I’ve just finished watching the first season of Parks and Recreation… which sadly doesn’t seem to be available in this country, hence my having to acquire the six episodes via “alternative sources”. Eep!
For those who don’t know, this single-camera, mockumentary-style sitcom stars Amy Poehler as ‘Leslie Knope’, a mid-level bureaucrat in the parks department of Pawnee, a fictional town in Indiana. The first episode finds our heroine being button-holed by a local nurse, ‘Ann Perkins’ (Rashida Jones), who angrily demands that the large construction pit near her house be filled in, following a fall which left her boyfriend with two broken legs. Leslie nobly vows to turn the pit into a park, despite resistance from her Libertarian boss, parks director ‘Ron Swanson’ (Nick Offerman), and the cynicism of her colleagues, including apathetic intern ‘April Ludgate’ (Aubrey Plaza).
To be honest my first impression of the show wasn’t particularly positive… originally conceived as a spin-off from The Office (US), I felt the style of the show, the rhythm of the jokes, and many of the character beats conformed a little too closely to the familiar formula established by its parent show. I gather from reading the show’s Wikipedia page (through my fingers, so as to avoid any spoilers for future seasons), that this was a common complaint among critics at the time, and that a fair amount of tweaking went on behind the scenes before the second season hit the air. What kept me watching though, aside from Poehler’s mesmerising performance in the lead role, was the premise. I loved the fact that at the heart of the show, there was a well-intentioned woman attempting to create something genuinely worthwhile for her local community. It wasn’t just another show about pretty-lookin’ yuppies tryin’ to get laid… it was a show about politics, and public spirit, and (potentially) the healing power of nature. Yes, I know that sounds soppy, and I know that I’m probably setting myself up for a big disappointment, since a few cynical script-writers could all-too-easily stomp all over my hippy-dippy dreams here… but for now I’m itching to see how the “Pit vs. Park” story plays out.
As for the performances, I was intrigued to read that one of the tweaks the writers made involved bumping Poehler’s character up a couple of IQ points. I think her childlike naivety was part of her charm, but it was also one of the traits that made her eerily similar to her analogue over at Dunder Miflin… so I’m curious to see how Poehler plays “Leslie 2.0”. Apparently her performance has been nominated for a couple of Emmys in the meantime, so that’s a pretty promising sign! Jones was already an old-hand at this style of comedy, of course, thanks to her stint as ‘Karen Filippelli’ in The Office, and I thought she brought a lot of warmth and charm to her character, ably adapting to what could be considered the “Pam” role here. Apparently Plaza’s role was written specifically for her after casting director Allison Jones informed the show’s creators: “I just met the weirdest girl I’ve ever met in my life. You have to meet her and put her on your show.” High praise indeed. She doesn’t get too many scenes in the episodes I’ve seen, but hopefully we get to see more of her in later seasons, because she was a lot of fun in Scott Pilgrim… even if half of her dialogue was censored!