Parks and Recreation: Make My Pit a Park (series premiere)
by Jason Hughes, posted Apr 10th 2009 12:36AM
(S01E01) While at its heart, and based on its creators (Michael Schur and Greg Daniels of The Office), you can't help but compare Parks & Recreation to The Office. They both film in that mockumentary style, they both feature clueless leads, and they have some of the same comic sensibilities. But how many multi-camera family sitcoms were on the air back in the '80s? Seinfeld and Friends clones in the '90s? Crime procedurals in the '00s?
It doesn't matter if a show shares similar traits with another if it has a voice all its own. And as I indicated in my "Early Look" of Parks & Recreation, they even use the documentary-style camera work differently. But the real difference for me is in the work of Amy Poehler.
While Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is a clueless jackass, Poehler's Leslie Knope is sweet. She's also kind of clueless, yes, and would like to see herself as something greather than she is, but she really tries to do the right thing and genuinely cares about others. I wasn't completely sold on the idea that Poehler could carry a series, but at least in this role she proves that she can.
But when you have a lead who's "doofy but sweet" as Rashida Jones' Ann Perkins describes her, then you need to surround her with a supporting cast that has a clue. Even My Name Is Earl, which is peopled with the biggest dingbats on television since The Beverly Hillbillies, has "Crab-Man" Darnell. In this case, it looks like everyone around Leslie has a better grasp on reality that she does. And far less "sweet" demeanors.
A lot of the humor comes with subtlety on this show, which I like. Things like Leslie being pleased with the turnout at a town meeting, only when they pan out to the theater seats there's maybe 30 people there. Then, to pile it on, the lights are turned out in the auditorium as if there's no one there. Those "Michael Scott overconfident" moments can be seen throughout with Leslie, as when she was confronted at this meeting about a giant pit that's been left unattended for a year, she just impulsively declared that she would not only get the pit filled but would put a park on it. She has no reason to believe she'll be able to pull this off, but she believes she can. And so we root for her.
Aziz Ansari is masterful at playing the slacker dick. When the highlight of his day is when Leslie fell into a pit and he and the intern April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) got pictures, it's pretty clear what kind of a person he is. He has no respect for Leslie, lies to make himself look better, and thinks he's all that with the ladies, too.
He even goes so far as to hit on Ann during that town hall meeting when she first brings up the pit that her boyfriend fell into it and broke both legs. Upon learning of the boyfriend, Tom says that she's probably ready to move on from him then because he's weak now. When asked if he was hitting on her, he denied it saying he was married, but then wanted to go away with her for the weekend to discuss the pit some more, as if oblivious to the fact that married people don't do that sort of thing. Or more likely, just not caring if its taboo. It's a slimy character, and Ansari just oozes it to perfection.
We didn't get much from the rest of the cast yet. Only Leslie's boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), who wants to privatize the department and worships at the feet of Coach Bobby Knight, had enough background presented to make him memorable. Should the show pick up a second season, it's going to need to find a more general focus beyond the pit, and figure out how to rope the Ann Perkins character more intimately into the ongoing plots, but for now they've got my attention.
I love shows that have a unique voice. Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari have great chemistry on-screen, and Rashida Jones plays the perfect "straight man" to their antics. I trust the creators on this one to flesh out those other characters and keep the funny coming.