Parks and Recreation -- An early look
by Jason Hughes, posted Apr 8th 2009 5:12PM
First there was talk of a spin-off of The Office. Word was that Amy Poehler was attached. Then we got the notion that Rashida Jones may just reprise her role of Karen in that spin-off. And then it became Parks and Recreation. The show follows the exploits of the Parks Department in a small city in Indiana. So our spin-off went from more office politics to ... well, politics. But Amy Poehler is here. And while Rashida Jones is on board, it's not as Karen.
Still, the comparisons are going to be inevitable. Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, who are both key parts of The Office team, created this show, it airs right before The Office, and both are shot in that mock documentary style. Then you have Poehler's lead role as Deputy Director Leslie Knope. She appears to be as oblivious to the world that truly exists around her as Michael Scott is on The Office, but more in a naively optimistic way than a narcissistic asshat way. As Jones' character Ann Perkins describes her: "She's a little doofy, but she's sweet."
Aziz Ansari brings a mix of his character from Scrubs this season and Jim Halpert in the earlier seasons of The Office when he was basically just phoning it in. On Scrubs he was an arrogant prick who didn't care a bit about his internship at the hospital. It's probably why he was fired by Dr. Cox, so he could appear on this show where he continues to not care about his job. He's just a lot more mean-spirited than Jim, taking photos of Leslie when she fell into the pit that appears to be the focus of this first six-episode season, and lacks all of his charm.
That's how Rashida Jones' character Ann comes into the story. She's a nurse who lives near a giant pit. A company dug out a basement for a huge condo development going up and then went bankrupt and left the pit there. That was a year ago, and now Ann's boyfriend has fallen into the pit and broken both his legs. She takes a plea to an under-attended town hall meeting where Leslie takes up the battle cry to not only fill in the pit but to make it into a park.
This storyline can easily fill six episodes, as we're slated for this season, but what's the plan beyond that? You've got Jones and her boyfriend as cast members, so how do you keep Jones a part of the main story once the pit is finished? Should Parks & Recreation get renewed, which seems likely considering NBC doesn't have anything else worth plugging into this hole (Kath & Kim didn't do all that well), they've got to develop a long-term plan. Does Ann join the Parks Department? Befriend Leslie? Actually date Ansari's Tom?
For now, though, things are going well. The characters were well-presented right from the beginning. You find yourself rooting for Leslie, even if she is a little doofy, and Ann is likable as well. Her boyfriend seems to be a bit of a tool, Tom is a dick, intern April looks to be right in there with her, and the big boss reminds me of "Big Mike" at the Buy More on Chuck. Interestingly, he hates government and would rather see the Parks Department privatized and run like a Chuck E. Cheese. He explains it much better than I do.
All in all, I think this is a great fit for the Thursday night line-up, it's got some of the wackiness of the bookends My Name is Earl and 30 Rock, but shares a lot of its comic timing with its neighbor The Office. Leslie and Tom play very well off of each other, though I do want to see someone actually care about Leslie a bit, rather than just think she's kind of pathetic. I suspect that might be Ann's role in all this.
I do want to talk about the use of the cameras and the documentary approach. I hate to keep making comparisons to The Office, but this is one of the major things the two shows have in common, they're just handling them very differently. In The Office, there are private interviews for the camera which add insight, but during the main action of the show, if you will, the cast almost never directly acknowledges the camera nor do they talk into it.
Here, though, the cameras are an integral part of the scene at all times, even if we never see them. The characters talk directly into the cameras during active scenes, while walking down hallways and even while interacting with other cast members. It creates a different more "in the now" flavor to the mockumentary filming style.
There is no resolution to the major storyline of the pit, save the small victory of getting a subcommittee approved to advance the project, so it looks like the story is going to be set up like one continuous episode. For a paltry six episode commitment, I definitely think this one is worth checking out. I'm not completely sold on how long they can play this out yet, but I have confidence in the creative team behind this one.