Whatever you do, don't mention anything about Judge Patrick Bromley's pit.
Our reviews of Parks And Recreation: Season Two (published November 30th, 2010), Parks And Recreation: Season Three (published September 14th, 2011), and Parks and Recreation: Season Four (published September 5th, 2012) are also available.
Because parks don't grow on trees.
When it was first announced that Greg Daniels, creator and show-runner of the U.S. version of The Office, was branching out to a second show, I tried my best to be cautiously optimistic. The Office, you see, is possibly my favorite show currently on the air and probably one of my favorite shows of all time, so I didn't want to see its legacy destroyed by a second, lesser show—I can think of few examples where show-runners have successfully been able to split their time between two or more series. Plus, the show—a mockumentary sitcom about a delusional mid-level local government employee—sounded a great deal like The Office in both tone and style.
When Parks and Recreation finally had its abbreviated six-episode run last Spring, I found it amusing but a little forgettable. Now, watching it again on DVD, I realize I may have underestimated the show. It's better than I remember it being.
Facts of the Case
Here's a rundown of the six episodes comprising Parks and Recreation: Season One:
• "Pilot"—We meet Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler, Mean Girls), the eternally optimistic mid-level employee with the Pawnee, Indiana Parks Department. When during a public meeting that the boyfriend of local nurse Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones, I Love You, Man) has fallen into a giant, abandoned pit and broken both of his legs, Leslie makes a promise to fill in the pit and build a park in its place.
• "Canvassing"—Leslie decides to take the staff out to gather public support for the park, which leads to disaster; Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari, Human Giant), Leslie's lazy co-worker, heads back to the office to start giving away building contracts, while city planner Mark (Paul Schneider, All the Real Girls) and sarcastic intern April (Aubrey Plaza, Funny People) head over to Ann's house to play Rock Band with her deadbeat musician boyfriend Andy (Chris Pratt, Bride Wars).
• "The Reporter" When a reporter comes to do a story on Leslie's proposed park, things quickly escalate thanks to the charms of Mark and some off-the-record comments; Tom deliberately loses to his boss, Ron (Nick Offerman, Sin City), in online Scrabble.
• "Boys Club"—Determined to shatter the glass ceiling and break up the "boys club" that is Pawnee local government, Leslie commits an ethics violation and makes use of a gift she was supposed to reject; April causes trouble with a Web video of herself getting drunk.
• "The Banquet"—Leslie is asked to make a speech at a banquet honoring her mother (Pamela Reed, Kindergarten Cop) and brings Ann as her date, but a bad haircut makes people question the relationship between the two women; Leslie tries to blackmail a woman on the zoning board; Tom and Mark hit the bars in search of meeting women.
• "Rock Show"—Ann's boyfriend Andy gets his casts off, but Ann learns some disturbing news regarding his injury; Leslie gets set up on what she thinks is a business meeting but turns out to be a blind date; the whole Pawnee group gets together to see Andy's band.
The best thing that I can say about Parks and Recreation: Season One is that it establishes a comedy series that shows a great deal of promise. It's not a perfect show yet—its laughs are in fits and starts and the cast hasn't quite gelled—but few shows are where they need to be right out of the gate (Arrested Development and Cheers are sitcom exceptions that prove the rule). There's enough that works with the series that it could someday develop into something that matters…or it could just as easily turn into another Suddenly Susan or Veronica's Closet. That's not fair, because it's already better than either of those shows, but you get my point.
It's difficult to talk about Parks and Recreation without comparing it to The Office, mostly because the strong similarities invite such comparisons. The Office is a more relatable show—it's about the slow, soul-killing monotony of our daily jobs, and there are very few of us who can't appreciate that. Parks and Recreation, on the other hand, has to be seen more objectively; while we can laugh at just how ineffectual local government can be (and how clueless positive Leslie Knope is), it's not really something most of us can connect with in the same way. That means most of the laughs are "at" and not "with," but that could change over time. By "Rock Show," the last episode of the first season, the elements seem to be falling into place: relationships begin to pay off, and we know the characters well enough to be laughing at small moments that aren't necessarily designed as gags (just the attractiveness of Tom's wife, for example, is good for a laugh even though there's no big punch line). It was the first episode of Parks and Recreation that made me really want to watch another episode.
The cast is probably Parks and Recreation's strongest suit. Amy Poehler makes appropriately goofy lead, finding ways to be funny that she was never really able to demonstrate during her days on Saturday Night Live (sketch comedy requires her to be way more broad, but she shows a lot of subtlety on Parks). Aziz Ansari is pretty much funny in every scene, playing a douchebag unlike many other sitcom foils; likewise for Aubrey Plaza, who rarely speaks but makes me laugh every time she does. Hers is an all-to-real (and scary) portrait of a generation drenched in apathy and irony. Rashida Jones is good in everything she does, and both she and Paul Schneider make effective straight people. Kudos to Parks and Recreation for not trying to generate a lot of fake romantic tension between the two—it would have been too easy to turn them into this show's Pam and Jim.
As much as I like the cast, however, they haven't yet formed into a funny ensemble; the parts are better than the sum total. That kind of thing takes time, I know, but the learning curve is a lot shorter for a team of all-stars like this—their talent precedes them, and they come with too much baggage not to be clicking as a group before too long. I'm guessing as the characters become more and more defined this problem will iron itself out, but the issue is indicative of my concerns with Parks and Recreation as a whole: so many of the elements are there, and now we just have to wait until they all come together. That's assuming they do all come together, but I remain as I began: cautiously optimistic.
Universal's release of Parks and Recreation: Season One is solid, and very comparable to their sets for The Office. The six episodes are presented on one disc in 1.78:1 anamorphic widesceen. The picture is sharp and detailed, looking as good if not better than the regular broadcasts (not HD; for that, you'll need to upgrade to BluRay). The 5.1 audio track is fine, delivering the dialogue with total clarity.
Each episode comes with a selection of deleted scenes and a commentary track from a rotating series of guests. Like the deleted scenes on The Office sets, the scenes here offer additional jokes and character bits; they're not necessary to the story, but if you enjoy the show you're likely to enjoy the excised material, too. The commentary tracks, from participants including Greg Daniels, Paul Schneider, Rashida Jones and Amy Poehler (who only turns up for commentary on one episode, "The Banquet") are amusing but somewhat disposable. There's not a lot of valuable information communicated and none are all that funny. Still, if you like the people involved with the show—and I do—it's an okay way to spend 21 minutes.
By the last episode of Parks and Recreation: Season One, I had been won over. It may never be The Office, but that's setting a pretty high standard. I'm looking forward to Season Two, and hope that the series just continues to develop and improve.
Not Guilty. Let's see how this one plays out.
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