Parks and Recreation (2009-15) reviewed

Some time ago, I discovered this show named Parks and Recreation. I was searching for a new series to explore when I came across this talented office ensemble. Amy Poehler spearheads Parks as Leslie Knope, the perky deputy director. She also acts as producer for the show. Other players include Rashida Jones as nurse Ann; Leslie’s boss, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), and a slew of cuddly co-workers. Each ep focuses on a particular theme, and I tip my hat to the writers’ creative juices for coming up with fresh ideas each time. The show ran for seven years between 2009 and 2015. The ep’s running time varied from 22 to 42 minutes. Parks has a catalogue of over a hundred episodes, an impressive feat for a sitcom. The comedy premise, (generally) short running time, and mockumentary style, would be reminiscent of The Office. I have to admit though that I’ve never watched the latter. Earlier this Saturday afternoon, I have now finished all episodes of Parks. I have to commend the show for keeping me entertained right till the end.

The characters

Parks was able to fit ample cast members and storylines in a rather short running time. Throughout its run, the rest of the cast received similar screen time. While Leslie and Ann got star billing, others weren’t left out either. From director Swanson to flashy Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), Donna Meagle to Mark Brandenowicz to April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), the show recognised that their stories mattered. Even clumsy Gerry Gergitch had two episodes where he featured. Gergitch is notable for having the most appellations: from Gerry to Barry, Larry to Terry. At the end of the second season, Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) were added to the line-up. In terms of casting for a comedy series, you know that they found the best fits. Poehler was polarising as Leslie and Rashida was awesome as Ann. Aziz was delightful as Haverford and would soon star in his own successful series. The other fellows are below.

Dim-witted Andy (Chris Pratt) stole the thunder as he spoke his mind in his quest to be awesome. He evolves from being double fractured in his legs to getting a job as a shoe shiner with Parks. He was initially a bit player before becoming a mainstay following season one. After his relationship with Ann ended, he even finds love. He is also noted for his alter ego, agent Burt Macklin, whose mission is to save the damsel and the world. Later on, he moonlights as Johnny Karate, teaching the little ones how it’s done. The kids also take their talents on Barry.

Ron loves a good steak or hamburger. He despises vegetarians and is thorough in his work. He makes a great upholsterer. Though he has a tough exterior, he has a soft spot for his crew. He invests in Tom’s ventures and is like a father to Leslie. He likewise hires April. Ron may loathe the desk job, but he’s devoted fifteen years to his career. Tom is the resident prankster who, for the most part, has little luck with the ladies. He tries his hand in a number of enterprises, including Entertainment 720, Rent-a-Swag, and Tom’s Bistro. Though he rents clothing to up-and-coming athletes, he is hopeless at basketball. However, he manages to hang out with Roy Hibbert of the Pacers and even coaxes Detlef Schrempf to the telethon. As the show progresses, he becomes a more confident and dedicated worker who is less egotistic.

Meanwhile, April is noted for her deadpan humour and has been hailed as the breakout star on the show. While initially hating the whole Parks Department, she grows to love her job. She could be cold and mean to others and is a kid at heart. She transforms from a lone ranger to a valuable bureaucrat. Near the end, she even becomes Deputy Director before finding her calling in D.C. She has come a long way from being on the fringes of government work. She is also a pet lover and, like Ron, would fight for her friends.

Chris

Chris Traeger enters in season two as an auditor who becomes the acting City Manager, with Ben as his deputy. The former (my namesake) might be my favourite human on the show. While both entrants are extremely likeable, Chris’s healthy lifestyle and loveable outlook take the cake. Chris suggests that he believes he will be the first earthling to hit one hundred and fifty. He runs fifteen miles a day and hopes to dash the distance of the moon and Earth. He has the quirk of calling people by their full name. For instance, he utters ‘Ann Perkins’ or ‘Ron Swanson’ with a smile.

He meditates, eats fresh food, and always says the right things. However, when pitted against Ron, he admits that beef burgers are ultimately more delicious than vegan ones. He is also a wide reader. He goes for this book Limb-it-less, about a lady who tries to swim across the English Channel even though she was born without arms and legs. He is so kind and down-to-earth that people misinterpret his views sometimes. He values his time. Though he likes Leslie, he could be quite by-the-book and eschews office romances. Thus, Knope and Andy try to keep theirs a secret.

Pawnee

Pawnee, Indiana is a fictional town that could well be a microcosm of middle America. For the first half of the series, Pawnee was mired in a longstanding rivalry with neighbouring Eagleton. No one hates the latter more than Leslie. We would uncover that Knope was in fact born in Eagleton but remains Pawnee’s biggest advocate. Pawnee has been cited for being the fourth most obese town in America, a label that Leslie wants to change. For years, Pawnee’s biggest drawcard is a miniature horse named lil’ Sebastian. When the pony was brought to the office, everyone wanted to pat him. While rather pedestrian, Pawnee does have talk shows, a lake, and an answer to animated Ken Brockman: Perd Hapley.

While many denizens air their issue, few take the initiative in solving them. Leslie always had big dreams for Pawnee and ran for city councillor two times. She even enlisted the help of a local basketball star. She narrowly beats Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) in their face-off, the licensee of local confectionery manufacturer, Sweetums. Her term as councillor would be short-lived, as Eagleton native Ingrid de Forest (Kristen Bell) replaces her. Being faced with red tape and apathy is unfortunate for Leslie. Even as councilwoman, Knope realises that change requires more than some great ideas. While she enjoys a lot of success in the office, the political arena is a different story. With her binders, pros-and-cons, and upbeat attitude, there is no greater representative for Pawnee.   

A kaleidoscope of riches

The show’s wide breadth of settings also spices things up. Other comedies are stagnant since they remain planted to one or two locales. That’s not the case with Parks, which offers a wide variety of venues. The Parks office is like the hub, but characters are also seen at Leslie and Ann’s abodes. Ben’s rental has likewise some airtime. In addition, they are on the fourth floor, which is full of urban legends. Tom’s various businesses such as his entertainment base and bistro are also popular hangouts. They dine in at the local eatery, with Leslie always ordering her favoured waffles with whipped cream. As Parks employees, they trek the outdoors, going camping and fundraising. The hospital, Ann’s workplace, is another setting for the show. In season one, Ando frequents the infirmary as his doctor gauges the casts. The hospital is also highlighted as an outbreak overtakes the town. As the series wound down, expectant cast members visit to check their pregnancy.

In terms of out of town, there is the big trip to London over two eps. Andy makes a royal friend and stays over the pond for six months. Washington D.C. and the Lincoln Memorial also features, with some players moving over for greener pastures. There was likewise an interlude to San Fran, including a nice walk among big trees. Ron Swanson also goes around Europe, a place that he despises. He heads to Scotland and reads a wonderful poem that the national bard wrote. Tom goes to Chicago to chase a girl. There are also a few what-ifs, where the characters are offered amazing opportunities if they relocate. Both Ben and Leslie had to turn down these roles to remain champions of Pawnee.

Social issues

Throughout its seven-year run, Parks had its share of guest stars. Politicians such as Joe Biden and the late John McCain as well as Michelle Obama all made cameos. There was also a Bill Murray sighting with his portrayal of the departed Pawnee mayor. Furthermore, Henry Winkler (Barry) was a recurring character as Dr Saperstein. The show is a political satire, meaning it deals with key social issues. Some of the pertinent themes explored include gay marriage, women’s rights, parenthood, and animal rights. As the series hit the homestretch, most of the mainstays became parents. A couple even relocated to Michigan, which broke Leslie’s heart. Time magazine named Parks as the best show in 2012 on telly. Parks was also nominated for twelve Primetime Emmys. Parks is a series that has weight in every episode, a much-needed social commentary of the times. They may have messed up the signs in the ep, but the message is clear: Welcome to Pawnee!

Rating: 4.95/5

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