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The first season of Parks and Recreation, the spiritual spin off of the US Office, kicks of what becomes - and is still becoming - one of the best comedies the US has produced in the past 10 years.
As much as it pains me to inform you of this though, this first season is a disappointment. On the plus side, its an essential disappointment - see it as a six part pilot episode. Over the course of the 6 episodes that compile the first season, and this DVD, the writers and actors lay the solid comedy foundations for a brilliant TV series. The scene is set, the characters and their individual quirks are introduced and the sense of humor this show has is reveal, even if it does feel like they are holding back with the first 3-4 episodes.
The show is set in the Parks and Recreation department of a government building in a small town, Pawnee in Indiana - the perfect place for these characters to exist. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) heads up the show, however she is the assistant to Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) - who runs the department, with a supporting cast of 6-7 others who also work in the department, as well as Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) who doesn't work in the department, but the local hospital as a nurse. (Rashida Jones is the only actress to star in both Parks and Recs and The Office)
Leslie Knope is the drive behind the show, without a doubt - but rarely the source of the biggest laughs. The basic set up is of a mockumentory show - very much like The Office - but it feel much more 'set up'. Rather than trying to catch the 'everyday' of a situation or workplace, Parks and Recs tends to have much more narrative and purpose behind each episode. Leslie works as the linchpin, the episodes revolve around her, but its the rest of the cast - bouncing off her and make the show what it is. The stories rarely deviates from centering around Leslie during the first season, and they don't really move away from that until mid-way through season 2.
Amy Poehler comes from a well established comedy background being cast in SNL, and although she is rarely the source of the biggest jokes she nails the role. The show is really reliant on her being obsessed with her job and the idea of government having an important role as a positive influence in peoples lives, and Amy gets behind this perfectly. She plays it straight, with the rest of the cast often playing against this to great effect.
The biggest problem with this show, is during the first season they really seem to be holding back. With seeing any of the later seasons, you can just feel them not making jokes when they could and not always really going for it. Great characters are left in the background when you crave them onscreen, instead opting for the safe bets and more study jokes. Yes, it lays the foundations and it hints strongly enough at whats to come, but is far from what the show is really capable of.
I suppose the first season had to be like this. They needed to make sure the drew enough distance between them and The Office - they got a lot of stick for being a mere rip-off (despite some of the same people working on each show, I'm not sure you can rip off your own work) - and this season served as a great way to establish how they were going to draw that distance. If they had really gone for it the comparisons to the Office would have been too much.
Its a short season, pretty lite of extras - at only 6 x 22 minutes episodes, a handful of commentary's, some deleted scenes and some TV spots filling up the rest of the DVD. Frustratingly, this is the only season available in the UK - so you can only really get a taste of the magic of Parks and Recreation. Its also quite expensive considering the limited contents of the DVD, but I would recommend seeking it out anyway to fans of US comedy, especially fans of The Office.
*DVD extras not reviewed*
Mockumentary style TV series focusing on Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation department in the fictional city of Pawnee. The season focuses on Leslie's aim of getting a pit turned into a park.
Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur (The Office - US).
Parks and Recreation was originally planned as a spin off to The Office but the creators decided to let it stand on it's own two feet instead. The similarities are there, Poehler's Leslie Knope is very much like Steve Carell's Michael Scott, the style of the filiming, the humour etc. etc. I never really got into The Office so I wasn't sure if I would like Parks and Rec, after the first season of just six episodes, I'm still not sure.
Poehler plays the ditzy Knope well and her character is the source of nearly all of the humour in the first season, it really is a one woman show. Her innocence and naivety makes you root for her in her plight to improve Pawnee. The ridiculous things Knope says had me laughing out loud and shaking my head in disbelief.
The premise of the show may not sound very interesting but the Parks and Recreation department is a surprisingly good setting for an offbeat comedy like this.
Parks and Rec is very much a vehicle for Poehler (she also produces the show), I was disappointed at how little the supporting characters are given to do throughout the season. Their roles basically consist of looking on in shock at the stupid things Knope does or says. I struggled to remember their names as they really don't have much impact on the season.
The three supporting characters that have the biggest parts are Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider), a colleague of Knope's that she has a history with; Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), the citizen that brought the pit problem to Knope's attention; and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), another of Knope's colleagues. As I said earlier they are very much in the background and not developed as much as I would have hoped for.
I hope that the others characters in the series get further development in future seasons. I prefer comedies such as 30 Rock and Modern Family that draw on more characters for sources of comedy. Having just one main character makes Parks and Rec very one note, to have more variety it needs to increase the amount of time and effort on other characters besides Leslie Knope.
The show definitely has potential, from what I've read it gets a lot better after the first season which I sure hope is the case. I'll watch the next season to make my mind up about the show, 6 episodes really isn't enough. I would say it's worth a watch, at 20 mins an episode you can watch the whole thing in 2 hours. Give it a go.
Amy Poehler - Leslie Knope
Paul Schneider - Mark Brendanawicz
Rashida Jones - Ann Perkins
Aziz Ansari - Tom Haverford
Nick Offerman - Ron Swanson
Aubrey Plaza - April Ludgate
Chris Pratt - Andy Dwyer
Also posted on ciao under the username shabbating