By Brittany Anderson
Assistant Web Content Manager
Let’s face it, folks: we’re going to (and most likely already have) consume an unhealthy amount of media in the coming weeks. Endless options of films and TV shows, video games and hours of mindless scrolling has inevitably made it to the forefront of our Coronavirus quarantine schedules.
Although I hope you’re also keeping yourself busy through other mediums that don’t involve a screen, I think now is really the time to put your binge-watching talents to the test and fill your heart and soul with one of the best— and, dare I say, underrated— TV shows out there: “Parks and Recreation.”
“Parks and Recreation” often gets compared to “The Office.” And while I hold the controversial yet brave sentiment that “Parks and Rec” is the superior show of the two, I’m not here to hate on “The Office.” Both shows have cemented themselves as being important pieces of pop culture with their goofy antics between coworkers, but there are a few things that I think makes “Parks” come out on top and worth your watch.
First off, the relatively small cast of main characters in “Parks and Rec” means you get to connect with them, see their layers and dimensions as they grow, and follow along as they progress through their life and relationships with each other.
Although the Parks department’s Deputy Director Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is arguably the matriarch of the show, “Parks and Rec” doesn’t let the other female characters fall into any kind of stereotypical tropes. Weirdo April (Aubrey Plaza), mysterious Donna (Retta) and good-natured Ann (Rashida Jones) help complete the main cast of women who refreshingly stand strong in their convictions and are consistently and uniquely themselves.
I mean, come on. “Parks and Rec” is the birthplace of Galentine’s Day.
Leslie herself is a successful, quirky woman who we, across seven seasons, see transform her innocent naivety into fuel for her political dreams. As a viewer, her growth gives you a sense of completion that can so easily be lost with other comedies.
Throughout the show, she takes her “dorkiness” in stride, and her fellow employees and companions lovingly stand by her side— sometimes disgruntled by her ruthless enthusiasm, but mostly awestruck at her skills that she so humbly and authentically presents.
Most importantly, we see her quietly learn to love herself. She nonchalantly takes her passion for her job and general zest for life into her everyday psyche, and she continually becomes a better boss and friend because of it. Leslie truly makes you want to be the best version of yourself.
Then, of course, you have the patriarch of the show, Parks Director Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman): a staunch Libertarian who is the polar opposite of Leslie in every way, but still manages to forge a genuine friendship with her.
He brings his own flair to the show with his no-nonsense, deadpan demeanor that brings the Parks department back down to reality— and once in a blue moon, he breaks down the gruff, manly facade with his secret saxophone hobby and childlike giggle.
I could go on and on about the others: Tom (Aziz Ansari), Andy (Chris Pratt), Jerry/Gary/Larry/Terry (Jim O’Heir), Ben (Adam Scott), Chris (Rob Lowe). Most importantly, nobody is treated as a “side character.” Each person is important to the story’s cohesiveness, and their individual journeys aren’t downplayed or forgotten. Collectively, they’re a family, and you become part of it, too.
Of course, good characters (and good acting) wouldn’t be possible without good writing and good directing. The show itself was created by Greg Daniels (“King of the Hill,” “The Office”) and Michael Schur (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “The Good Place”), and making the list of writers’ room inhabitants include comedians Chelsea Peretti, Amy Poehler herself, and the late Harris Wittels.
“Parks and Rec” definitely takes elements of “The Office”— zooming, panning, confessionals, the occasional character looking straight into the camera— but manages to transform the mockumentary-type feeling into a living, breathing story. Despite it just being a show made for television, “Parks” uses great mise-en-scène (a fancy word referring to the arrangement of a scene) and clever editing that helps set it apart from its rivals.
Like many TV shows, you might have to push yourself through the first few seasons to really get going. Although the first several episodes aren’t as firmly developed, by season two, “Parks and Rec” really begins to define itself— and from season three on, the world of Pawnee, Indiana and all of its eccentric inhabitants become a solid work of believable fiction.
I get that not everyone watches TV to become heavily invested in character development or intricate plot lines, but if that’s you, why not start looking at entertainment differently through a show with substance? “Parks and Recreation” is complex in all the right ways at all the right times, and its satire and irony is seriously unmatched.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to simply sit back and laugh, but I promise that it’s doubly fulfilling when you spend your time getting to see the hard work of talented actors, writers and directors play out for six appropriately-long years of genuine comedy and wholesomeness. “The Office” may have done it first, but “Parks and Recreation” did it better.
Stay inside. Add “Parks and Rec” to your watch list on Netflix. And, of course, don’t forget to treat yo’ self.
Featured image by Brittany Anderson.