.  I’m a staunch supporter of Amy Poehler — STAUNCH! But mostly I felt let down.  It seemed like NBC was trying to suck the lifeblood from the cash cow that is The Office by creating a dismally similar show, uncomfortable documentary camera eye and all.

NBC exec: What else is boring like an office? Oooh, I know, a government office!  Ka-ching!

*Dollar sign eyeballs.*

–End Scene.

Anyway, I found the plot kind of boring.  And the eccentricities of the characters seemed a stretch with little payoff.  Poehler as Leslie Knope played a pretty believable straight-A perfectionist go-getter in overdrive, but the storylines surrounding the Parks and Rec workers read flimsy, a little weak.  That first season revolved around Leslie’s dream of filling an eyesore of a pit to better her beloved town of Pawnee and to me, Parks was metaphorically quite similar: a niceish show with a big ugly hole in it.  Dutifully, I tried to watch it, but it ended up disappearing into the ether and other, shinier, pop culture tidbits captured my attention instead (I think I watched Home Movies for a good long while and did P90X for a minute).

Here’s Amy being Type-A awesome:

Lucky for me, however, TV is mother’s milk.  I needs it.  I crave it.  I’d hit another vast wasteland in my TV Guide and found myself jonesing for something, anything.  Parks and Recreation was so close, beckoning to me from my Netflix.  And I watched, skipped ahead some to season 2 and found myself connecting to the program.  Leslie Knope’s sweetly obsessive love of place, her heart inextricably linked to the people, locations, and events of Pawnee — this started to ring truer.

The oddities of the town began to layer and form a really strange and funny little community.  It’s a white picket fence, country fair kind of place where every mural in the government buildings depicts a vicious massacre, the aggressive stealing of Native American land, and other awesomely gruesome tales that smartly critique and add texture to this story of American small town life.  Parks shows us that the annoying Neighborhood Watch guy or the lady complaining about a pothole at a city council meeting perhaps share blood ties to the colonialist thugs painted on the aforementioned walls.  Where early settlers would have gathered for a nice Sunday witch hanging, new Pawnee gathers around its most famous celebrity resident, a ridiculously adorable mini horse named Lil’ Sebastian.  More than a nod to the show’s politically-saavy and progressive writers, these complex and often twisted representations of community add a pleasing level of quirk and darkness to the show’s typically sunny disposition — in layman’s terms, it brings the funny.

Lil’ Sebastian

Lil’ Sebastian

Having found its Pawnee voice and brushing off some of its initial reliance upon what worked for The Office, Parks’ greatest strength lies in its cast of characters.  Like Buffy in this regard, the show has a clear center in Poehler’s Knope, but it’s the team working together that really matters.  Each character is fleshed out with delightful detail and thus far they haven’t become watered-down catchphrase-spitting caricatures.  Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), with his healthy mustache, masculine code and libertarian values presents a lovely counterpoint to Leslie.  Where Ron eats hefty no-nonsense meals of meaty breakfast food with an almost sexualized gusto, Knope is a hummingbird of progress sucking down sugar at all times, mostly in the form of desserts and whipped cream.  Aubrey Plaza’s deadpan portrayal of April Ludgate, a jerky, lazy hipster has a vocal range of sarcastic to sarcastic-er, and somehow this doesn’t get old. Andy Dwyer is a loveable dope — it’s hard to play dumb, but Chris Pratt’s acting is endearingly believable. Lately, I’m loving Donna (Retta) a buxom woman of color who don’t give a fuh about anything stupid. She likes fine cars, finer firemen, and yes, her cousin is Genuwine.  She plays nicely with Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford, Pawnee’s biggest (physically tiniest) playah.  His big city dreams are more Cristal and Kanye for the Indiana corn maze and tractor pull set, but this mismatch makes for hilarity.  There are even more Parks folk to love, this is just the beginning.

After enjoying season two on, I returned to season one and found it more pleasing.  This is a great example of a show that needed to find its rhythm and this is why I’m pushing you to reexamine it.  Parks is smart, Parks is funny, Parks is weird as all get out.  If you were turned off like I was, go back to it, give it another try.  If not for me, then please, please for Little Sebastian.

Here are some more videos for your perusal.  Enjoy!

Donna and Tom, Treat Yo’Self 2011.

Ron and his protégé, April.

The Parks gang getting wasted on some snake juice at the local watering hole. P.S. Snake juice is basically poison.

Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.

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  1. […] written before about how much I love Parks and Recreation — the characters, the writing — but I haven’t been too happy with this season’s […]

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