Binge Watchin' TV Review: Parks and Recreation
Welcome to Binge Watchin,’ where we take a look at some of the best TV shows available on streaming or disc that have a great catalog of seasons to jump into and get sucked into the beautiful bliss of binge watching! From crime, action, comedy, drama, animation, etc., we’ll be evaluating an assortment of shows that will hopefully serve as a gateway to your next binge experience.
Series: Parks and Recreation
Number of Seasons: 7
What's the show about?
Go-getter Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and the rest of the public officials at the Parks and Recreation office struggle to improve the status quo of Pawnee, Indiana while dealing with an inept bureaucracy and its mostly clueless citizens.
Why should I watch?
Greg Daniels has had a hell of a career, writing and producing shows like The Simpsons and King of the Hill before moving onto live-action fare like The Office (US version). That show quickly picked up steam and surpassed its UK counterpart with a well-rounded cast of characters powered by phenomenal comedic acting. Parks and Recreation was originally set to be an official spin-off of The Office with Greg Daniels partnering up with Office writer Michael Shur. Fortunately for us, the two realized the full potential of the show and settled on making it a completely separate entity. What they did carry over from The Office was its mockumentary style and an ensemble cast that audiences could fall in love with.
Just like The Office, the first season of Parks and Rec is a brisk 6 episodes. I'm happy to say that this first season is easily the weakest, as everyone was in the process of finding the show's proper footing. The biggest transgression was making Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope a riff on Steve Carell's Michael Scott from The Office. There are few people who can pull off the likable, bumbling idiot, and it just didn't work for Poehler here. Thankfully, the creators rectified this quickly in Season 2. Knope transitions nicely into an energetic opportunist who, more often than not, finds herself surrounded by people her are more so an idiot than she is.
"There’s only one thing I hate more than lying: skim milk. Which is water that’s lying about being milk."
Once Leslie Knope was solidified, everything else just fell into place. Regardless of whether or not you watch the show, the head of the department, Ron Swanson, is undoubtedly a name you've heard before. Nick Offerman plays this character to perfection and he is the stuff of legend. Brandishing a mustache, a general distaste for weakness and ridiculous carpentry skills, Swanson embodies the very ideology of what it is to be "man." So much so that hipsters have been known to drop a single tear in his presence.
Rashida Jones (who was featured in Season 3 of The Office) is more less the straight woman, Ann Perkins. Her friendship formed with Knope over the seasons is still a better love story than TWILIGHT. Comedian Aziz Ansari plays to perfection Tom Haverford, a man who seemingly believes he's at the epicenter of style, fashion and pop-culture. If you've seen Ansari's stand-up routines before, he brings that delivery to the character of Haverford, and it works wonders within the office setting. Aubrey Plaza's April Ludgate is the antithesis of any intern in that she's indifferent as to her place within Parks and Rec and especially under the guise of the girl scout that is Leslie Nope. Rounding out the leads is Chris Pratt. You know him. You love him. The man rides with raptors when he's not busy with the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Pratt has more than made a name for himself at this point, but that is in large part due to his role here as lovable idiot, Andy Dwyer.
You already have a great line-up there, with Retta's Donna Meagle and Jim O'Heir's Jerry Gergich rounding out the office nicely. Those two are side characters early on, but get fleshed out in later seasons. If that wasn't enough, Adam Scott and Rob Lowe come into the fold late in Season 2 as state auditors who initially shake things up for office crew before becoming welcome additions in an entirely different capacity. You'll notice I haven't mentioned the plots too much, and that's because like The Office, the backbone of the show is its characters.
Parks and Rec's success is completely dependent on its audience caring and empathizing with the characters. You'd be surprised how caught up you might find yourself getting in the character's plight of building a new park or running a politcal campaign. Sharing the triumphs, losses, and most importantly, the absurdities, becomes a surprisingly intimate affair. In that regard, Parks and Recreation excels as a comedy and then some.
While Season 1 was a test run of sorts, Season 2 fired on all cylinders. The characters came into their own and the writers took advantage of each scenario, placing everyone in the most precarious of situations. Whether it be Andy Dwyer's famed FBI investigator guise, Burt Macklin, or Ron Swanson's ex-wife, Tammy (played by Nick Offerman's real wife, Megan Mullally), the main cast is given a bunch of fun characters to bounce their personalities off of. Like any great TV show, Parks and Rec also has plenty of great cameos. One episode in particular starring Will Arnett involving a first date that's likely to top any of your worst. There's a classic element to each of these episodes, which is why the show's sophomore effort is easily one of its best.
Season 4 also delivers some compelling stories by having Leslie Knope run for public office, moving the overall plot of Parks and Recreation into new territory and yielding some great results. During the political madness, the romantic tension between Leslie and her manager Ben serve as the gooey sweet center of this comedic dessert. Things actually get very emotional come the season's finale, when Ann tells Leslie the results from the poll. It's moments like this where you realize how great the actors are, and how attached you are to this show.
Dubbed the 'Farewell Season,' Season 7 is an epilogue of sorts and serves its characters in the most fantastic fashion. Now, think about this premise for a moment: How many of you would love a season following up on your favorite characters AFTER a show has ended? That's Season 7 in a nutshell and if that idea intrigues you, you will undoubtedly love it. Season 6 wraps up the overall arc of Parks and Recreation, so you could hypothetically stop watching there. However, with the "story" out of the way, the writers craft a myriad of scenarios of what would happen to these characters afterwards. We get flashbacks, flashforwards, and even an episode consisting entirely of Andy Dwyer's children's show, Johnny Karate. It's different. It's ballsy. It's fan service that works. When it finally comes time to deliver the final moments of the show, it also doesn't fail to give the characters and audience a proper sendoff. It is technically a shortened season (only 13 episodes), but it serves as one of the funniest seasons of the show and one of the most gratifying final seasons of TV.
The kernel of Parks and Recreation may have began with The Office, but it eventually became its own entity. While the two shows complement each other very well, I'd argue that Parks and Rec surpassed The Office in a lot of ways, not the least of which is consistency. Comparisons aside, Parks and Recreation succeeds in the same aspects that every great show does; well-drawn characters and a fantastic story. It even holds up to repeat viewings, begging to be re-watched with family and friends. So whether you're fluent with the adventures of the Parks and Rec team or its your first time experiencing a full-frontal of Burt Macklin, there's no better time to get into the show than now!