by Amrit Paul and Srijon Mukherjee
A mockumentary show boasting of the same casting crew
behind the multiple award winning show The Office ,
Parks And Recreation slowly creeps its way
into the viewer’s heart without them realizing it.
Spanning across 125 episodes, the show tracks the antics in a government office of the Parks and Recreation department of Pawnee, a town in Indiana. The director of the department, Ron Swanson, (Nick Offerman) thinks the Dept of Parks&Rec is a complete waste of taxpayers’ money, the appendix of a functional government system.
His deputy, the chirpy Leslie Knope, (Amy Poehler) believes otherwise. Bureaucracy has been her dream since childhood - which explains why she was hired, since Ron likes to sit back and do absolutely nothing, while Leslie runs around devising plans to make parks and the town a better place.
She starts with nothing - from wanting to turn abandoned pits into a park to marrying off gay penguins at another.
She stops at nothing either.
And thus, twenty minutes into the show, we already have a strange dynamic,
one of constant productivity and lethargy, involving a department of the government that people rarely take into account.
And boy do they rock it.
We’d only plunge into the first few episodes and hint at the themes, since our intent is to make you watch this show (and subsequently fanperson with us (we’re diabolical and we love digressions within digressions)), so no major spoilers. Only a few of the plenty gags ahead.
So when, at a public forum organized by Leslie (who else?), a young nurse Ann complains about an unfilled pit which her boyfriend Andy fell in, Leslie immediately steps up to the task and makes a promise that’s almost impossible to keep: To fill the pit and turn it into a park.
And thus, Leslie begins putting together her dream team, hiring an apathetic college student, April (Aubrey Plaza) and convincing three other government officials, Tom, Garry, and Donna to support her.
Ann helps out too, while Andy does his best to be of support, by upping his Guitar Hero game.
You know this team is here to stay when you see Ann Perkins being played by Rashida Jones, and the nooby boyfriend being Chris Pratt (cuter and chubbier before his Guardians of the Galaxy days).
Still not happy? How about we throw in an Aziz Ansari for good measure?
Meet Tom Haverford. And "Treat. Yo. Self."
Tom's easily as ambitious as Leslie, but his dreams involve less people and more bling.
Ron is antisocial and doesn’t trust because that’s just how he is, and because of the idea of invulnerability that he has in his head, and even then, he has moments where he’s extremely caring and willing to go the distance.
But then, he doesn't like getting "too sappy".
He's a simple man.
Let’s get back to the part where the show deals with a department of the government that people rarely take into account.
Now, maybe the reason why this works so well, just like it did in The Office, (which dealt with the employees of a small paper company,) is because they help us understand that
even the most seemingly insignificant occupations may have the most riveting stories.
The people here are as interesting and fun to watch as the people in the Senate’s office, or the President, and their opinions can be as legitimate and important as the ones running the country.
And now ‘opinions’. The show, using Leslie as a medium, puts through its own thoughts on a lot of social issues.
And it uses her to her full potential, when advocating for feminism. Leslie believes in equal rights for everyone, and she’ll sit with the entire town, educating them on what equal rights are and should be, if the need comes.
And she’d do it over waffles and copious amounts of whipped cream.
Oh, and some of the best lines in this show were improvised.
There's also a Star Wars Episode VII pitch that Patton Oswalt made in a 2013 episode of Parks and Rec. These 8 minutes were improvised. And oh boy. (Yay half digression)
A rather interesting trait of the show is how it’s not uncommon for it to use two very contrasting viewpoints of the characters to drive home a single point.
For example, when Leslie and Ron both become volunteers for camp,
and are put in charge of the girl and boy rangers respectively,
they constantly compete with each other, and unintentionally assign gender roles to the groups they’re in charge of. Ron goes overboard with this, and soon
it’s seen that his rangers prefer Leslie’s camp to his, and shift to her side. At the end of the episode, after they both see the error in their ways, Ron is seen to be preaching and almost forcing his stereotypically male gender roles onto the female rangers.
So now, while the episode begins with the age old ‘Guys Climbing Mountains vs Girls Doing Braids’ trope, it ends with a complete ridicule of what they started out with.
The show goes on to deal with several contemporary issues, like digital privacy, and widespread obesity - and most importantly, how it is that these gigantic corporations that breach the former and perpetrate the latter for their own business needs.
As for digital privacy, we’re all aware of its importance, what with all the recent happenings.
Now in one arc of the show, we see Gryzzl, the future replacement of Facebook, Amazon and Instagram, shamelessly hack and track their user’s personal data and use it for their own profit without thinking twice about the implications of their actions.
While it’s amusing to watch, it’s also a bit nerve racking to watch, as this could be our future.
(It’s already happening but we don’t want to scare our readers, so digression. Oh, oops. Oh well.)
And thankfully, a leading character, who,thankfully again, also becomes involved with running the city, calls them out for it, stressing that no person deserves to be fooled and taken advantage of, just for the sake of growth of a corporation.
In another story arc, we see Leslie battling the confection company, Sweetums, which seems to include diabetic amounts of - you guessed it - sugar in everything.
It’s been trying to get the whole town addicted, and sell more. Now, most shows take jabs at obesity and diabetes, but this one acknowledges them to be a grave issue in America now - the ridiculousness of their serving sizes, obsession with unhealthy-fat factory called Paunch Burger, and enjoying it all. Worse - the local politicians endorsing them, because it feeds their campaigns in more ways than one.
“How is this a child-size soda?”
“Well, it’s roughly the size of a 2-year-old child, if the child were liquefied.”
“Why would anybody need this much soda?”
“It’s not my place to speak for the consumer,
But everyone should buy it.”
The show makes sure to show the zero-size side of obsession as well.
Juxtaposed with the unwise eating habits, we see the supreme health conscious of Chris (Rob Lowe), who brings vegetable loaf instead of a cake to parties. (Why is vegetable loaf a thing?) He is as frail as a sand chip, and cold would probably ruin him.
We also see a Food Babe-ish woman who is all over the magazines and unsurprisingly, super rich because of her fad-diet endorsements.
(Bet she uses GMO-free water to wash her hair and calls chemicals she can't pronounce "toxins".)
Another aspect of the show that only makes you like it more once you realize it, is the similarities the cast shares with the characters they play. Amy Poehler, is extremely similar to Leslie (maybe not as idiosyncratic. MAYBE.)
Nick Offerman even shares the same creepy but adorable laugh (You have to hear to it know it) with his on screen character.
(Relevant: 45 minutes of Nick Offerman peacefully by a fireplace, with some Scotch. This could be Ron Swanson any day.)
Michael Schur, one of the writers of the show, later admitted that he wrote the characters based on the cast he chose, which helps explain why every single cast interview feels like another episode of the show.
Oh, and quick trivia. If you’ve watched The Office (US), you’d know Michael Schur.
And that makes the show a little more intimate to the viewers.
Usually, we’re aware of the fact that we’re watching a fictional show or movie by the recurring (also, annoying) thought that the people onscreen are actors pretending to be other people. However, knowing that the actors in this show are similar offscreen does make it easier to ignore the awareness of pretense.
It doesn’t make it real, of course, but it does immerse you a little more in the world that Pawnee is.
Perhaps the most touching parts of the show are the friendships the characters develop. It's not cheesy at all, no worries there.
The characters, being very different and each having their own quirks, slowly learn to empathize with each other, which then leads to greater bonds amongst them.
Each bond as unique as the people.
You see characters who would never in a million years associate themselves with the people they're being forced to work together with in this crazy job, slowly learn to empathize and learn from each other. After all, we humans sometimes cast off traits that we don't understand as faults and weaknesses, not realizing that this tendency to feel threatened by different people and quirks itself is a weakness we need to overcome.
And it's not everyday that we're forced to work with such people in boring, idiosyncratic government jobs.
April, antisocial and selfish, and completely flabbergasted by the sheer mixture of insane extrovertedness and love for duty and people that was Leslie, soon learns to appreciate her, once she's done taking advantage of her, and ridiculing her, that is.
Leslie is pretty annoying - the self-assured kind of annoying in Season 1, but she gets better. As do the seasons.
(After all, the first season is only six episodes. Besides, as Leslie says,
"One person's annoying is another person's inspiring and heroic.")
We want you to get you watching this show (or to watch it again) , so we'd rather not spoil.
So we'd not tell you about Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), the dorky state auditor who accompanies Chris,
and who ruffles more than just town budgets in our own little Pawnee. ;)
Another character worth mentioning is Donna Meagle (Retta). She's perhaps the wisest around, and can see through every idiosyncrasy. But she'd rather let her nail polish dry, because she's cool that way.
If anyone from the office were to right a novel on themselves, it'd be her.
(Leslie would write a 1000 page binder, yeah, but a book?)
We'll not talk about Jerry, if that's what his name is.
In an otherwise nice town, he seems to have it hard. Or does he?
As the Seasons come and go, you'll realise that in this mockumentary, the only character that doesn't talk to the camera is the town, Pawnee itself. It opens up, little by little, with every park, pit, smile, mishap. With talk show hosts and their baseless logics, with newspapers and their punny headlines, with bankruptcy and rivalry.
But most importantly, with every person that stays there.
What is Pawnee without people?
“I would fight anyone who says this wasn’t the best cast for a television show” - Seth Myers
So would we.