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Parks and Recreation: Make My Pit a Park (series premiere)

by Jason Hughes, posted Apr 10th 2009 12:36AM
Parks & Recreation
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.

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Worst show or worst show ever?

There were some really lever lines that might be worth repeating around the office but I remember watching TV back in the day and laughing.

Does Amy Poehler have cankles? Scary. She can finally play Hillary Clinton.

I don't really get the whole mockumentary style thing, but if they're going to do The Office and Parks on the same night, they should just make Earl and 30 Rock mockumentaries.

April 16 2009 at 3:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There were actually a few good lines:

"When I'm getting yelled at, what I hear is people caring loudly at me."

"Committees cover our democracy with blood."

"I heard it."
"I heard it!"

While some moments were annoying (Leslie climbing backwards into the pit reminded me too much of Michael driving his car into a lake), I have to say that this was far better than I expected.

April 10 2009 at 9:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Poehler is pudgy, guess she's embracing her anti-milf, yuk. But I like the premiere ep, looks like Rashida Jones is cast as the guy magnet.

April 10 2009 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

great louden wainright cameo

April 10 2009 at 1:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Aziz Ansari was pretty funny (just the fact that he is an Indian dude named Tom Haverford is worth a chuckle).

But otherwise it seemed bland...

I know I shouldn't judge a show on it's pilot, but I don't have high hopes for this one. From a critical or popular perspective.

April 10 2009 at 1:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Frank's comment

I thought any scene with Aziz Ansari was funny. I think he makes the show. I think the show may work if they put it in a different time slot. It is too similar to The Office.

April 10 2009 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I wanted to like the show, and I don't even really have a problem with its similarity to the office... but one thing P&R is not is funny... not even the subtle humor was that funny. The only time I laughed was when Aziz Ansari hit on Rashida Jones. IMO, the big problem is Poehler... her character is not funny... and I am not sure why they had to make her a naive ass. That's where P&R gets too close to the Office. I think the show could work if they let Peohler be funny instead of doing schtick.

April 10 2009 at 10:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"The Office" lite. That is all.

April 10 2009 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sadly, this show just didn't hook me. Having worked with government-types before, I know their operating procedures and how they feel about their job (most of the time, it's surprisingly good). I thought this show might successfully parody the "stereotypes" of government work. It did, but to a degree that was just a little too much. But, that might just be me.

April 10 2009 at 10:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with you. This show is being a lot more subtle than the US Office was after its first season. I think its funny that a few people have commented that this show is "too much" like The Office, when The Office that they're watching was already done in the UK. I like both versions of those shows, and I'm willing to let this one pick up. Even though I laughed enough during this episode to want to see more.

My one complaint is, I think giving it an hour long pilot would've probably been better. Or at least two episodes back to back.

April 10 2009 at 9:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love The Office and this was too much like The Office for me to like it - poor imitation IMO.

April 10 2009 at 9:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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