This will be a feature in which I countdown my top 10 TV shows of all time and talk about the reasons why they’re in the list and what I love about them. At 4 is ‘Parks and Rec’
Parks and Recreation ran for 7 seasons from 2009 – 2015 and was created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur. Originally intended as a spin off to ‘The Office US’, it stars Amy Poehler as the head of the Parks and Recreation department in the fictional town of Pawnee, and although it’s set in a different universe to Daniels other show, it kept the documentary format made famous by it.
Lets start by talking about the theme song.
This is one of my favourite TV show theme songs of all time, its one of the brightest, happiest, most joyful pieces of music ever put at the start of a show. Its instantly recognisable, uncompromisingly catchy and impossible not to put a smile on your face. It sums up the show perfectly in 30 glorious seconds, its hyper optimism, setting you up with everything you need to know about the program and introducing you to one of the most relaxing and welcoming fictional worlds, ever encountered on Television.
In short, Parks and Recreation (Parks and Rec by its fans) is simply one of the greatest TV shows of all time. I know it is, you know it is, and if it wasn’t for the 5 shows that I like that little bit more, then Parks would be at the top of the list. I don’t use this term lightly, but Parks and Rec is a perfect show. If it weren’t for the weakest first season and a short time around season 6 where it almost stopped being perfect, this show could have be a stone cold classic. As it is, it’s just a stone chilly classic, and that’s not bad at all.
For those of you who haven’t discovered the show, or have but didn’t want to move past the weaker first season, or did but still didn’t like the show (which is crazy), then you must be wondering what it is that has garnered this show unanimous universal praise. Well, I’m more than happy to tell you, this is a show that I began watching a year or so ago, and similarly with many shows, I wasn’t hooked at first. Yet, a little while into season 2, you get to the moment where you realise how utterly fantastic it is. Since that point, I have fallen in love with it, and I never want to go back to those pre-Park days.
If you’ve read my ‘Top 8’ post about ‘The American Office’ then you’ve seen me talk about the differences between American and British comedy. The theory being that whilst we Brits celebrate failure and don’t aspire to much, the Americans tend to be incredibly cheery and hugely positive. This is none more so apparent than in Parks and Rec, one of the most unremittingly cheery TV shows of all time. I mean that in a completely positive way. This is a show that is joyous and hopeful, and so full of life that it would take the heart of a real cynic to be downbeat on it.
Some context. It’s a multi camera comedy (no laugh track) that’s about the day to day work of a group of people in the Parks and Recreation department in the council buildings of Pawnee, Indiana. It’s done in a documentary format, much like The Office, but also like The Office, you forget about it, and get swept up in the lives of the characters and stories. Amy Poehler plays Leslie Knope, one of the single greatest TV characters of all time. She is a passionate, determined, smart, forceful, positive, empowering woman and a ball of energy to rival Tigger.
She spends her day trying to make her city a better place, even if she doesn’t get thanks in return, and never backs down without a fight, even if its hopeless. She’s also a goofball, she has a deep love for waffles, her friends and political procedures, cause actually that’s the thing, she loves her job and her determination is highly endearing and positive.
Contrasted to the shows second best character, Ron Swanson, a man who revels in all things manly. He’s a tough, straightforward, moustachioed, meat eating, hands on, nature type of guy, who’s Leslies boss yet hates the government. He’s the shows breakout character, a one man meme generator, whose manly manliness is presented as an OTT rendition of masculinity, so much so that it’s endearing. Under it all, he has a heart of gold and his brashness is never mistaken for rudeness because his close friends know that he’s honest and moral.
Parks and Rec is the rarest of rare shows, one where practically every main character is an MVP (most valuable player). Other than Leslie and Ron, we have Tom, a man obsessed with being a mogul, a businessman, an entrepreneur, and the king of swag. He’s always up to date, always logged on and never shies away from a business opportunity. Consequently, he is ridiculous. He’s a man with big ideas, but usually fails, and never backs down. His unintimidating babyishness makes him a juxtaposition within himself, he’s also damn lovable.
Then there’s April, a sarcastic, black humoured, macabre obsessed, goth assuming girl who loves the thought of chaos and death but like everyone else, has a heart of gold. Andy, played by the movie star of the moment, Chris Pratt, is the lovable goofball, idiot who manages to function in some way, despite his dumbness, he has a band, Mouse Rat, and never settles on a job, but he’s always happy and is an excited puppy.
Ben and Chris, are introduced in season 3, one is the former young mayor of a town he ended up bankrupting, running from his troubled past, he’s also a lovable geek. The other, an uber positive, health nut who runs all the time and drinks things like wheatgrass, but is underneath quite lonely. Then you have Anne, Leslies best friend, a nurse who is, for the most part, the straight faced one in a town full of weirdoes, mostly. She’s kind, sweet and is unlucky in love, Leslie loves her to bits.
Part of the main ensemble, but not quite main characters, are Donna and Jerry. Donna is a tiger of a woman, she’s fierce, loyal and loves money. Then there’s Jerry, damn it Jerry.
The reason why I’ve told you about all the characters is simply because this is a show that has a diverse collection of people, unlike most shows, everyone has a place and a purpose and there isn’t one we don’t love. Except Mark*. It’s refreshing to have a cast of people who are all nice, funny and interesting. They all represent the most openly aspirational people and the show lives and dies on these characters, who each, completely fit within the universe of the show.
They’re also perfectly cast. Poehler, an SNL alum who radiates joy in everything she does (perfectly cast as Joy in Inside Out) is the shows driving force, and one of TVs strongest female characters. Her insane work ethic is never looked down upon, but respected and is never seen as a fault. This wouldn’t be the same show without Leslie Knope.
Of course, the most important think about a TV comedy, is it funny? the short answer is yes. It’s laugh out loud funny, witty, original and absurd. It has a sheer goldmine of clever one liners, running jokes and character quirks at its disposal and utilises them with efficiency. Each character has their own voice and isn’t just a conduit for whatever writer. These aren’t lines that can be spoken by anyone, but rather set dialogue that comes out of personality rather than just a funny joke.
Like great comedy, its not improvised and the stars are some of the finest comedians and actors in the world. It’s been said by Joss Whedon that comedians are good dramatic actors because out of the two, “funny is the hard one”, which I think in many ways is true. Looking at comedians like Robin Williams, who, when he did dramatic in Good Will Hunting, was phenomenal. I think this is, in part, why my favourite shows are comedy’s, it’s because they can make me laugh, but also stop for a moment and say “Wow”.
Parks and Rec is another show that even with its great aspirations and sharp comedy, won’t shy away from dramatic meat. Actually, Parks has few real dramatic moments, yet still succeeds in being a happy and positive comedy. All of the shows greatest story arcs revolve around the characters developing in life, and as people. With Leslie Knope at the centre of the show, its her career trajectory we follow the most. From humble government employee to bigger and better things, we are made to care deeply about her ambitions because they are presented as real and grounded, tying into her love of helping people
As the series progresses, so does her relationships, but they play second fiddle to her developing political career. A joy being, that there is no string of failed romantic prospects, once the show moves out of its slightly misjudged early season, the focus goes solely into her job. Once this is established, the show brings in a perfect partner for her that makes for one of TVs sweetest and most wonderful couples.
This is how the show is from start to finish, it doesn’t focus sharply on marriage or pregnancy, but on ambition and prosperity. Too many comedies spend great amounts of time developing relationships within the confines of a situation of the week, but Parks wastes no time in establishing itself as a goal orientated show, showing you the endgame but taking you on many surprising routes to get there.
One of the shows most wonderful moments is at the end of the episode ‘Harvest Festival’ from Season 3. The culmination of a seven episode story arc in which Leslie and her co-workers have been working hard on Pawnee’s first Harvest Festival, as a means of doing something successful to ensure the future of the Parks department. This had been organised from the ground up by Leslie, and for a while people had been doubting her, and in this episode many things went wrong in preparation for it.
At the end of this extended episode, once many of the problems had been resolved, we cut to a shot that reveals the true extent and success of Leslie’s Harvest Festival. It’s a wonderful moment with the use of American Girl by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that really shows how she has managed to create such a successful event, and just where her determination and perseverance gets her.
It’s a pivotal moment for the show, displaying one of Leslie’s first great victories and setting the characters on a successful path. From here we see developments over the course of the series, building to bigger and bigger things, each of them are as a result of this big win.
The show was hugely successful with critics and fans alike, for 7 seasons it proved to be one of the very best comedies on TV and has since garnered critical acclaim for its final season which saw an increase in quality, instead of a decrease.
For me, what is so remarkably special about the show is its incredible warmth. Each episode is funny and heartfelt, but what really keeps me engaged is the world presented in it. The characters are diverse, fascinating and highly loveable and it’s as close to getting a hug from a TV show as possible. There’s a great sense of Pawnee being a real town, it’s depicted as being a bizarre place full of bizarre people, but its exactly the eccentricities that Leslie fights for.
With heart, humour, originality, diversity, surprises, guest stars, great music and fantastic morals unbecoming of most sitcoms, Parks and Rec will go down in history as being a show that truly has a place in the hearts of many, and deep down, in the heart of everyone.
Thank you for listening to me ramble, yet again about one of my favourite TV shows. This new blog outlet has been wonderful for me, because I’m finally able to express my opinions in an open and passionate way. If you want to let me know what you liked or didn’t, It’d be great to get a conversation gong.
Till next time, thanks. 🙂