Parks and Recreation (Series Review): Made Me Less Cynical

I recently finished Parks and Recreation for the first time. And I’ve got to rave about it some. If you’ve never seen it, read on to find out why you should…

Parks and Recreation helped solidify one of those magical feelings of fandom in my mind. Have you ever enjoyed a bunch of different shows, novels, or movies, then accidentally realized they were made by the same people? And your mind is blown ’cause you’re like, “What?! How can one person or team make so many things I love?!” That’s how I feel about Parks and Recreation co-creator Michael Schur.

Dude was a producer on The Office (and played Mose Schrute), co-created P&R and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and created The Good Place. So– he’s the visionary behind most of my favourite comedy series of the last decade! Schur’s shows tend to leave their viewers uplifted and roused. They offer complex characters, genuine role-models, and hilarious comedy to boot. But you’re here to know why you ought to watch Parks and Recreation in particular (maybe again?). So let me pronounce this review begun…

Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is the public servant everybody’s community deserves. Her dedication and ambition are second to none in her home town of Pawnee, Indiana. But she’ll face the biggest challenge of her career when she decides to turn a dangerous pit into a beautiful public park! Along the way she inspires countless people, changes lives for the better, and makes Pawnee (and America) a better place however she can.

Leslie probably trying to convince Ron of something he doesn’t care about.

I’ll admit up front: P&R didn’t grip me right away. In fact, its first 2 seasons were weak. But even those first few years improved as they went. My main problems stemmed from P&R’s similarities to The Office, though they were alike in all the wrong ways. For one thing: Leslie was basically female Michael Scott– socially clueless, annoying, and always the butt of the joke. But she felt like more of a shallow rip-off than a compelling character in her own right.

I also strongly disliked the character of Mark (Paul Schneider). He was the cast’s overt weak link throughout his tenure. The actor was fine but the character’s abundance of presence did the show no favours. He was a buzzkill, boring, and generally hurt whichever characters were in his orbit.

Beyond this, The Office‘s deadpan, lifeless tone didn’t work for this series. They tried to make the Parks and Rec office as mundane as Dunder Mifflin, but Pawnee begged to be more exciting! It’s like the show held back its own potential those first few years.

All this changed by Season 3. The addition of two new recurring characters, Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger, was the breath of fresh air which propelled Parks and Rec to new heights. And things only spiraled upwards from then on!

Ben and Chris are a lovable bromance.

It was around this time when Leslie Knope’s ever-infectious positivity drowned out that Office-like dreariness. She was no longer the butt of P&R’s jokes, but the show’s moral compass. And her uncrushable spirit began to brighten up Pawnee!

Leslie Knope has genuinely grown into one of my role models. I believe this character’s example has helped mold me into a better person. I’m actually a lot like her (over-organized and overbearing, yet well-meaning and incredibly supportive of my friends). And she’s given me a template for how best to use my skill-set.

Leslie’s local spirit is endearing and makes me want to volunteer in my community. She’s the kind of person who cleans up her town with her own two hands. And she shows how we may all make a difference in the world from our own backyards. Leslie’s many accomplishments demonstrate the power one person may wield with enough initiative and the right attitude.

As “lame” as it may sound (so might say April Ludgate), Leslie also demonstrates how cool it is to care about people and issues. She’s known for buying people amazing gifts (just because), listening to everyone, remembering everything about those people, and going out of her way to help those she loves. And she’s loved by most in return. The woman isn’t perfect but she shows how far genuine effort can go with relationships.

But what about the other characters? Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) is the ultimate hustler. I lost track of how many insane business ideas he conjured up throughout the series! Though his consistent failure never changes his can-do attitude (not for long, anyway). He’s a testament to hard-work and outside-the-box thinking! I also appreciated, from an overall cultural perspective, that he was a straight man who positively indulged his feminine side without shame. Characters like him ought to be more normalized. His constant whining might be a put-off to many, but it was funny more often than not.

Tommy Boy trying to impress somebody.

April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) is a character on top of a character. The genuine April is buried under a veneer of snark, sarcasm, and morbidity. This meant that her actions were always shown in direct contradiction to her words. April begins the series completely apathetic before learning to care– both about people and work. But, for better and worse, she never loses her edge. Her shtick wears thin late into the series when it seems like she hasn’t grown much on the surface (though we know she has inside).

Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) is a dumb sweetheart– except in Season 1 where he was a Grade-A jerk. There’s not much more to him than that. But he writes many catchy songs which are featured in key moments of the series! And his various alter-egos, such as Burt Macklin and Johnny Karate, are some of P&R’s best running gags. I wanna say Burt Macklin in particular received an entire subplot of P&R, ala McBain from The Simpsons (if you know, you know). Andy probably received P&R’s biggest arc, from an irresponsible and homeless man-child to a mostly-responsible man-child.

Donna Meagle (Retta) began the series as a minor character before growing into a regular. I wish she’d received more on-screen development, although her secretive personal life was a long-running joke. Donna’s vanity paired well with Tom’s, and they made a dynamic duo of culture.

Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) is LITERALLY the most positive character I’ve ever seen in anything. He’s practically perfect: mannerly, with a strict diet and exercise regimen, keeps on top of his mental health, always propping other people up, etc. But this “perfection” is often a problem for other characters who find his world-views annoying– particularly Ron. His biggest struggle in P&R was a mental health crisis which derailed his life for most of a year. But he even handled that in the most positive way possible! I wish I could be more like Chris.

Then there’s poor Jerry/ Gary/ Larry/ Terry (and whatever names they came up with for him, which I forget). He was the show’s punching bag. Sometimes the Jerry-hate became extreme for my liking. They took the jokes too far, or became too mean-spirited. But the fact he was such a good sport and kind human being helped matters. And everyone does get heart-to-hearts with him at some point in the show.

Ann and Leslie– a beautiful friendship.

I found Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) P&R’s most boring main character. And if Leslie Knope were real, she would be hunting me down at this very moment for making such a remark… Anyway– Ann is P&R’s “normal” point of view. She’s the only recurring character who doesn’t even work for the government. Jones is great in the role and the character is funny, don’t get me wrong. But, once Ben Wyatt joined the cast he played the “normal” role better. Ann outlived her usefulness to the series by Season 3, and they never knew what to do with her after that.

Ben (Adam Scott) is my favourite. His dry wit and exasperated attitude brought me no shortage of laughs. May I controversially declare that he “Jims” the camera better than Jim Halpert? I’ll show myself out amidst your hail of stones, tomatoes, and hate-filled comments… Ben’s backstory is the most scarring of the group, and he desperately seeks his own redemption arc. Nerdiness and financial accounting are his main tools of endearment. And he has a nice butt to boot (the references just keep flying).

Last but not least, the man himself: Ron freaking Swanson (Nick Offerman). What can I say? This character is amazing. Men of his stripe (carnivorous outdoorsmen with a penchant for wood-working, and a severe mistrust of societal institutions) would usually be portrayed as backward-thinking idiots. But Swanson is a supremely intelligent man who lives by his own moral code. His independent world-view is shown to be a strong one, though his convictions don’t easily fit within our modern world. The fact that this government-hating man is the Director of a government branch only makes his struggles more comedic.

Pawnee, Indiana has to be one of TV’s most well-fleshed out fictional towns! We get to know its government, it’s places of interest, its local characters (like Joan Callamezzo, Perd Hapley, Jean-Ralphio, Jeremy Jam, the Newport family, etc) and main businesses (such as the Snakehole Lounge, Sweetums, the accounting firm, JJ’s Diner, etc), plus other local business-owners and celebrities. We’re also aware of its awful history with First Nations people, its rivalry with a neighboring town, and its terrible raccoon infestation, among other details.

Oh yeah– I ought to mention P&R is funny too! My favourite Parks and Rec gag-type is based around the actors’ improv skills. Usually the setup goes something like: characters share ideas into the camera but they have too many thoughts, so they spew out everything on their mind. I always imagine that the first time this happened the editors chose “everything” because they couldn’t pick a favourite take. And it was so successful that they re-used this format for the rest of the series.

Parks and Recreation is a much-needed dose of positive and optimistic entertainment. They don’t make enough shows like this anymore! People underestimate the power of simple fun, hope, and joy. We’re all conditioned to seek and expect the worst of humanity and treat the world cynically. And yeah, bad things happen on P&R as well (ex. Pawnee NEVER appreciates Leslie’s tireless efforts) but the characters learn what they can and move forward. Ultimately– loyal friendships and perseverance prevail over most obstacles.

This series helped me respect the role of government. I was starting to view public offices with the disdain of Ron Swanson, but now I understand a government’s ideal form. Things won’t ever be perfect. But good people just have to cut through the red tape and stay involved with the system! Democracy can and does work. Enough people just have to choose the future they want (which is the whole point of democracy). Parks and Recreation made me care more deeply about issues on a local and international level. And change starts with caring.

But, perhaps more than anything, Parks and Recreation makes me want waffles with whipped cream… Seriously.

Treat yo’ self and watch Parks and Recreation, ’cause it’s a Must See.

What are some of the most positive things your local government has ever done (wherever you live)? What did you think of Parks and Recreation? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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