Mar 10, 2011

[TV] Parks and Recreation: Season 1

Parks and Recreation: Season 1Beyond the obvious science fiction or fantasy TV shows that catch my eye, I rely a lot on the opinions of others when it comes to looking for new programs to explore. Yes, in the absence of personal impulse decisions, the input of friends and fellow geeks plays a bit part in determining what I end up watching on TV.

And like any other geek, I also turn to the internet a lot in terms of looking for new shows to sink my teeth into. The core geek blogs like io9 and Geekosystem go a long way towards keeping me in-the-know when it comes to TV shows of interest. But beyond the geek world, I also put a lot of stock in the opinion of TIME TV critic James Poniewozik as documented on his blog, Tuned In. He presents a pretty well balanced view of the TV world as he sees it, plus he's pretty responsive on Twitter should you decide to ask him a question or two. He's the kind of guy who appreciated Party Down, another show that I'm planning on getting into.

So I was in the mood of looking for another half-hour program to add to our roster of shows actively watched and I remembered James' high praise for this show starting its second season. While I haven't quite found the time to get into either the UK or UK versions of The Office just yet, I am a bit of an Amy Poehler fan because of her Saturday Night Life run and so I thought it might be interesting to check this out.

Parks & Recreation is an original comedy series (for a change!) created by The Office veterans Greg Daniels and Michael Schur. The show uses the same mockumentary style as The Office and was in fact originally conceived as a potential spin-off of the hit show.

The show primarily follows the professional life of eternally optimistic and politically ambitious Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), who is the deputy director for the unnamed city's Parks and Recreation Department. An opportunity of sorts arises when nurse Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) brings to Leslie's attention to a large open pit left behind by a failed construction project that her boyfriend Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) fell into, thus breaking both of his legs. Leslie makes it her goal to turn this pit into a park and starts the long and arduous process of getting the project approved.

The main cast of Parks and Recreation, (from l...Image via WikipediaHer fellow workers are a mixed back of largely unmotivated government employees. The department head, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), is actually against government and sees little point in their efforts. Tom Haverford seems more concerned with finding new ways of slacking off or making money on the side and city planner Mark Brendanawicz got dragged in because of the odd fact that he had once slept with Leslie in the past. The crew also includes young intern April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) who seems the stereotype intern who lacks any true interest in what's going on and just sort of coasts through the whole experience. Still, Leslie won't let anything get in the way of her dreams, and that means making sure the park gets built.

The series was originally a mid-season replacement, hence the reason that it only went for six episodes. That's hardly enough time to really gauge the quality of a show since the writers are still "warming up" to their characters and figuring out how best to utilize them in the context of the show. I suppose that's why the show made it to a second season despite lack of support from most TV critics.

The use of the mockumentary style felt a tad confused in this first season. It's not really clear if the characters are aware of the cameras since sometimes they are directly addressing it but other times they do strange things that we'd never accept to be aired on television. One could argue that the characters just don't care, but I felt it was more an inconsistency of the writing. Awareness of the camera would open the door for more fourth wall moments, which we saw very little off in the season.

Characterization was also a bit of a challenge this first time around. Most of them appear to be stereotypes without enough reality to balance things out and make them more compelling - something that any show goes through and eventually tempers over time. Obviously, this suffered the most given the truncated season that it ran for and I suppose we can't overly hold it against them.

Amy Poehler was better than I expected. Her SNL stint had her really going to extremes at time as also demonstrated in her movie Baby Mama, which was a bit too much for me. I'm glad that she kept things a little closer to Earth this time around although she still has the occasional campy moment that just works for the show.

The humor of the show is still a bit off at this point and the only episode that really had me laughing was the The Banquet, where Leslie gets a new haircut that makes her look like a rather masculine lesbian. Showing up at the party with Ann dressed to the nines really pushed the image and thus the jokes around people mistaking them for a lesbian couple were just priceless.

Thankfully, the show does start to come together by the last two episodes of the season and it does present a lot of promise for the future. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing where all this is headed and at the same time I'm trying to slot when I'll get around to watching The Office as well. I do this more for my partner, who is a fan of the series, and is a good judge when it comes to shows we're going to enjoy together.

The first season of Parks and Recreation had all the classic growing pains of a new series but it does provide for a lot of potential growth. It gets 2.5 abusive requests by Andy, Ann's pseudo-disabled boyfriend out of a possible 5.

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