A spin-off of “The Office” was in the works for a while, and viewers speculated as to who would be sacrificed from the main show to give the second show a boost. Somewhere along the way, this spin-off idea became “Parks and Recreation,” a whole new show about the silliness of an Indiana town’s local parks and recreation department.
While it is a brand new show, its similar use of the style and humor of “The Office” is apparent from the very beginning. “Parks and Recreation” utilizes that mockumentary approach that “The Office” employs, complete with rapid camera movement and one-on-one “confessionals” with the show’s characters.
The show’s most glaring similarity to “The Office” is its main character. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) exhibits the same ambition and the same strange need to be friends with everyone that Steve Carell’s Michael Scott does in “The Office.” Unlike Scott, however, she feels like a trailblazer for women, putting herself alongside Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi as major female political figures of today.
Knope’s fun-loving spirit opens up many creative possibilities for the show. When the viewer is first introduced to Knope, she is conducting a poll at a local park, asking a child playing there how she would rate it. Having no patience for her like many of Knope’s peers, the child ignores her and continues playing.
Of course, it is not Carell’s acting strength that propels “The Office” but its ensemble cast. Likewise, “Parks and Recreation” has endeavored to create a chemistry conducive to humorous moments. Most notably, Knope’s boss Ron Swanson stands out in the show’s pilot. The eccentric department head makes plain his disgust with government, saying it’s a waste of taxpayer money. In a comedic riff that stole the first episode, he mused on parks and government.
“My dream is to have the parks department privatized and run entirely for-profit by corporations, like Chuck E. Cheese,” he says. “They have an impeccable business model. I’d rather work for Chuck E. Cheese.”
The show also embraces its environment, accentuating the funny moments of local government. One scene in the pilot captures the essence of a spirited local town meeting. After reconvening in a classroom when the school’s auditorium lights went out, citizens air their grievances to Knope and her co-worker Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari). Of course, there is always the larger-than-life character who uses the public meeting as a soapbox. One man says he was put in jail last month and blames the head of police. As he launches into his spiel, Knope nervously eyes the camera in a gesture that is hilarious because it is indicative of everyone’s feelings in such an awkward situation. Knope finally cuts him off after he begins to discuss actress Laura Linney. The viewers are left wondering what on earth he could have possibly had to say about her in that setting.
The most sympathetic character on the show is introduced in that meeting. Nurse Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) came on behalf of her boyfriend who fell into an abandoned lot. Poehler is on her A-game here, piping in that an abandoned lot sounds like a great idea before Jones clarified that it was a complaint, not a suggestion. Jones’ Perkins, who is seen in the role of both caretaker for her boyfriend and a logical check to Knope’s ambition, is easy to empathize for.
Jones has a knack for coming off genuine, as she did in “The Office.” It shows here as well in her assessment of Knope: “I don’t know. She’s a little doofy, but she’s sweet.”
Clearly Knope is ready to both win the crowd back and end the meeting by this point, and it shows when she pledges to not only fill in the lot but build a park in its place. Again her ambition is a funny angle, as she suggests a new playground, pool, volleyball court, tennis court, racquetball court, basketball court, Shakespeare in the Park and so on, all in this little abandoned lot. Will her ambitions come to fruition? Will this parks department get any work done? We’ll see as season one continues, but, early on, this project (as well as this show) has major potential.