Parks & Recreation
I’m fine. It’s just that life is pointless and nothing matters and I’m always tired
– Andy Dwyer
I’ll have a glass of your most expensive red wine mixed with a glass of your cheapest white wine served in a dog bowl. Silly straws all around, please.
– April Ludgate
Like it’s progenitor The Office, Parks & Recreation didn’t really hit its stride in its first season and didn’t really seem sure of what it was. It’s harder to see in hindsight having seen the whole show multiple times and knowing the characters well, but if you compare a Season 1 episode directly with one from later seasons, you’ll see that Leslie Knope’s character is played as more of an ambitious bungler with no real relationship with her office colleagues. Andy—who becomes one of the most loved characters later on—is little more than kind of a jerky boyfriend to Anne Perkins. Ron Swanson is portrayed as more of a generic grumpy boss figure rather than the figure of awesomeness he would later become, and Jerry and Donna are about as well-defined as cardboard cutouts.
Like The Office, the first season is short, only six episodes, so thankfully these early stumbling efforts are quick to get through, and to be fair, it is still a good show, just not as effortlessly amusing as the later seasons became. Sensibly losing the over-focus on Leslie’s crush on Mark Brendanawicz, Season 2 starts to coalesce around the relationships in the office, and the growing respect the team begrudgingly feel for Leslie despite her constant efforts to make them do ridiculous things and generally being annoying and overambitious in her plans.
A large part of my personal love of Parks & Recreation centers around Andy and April, who grow to become a larger part of the core team in Season 2 and beyond. Andy evolves into more of a lovable doofus, and brings out a joyful side of April whereas previously she had been simply a side-eyeing sarcastic temp. Find anyone who doesn’t enjoy Andy and April roleplaying their favourite characters: Burt Macklin, FBI agent; Janet Snakehole, aristocratic widow; and Judy Hitler (spoiled only daughter of Adolf Hitler) and I’ll show you a person who’s soul has withered up and died.
Any really successful ensemble comedy relies on the whole being better than the sum of its parts, and everyone involved from Season 2 onwards just kind of fits together; the writers and cast managing to grow the characters and tweak the relationships until it hits a pitch-perfect note. Nobody is ignored and everyone contributes to the formula. Even Rashida Jones’s Anne Perkins manages to act as kind of a straight girl foil to anchor the show (and Leslie) a little bit from floating away into absolute farce. As new characters are introduced they manage to add fresh dynamics to the existing relationships and are written in a way that succeeds more or less in stopping the core characters from becoming overtired stereotypes. Most of the seasons are at least 22 episodes, so keeping a show fresh and funny over multiple seasons is quite a feat.
On the whole, where Parks & Recreation excels is being a clever, funny comedy that still manages to be a feelgood show. None of the characters are dead weight, and it evolves cleverly enough to keep you hooked throughout, although there are some missteps in the final couple of seasons. Overall though, there are very few things that will distract you as well and as happily as spending 63 hours in the city of Pawnee, Indiana with some old friends.
Also for your consideration: Parenthood, Better Things, The Office, Scrubs, New Girl.
What are your favourite comfort watch shows? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter @25YLsite