After the pilot of NBC’s much touted “Office” spin-off aired, my immediate reaction was that this was indeed “The Office,” just slight tweaked. Up front, Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope resembled a female Michael Scott — surely to bumble her way through the ranks of government bureaucracy instead of corporate bureaucracy. The jokes seemed to […]
After the pilot of NBC’s much touted “Office” spin-off aired, my immediate reaction was that this was indeed “The Office,” just slight tweaked.
Up front, Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope resembled a female Michael Scott — surely to bumble her way through the ranks of government bureaucracy instead of corporate bureaucracy. The jokes seemed to rely on Poehler’s dumbfounded optimism, all the while pitting this in the backdrop of (another) small town America setting — a place that never seems funny when you’re actually driving through but, somehow the residents in Pawnee (like Scranton) would prove otherwise.
But as the show’s six episodes progressed, you could see that something all together new is developing. And different.
While NBC was smart, if not noncommittal, in rolling out the “first season” in this six-episode package (“The Office” did the same thing in 2005; except those six episodes rehashed the downsizing plot and a handful of jokes from the original British series), they banked on the already well-tested mockumentary formula that “The Office” takes.
But that’s where things end — and while it might be asking a lot for viewers to commit to two fictionalized accounts of the oversimplified drudgeries of day-to-day life, I decided that I’d have no problem committing, and its really because the characters are so not “The Office.”
Unlike the love-hate, familial aspect of the Scranton branch, the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department just blatantly do not care: about each other or their jobs or their town. In other words, they’re exactly what we’ve come to expect from minute-level, government workers.
And the characters’ despise for their jobs manifests it in different ways than “The Office”: Aziz Ansari’s smarmy Tom Haverford, who’s seemingly too smart for the job and is just content to be asinine; Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson, a man whose been in government so long, at times, he seems like a candidate for suicide; and Aubrey Plaza’s April Ludgate as the phoning it in intern.
It’s a level of deep, passionate undercaring for their work that makes the interactions with each other and with Poehler so satisfying to watch. While she’s doing the job of any good, self-aware Clintonian protégé, that she has to work extra hard to have local “planner” Mark Brendanawicz see the value in getting a speed bump lowered makes the humor work. It’s her championing of the mundane that’s endearing.
At some level, “The Office’s” characters have common goals — family, promotions, surviving a crumbling industry; “Parks and Recreation’s’” characters are mainly just floating through small town life, only to be concerned with their own selves.
After a huge promo push, the numbers for “Parks and Recreation” started off decent but slid for the subsequent five episodes, dropping from 6.77 million viewers for “Pilot” to 4.25 million viewers for the season-finale “Rock Show.”
Certainly shows have done better and worse. And while we might have to suffer with five nights of Leno in the 10 p.m. time slot this fall and probably another “Knight Rider” resurrection in some form (side note: please stop these), “Parks and Recreation’s” promise lies in the way government interacts with its citizens; monotony’s portrayed in a whole new light.
This became brilliantly evident during “Rock Show” — where broken-legged, dispassionate civilian-couch potato Andy Dwyer unveiled his band’s newest song, “The Pit.” Its bland yet dedicated mantra sums up the show’s central premise around local government: “I fell in the pit/you fell in the pit.”
Now that’s good satire.