by Gemma King |
Over the last few years, a number of clever workplace comedies have cropped up on our screens. Programs like The Office, Brooklyn Nine Nine and even meta culture projects like Community see the humour in the most banal of workplace settings.
These shows frequently use single-camera shots, talking heads and jump cuts to complement a fresh style of comedy often based on collaborative writing and improvisation. Yet no program has succeeded in portraying the workplace sit-com with such warmth and intelligence as Parks and Recreation, the NBC series that aired its final season in 2015 and is now available in full on Netflix.
True to its name, Parks and Recreation (or Parks and Rec, as fans know it) is set in the Parks and Recreation department of a small, fictional Indiana city named Pawnee. This otherwise dysfunctional department is buoyed up by the wildly passionate and inspired public servant, Leslie Knope, played with great dedication and affection by SNL veteran Amy Poehler.
Knope harbours big dreams of becoming the first female US President, while funnelling her energy into smaller projects like repairing fences and refilling hummingbird feeders. When a local resident, Andy (Chris Pratt), falls into a pit in a vacant block and breaks both his legs, Leslie sees her opportunity to make a difference, and teams up with Andy’s girlfriend Ann (Rashida Jones) in a mission to fight the slow pace of local government, fill in the pit and build a neighbourhood park.
Clocking out at seven seasons in total, Parks and Rec takes a season or two to get its rhythm right.
New viewers are encouraged to work through season one, which spends a little too much time mocking Leslie, and gives its other characters too heady a dose of apathy. But season two irons out the show’s kinks, giving Leslie plenty of room to be her generous, hilarious self, and the rest of the cast their own ambitions and idiosyncrasies.
Aziz Ansari is perfect as an aspiring hipster entrepreneur. Nick Offerman turns up the dial on his public persona as the libertarian woodcraftsman who attempts to sabotage the government from within. Aubrey Plaza and Retta, each with their own brand of deadpan cynicism, play off the less sarcastic characters.
A host of guest stars, from Andy Samberg, Werner Herzog and Fred Armisen to Parker Posey, Jenny Slate and Michelle Obama, round out the ensemble. Once the brilliant Adam Scott and Rob Lowe arrive on the scene in season three, Parks and Rec is a full-blown masterpiece of situation comedy, with a heartening feminist bent and a knack for drawing laughs at every turn. For a series with a humble premise, Parks and Rec is bold, sweet and ambitious, much like Leslie Knope herself.