Wednesday, 13 June 2012

TV: Parks And Recreation

Parks And Recreation: Criminally overlooked in the UK

Lesley Knope flanked by Tom and Ann.
For those who have never heard of Parks And Recreation (which in the UK might be quite a few), this is how the programme was first described to me:

"It's like The American Office but better."

To be fair to The Office, the mate who recommended it to me isn't a massive Office fan like myself, but I would still put Parks And Rec on a par with it.  That only makes it all the more a shame that a show as good as this remains largely undiscovered to a UK audience who would no doubt love it if they only knew about it.

To put the figures into perspective, at the time of writing the Season One DVD currently has 2,502 likes on versus only 25 likes on  The English sense of humour surely isn't that much different from the American sense of humour, so the difference can only be explained by the fact that virtually no-one in the UK has heard of Parks And Rec.

So to help rectify that fact, here's a brief summary of the show.  Parks And Rec follows the day to day events of the town of Pawnee's Parks And Recreation Department, with particular attention paid to the politically ambitious deputy director Lesley Knope.  The show follows a similar format to The Office with the story being told in the style of a mockumentary with characters at times talking directly to the camera as if answering an interviewer's questions.  As with The Office, this is a style which suits the programme well and gives the show a similar personality to The Office.

However, I should probably also point out that as much as I love this show, Parks And Rec was still finding its feet in season one.  In all probability after watching the first series you wouldn't instantly mark it down on your 'must see' list.  Nevertheless, overall there are still clues of the genius to come.

Perhaps the main problem with season one was that there was too much focus on deputy director Lesley Knope, and not enough focus on the rest of the cast.  It’s not that Lesley Knope isn’t an entertaining lead character, it’s just that other great characters like April, Tom and Andy in particular don’t really come into their own until season two.  Even the anti-government Ron Swanson, while clearly already recognisable as a brilliant character, is underused in season one. 

By Season Two of Parks And Recreation,
greater screen time was being given to the rest of the cast,
a decision from which the show greatly benefited.
From season two onwards though, Parks And Rec is must-see viewing for anyone who enjoys this mockumentary style of humour.  Perhaps the most significant factor in the noticeable improvement is the fact that we at last get to see much more of the cast beyond Lesley Knope.  You can’t help but suspect that the powers that be decided that if this show was going to be fleshed out to a more typically American twenty four episodes per season, then more time and attention would need to be given to the rest of the cast and the show benefits massively from this decision.  Andy and Ron in particular are two characters who really shine from season two onwards, with Andy consistently producing at least one laugh out loud moment per show.

Season three continues the high standard set by season two and as the characters get more and more fleshed out it becomes weird in some cases to compare the fresh plot developments with some of the original story-lines and specifically how the relationships between the characters have changed.  These changes are definitely for the better though, as the writers have obviously realised that certain characters are better suited together, both in terms of comedy material and realism, and then readjusted the status quo accordingly.

By season four Parks And Recreation has continued to grow and has developed a rich cast of minor characters with many of the colourful citizens of Pawnee popping up from time to time and making reappearances.  As I've made clear by now, one of the biggest strengths of this show is definitely its long list of brilliant characters and season four only reinforces that fact.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t have great plots (both ongoing and on an episode-to-episode basis) or feature clever comedy writing, but the characters from the central focus of Lesley Knope to some of the seemingly minor and insignificant residents of the town of Pawnee, are all brilliantly created.
As mentioned at the start of this review, I actually first watched Parks And Recreation on my friend’s recommendation, with the cautionary note that the first season was a shadow of the greatness to follow.  Although I would have to agree that it’s not until season two that it reaches its peak, I would nevertheless recommend watching this from the beginning as the opening shows are still worth checking out, especially if you’re a completist like myself.  But whether you decide to start from the beginning or skip straight to season two, the one thing I can guarantee is that this is an excellent comedy show which has been criminally overlooked in the UK and therefore most definitely deserves to find a bigger audience.

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