This past week I finally started watching the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” focused on the ongoing sagas of the title department in Pawnee, Indiana. In a matter of days I have already gotten up to midway through the fourth season because yes, it is absolutely worth it. Here are eight aspects of the show which I have loved so far.
“The Banquet” (Season 1, Episode 5): Great friendships abound in this show. Leslie Knope (as played so expertly by Amy Poehler), complete with presidential haircut, goes to this get-together with best friend Ann and with Mark, who’s both a coworker and Leslie’s former flame. The three grab each others’ noses while making fun of higher-up political figures who are seated at other tables. Although Tom, another coworker, is confused by what Leslie, Ann and Mark are doing, their fun is the only thing that matters. I wish I had some Ron Swanson moments to include here because he’s more than Leslie’s boss; he’s also a caring guy, and as one TV critic pointed out (wish I could find the exact page to quote), friendship is underrated in comedy, especially modern sitcoms. It would be so easy to make everything a caricature, but instead, “Parks and Rec” features characters who genuinely like each other.
“The Camel” (Season 2, Episode 9): The Parks and Rec department creates a “camel” of a mural, a hodgepodge of everything great from Indiana, including Michael Jackson seemingly carrying Greg Kinnear into Pawnee’s infamous bread factory fire. (“Jesus” refers to the Kinnear image originally being used in coworker Donna’s celebrity-ized painting of The Last Supper in which Kinnear was the centerpiece.) So: state pride.
“Media Blitz” (Season 3, Episode 5): “Pawnee Today,” the show that Leslie, Ben (who joined the show at the end of season two) and their cohorts all go on at various points to fight for their rights and/or defend themselves. Ben has a tougher time than most; his history of being elected mayor of his hometown at age 18 and then bankrupting that town comes back to haunt him – and “Pawnee Today” keeps the terrible headlines coming. (It doesn’t help that he can’t handle interviews.) The show’s host, Joan Callamezzo, is one of Pawnee’s most entertaining media figures, along with equally hilarious reporter/talk show host Perd Hapley.
“Jerry’s Painting” (Season 3, Episode 11): This might be the single funniest episode of the show. Parks and Rec worker Jerry is accidentally/subconsciously inspired by Leslie Knope when he paints this portrait of Greek goddess Diaphena; naturally, the painting provokes outrage from Pawnee’s conservative townspeople. It also gives Ben, who has a crush on Leslie, the opportunity to sneak a peek at the painting. This is the kind of show where the arts and history are actually a part of these characters’ lives: painting, music, literature, mythology and Leslie’s affinity for biographies of politicians are all connected to central themes in the show.
“Pawnee Rangers” (Season 4, Episode 4): Feminism. Leslie is the leader of her own girl scout troupe, the Pawnee Goddesses, and one of her charges creates a stein inspired by Gertrude Stein. Yep, that’s right: this is a show unafraid to reference stuff other than whatever is currently popular.
“Smallest Park” (Season 4, Episode 8): Romance. This show doesn’t drag relationships and their possible obstacles out nearly as agonizingly as, say, “The Office” did. Problems happen, solutions happen and the results feel right, like they were meant to be regardless of the outcome being good or bad. And unlike “The Office,” you know that there is more to Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt than just settling for doing the bare minimum at their jobs. They’re actually trying to improve their town and state, as well as the lives of everyone around them.
“Citizen Knope” (Season 4, Episode 10): Bad jokes. Ben is an avowed math nerd (in this scene, he’s trying to get a job as an accountant) so he is not above making quips about calculators. Definite plus (pun intended).
“The Comeback Kid” (Season 4, Episode 11): The show’s absurd but loveable physical comedy shines its brightest spotlight in this episode when Leslie and her coworkers set up a public event for her City Council bid but it’s set in an ice rink rather than the basketball court they expected; chaos ensues. That the speakers are blasting the peppy Gloria Estefan song “Get on Your Feet” all through the dangerous trek to the too-small wooden platform makes the scene perfect. Characters face challenges but they never go down without a fight.