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Why you should watch ‘Parks and Recreation’

Everyone deals with stress, sadness and loneliness in different ways. Some people go shopping. Others spend time with their significant others, or with their friends. Some go to the gym or head to a bar. You might listen to a favourite song or go for a walk. I have done all of these things to get over a whole range of negative feelings, whether that is suffering a severe case of impostor complex, or struggling with general feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. But, despite the range of methods I listed above, there is one tactic that I prefer the most: re-watching Parks and Recreation. And, seeing how much I love this series, I thought I would also re-watch, and then review, the first two seasons of the show, seeing how well they have aged in the almost 10 years since they originally aired.

For those who don’t know, Parks and Recreation was an American sit-com that ran from 2009-2015, with an ensemble cast featuring Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Rashida Jones, Aubrey Plaza, Rob Lowe, Adam Scott, Aziz Ansari, and Nick Offerman. The series revolved around the lives of those who worked in the Parks and Recreation department in the fictional city of Pawnee, Indiana. It was known for its documentary style, a holdover from its origins as a spinoff of The Office (which was created by almost exactly the same team), it’s extensive use of improvisation and frequent use of recurring secondary characters including Jean-Ralphio Saperstein (Ben Schwartz), Shauna Malwae-Tweep, Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) and Tammy Swanson (Megan Mullany).

Parks and Recreation follows the efforts of parks department deputy director Leslie Knope (Poehler) as she attempts to turn an abandoned construction pit into a park after Andy Dwyer (Pratt) falls into the pit and his girlfriend Ann Perkins (Jones) brings the situation to Leslie’s attention. Leslie is aided in her plans to turn the pit, officially known as ‘Lot 48’, into a park by Tom Haverford (Ansari), a superficial, materialistic government employee who sees himself as a trend setter, and Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider), a womanizing city planner who had a one night stand with Leslie several years ago which she can’t get over. All the while, Leslie repeatedly comes into conflict with her direct superior, Parks department director Ron Swanson (Offerman), a staunch libertarian who dislikes government spending in all forms, and, never the less, has a strong, mutual respect for Leslie. Alongside the main plot point of the development of Lot 48 are other storylines dealing with the growing relationship between Andy and the Parks intern, and Ron’s eventual assistant, April Ludgate (Plaza), the arrival of two state auditors Ben Wyatt (Scott) and Chris Traeger (Lowe), and Leslie’s attempts to run for city council, as well as many other storylines dealing with the characters personal lives.

The first season of Parks and Recreation is probably its weakest. While it does introduce the majority of the principle cast and sets up one of the major plot points moving forward (the pit), the shows quality is notably worse than the following seasons, especially when it comes to how the characters are written. The show was originally conceived as a spin off to The Office, and the first season really shows this, with Leslie being comparable to Michael Scott, and Mark being little more than a copy of Jim. While these issues would be corrected in the second season, with Leslie becoming a more rounded and unique character and Mark being written out of the show entirely in the episode ‘Freddie Spaghetti’, the show does still struggle in these early episodes. However, there are still highlights in this season. While the majority of the side characters, such as Ron, Andy and April, aren’t really focused on as much during this season, the times that they do enter the spotlight really do highlight just how much the writers already had these characters figured out; Ron in particular. While it doesn’t really add anything new to the conversation surrounding the show, I will agree that Nick Offerman really is Parks and Recreation’s MVP, and that Ron Swanson is probably one of the best sit-com characters ever created. While the first season is generally derided by fans, I still think it’s alright. It does its duty well, introducing the audience to the characters and setting up the universe, and some of the jokes in the second season require information that was provided in the first to properly land. In my opinion, at least it showcased the potential of the series. But it wasn’t until the second series that people began to truly care about the characters.

Season two of Parks and Recreation was all about changing up the status quo that was established in the first series, or at least, that’s how it felt while re-watching it. Andy and Ann are no longer together. The pit is filled during the sixth episode, ‘Kaboom’. April breaks up with her two gay boyfriends. Chris and Ben arrive in Pawnee. Mark leaves. Like I said, everything changes. Admittedly these changes do occur over a long period of time. Unlike the first series which only had 6 episodes to grab the audience’s attention with, the second season had a whopping 24 episodes. This allowed for an incredible amount of character development, especially compared to the first season. While we had learned a tiny amount about these characters’ lives during the previous six episodes, we now had to opportunity to learn a lot more about them in this season, and to grow more attached. But it wasn’t just the main characters that the audience got attached to, as Parks and Recreation was able to start introducing more of its vast catalogue of secondary characters. While audiences had already met characters such as Leslie’s mother, Marlene (played by the wonderful Pamela Reed), and journalist Shauna Malwae-Tweep, the second season introduced a whole slew of secondary characters. This included Tom’s fast talking friend Jean-Ralphio (Schwartz), Ron’s ex-wife Tammy Two (Megan Mullany, Offerman’s real life partner), Joan Callamezzo (Mo Collins), an out of control talk show host, and Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson), a popular news presenter. By utilising these secondary characters, Parks and Recreation was able to create a frankly stunning world, which felt larger than the small town that the series was set in. The show has been compared to a live action version of The Simpsons, with people pointing to the large cast of recurring secondary characters as a key similarity between the two shows. The second season is where the show really begins to improve in quality. However, it hasn’t saved the show from the fact that it has, unfortunately, not aged very well, mostly in terms of the actors who have guest roles in the show.

The first half of the second season sees Louis C.K. play a recurring character as a cop who dates Leslie. While the character is incredibly funny and sweet, it is hard to properly empathise with a character that is played by a man who has been accused of sexual misconduct several times. And, of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the allegations against Aziz Ansari as well. As much as I love this series, I did struggle to watch some episodes because of this. Whilst some people will find it easy to watch the series and separate the characters from the actors, it’s perfectly understandable if that isn’t the case, and I personally believe that it is more than fine for anyone to not like the series due to the involvement of those two men.

At the end of all this, then, what is the verdict on the first two seasons of Parks and Recreation? I went into this a) wanting to watch a show that, at this point, has become something akin to an old friend, and b) wanting to see if the show is still good, even after the almost ten years since its original premier. And I think that it is still good. Even after everything, I still love these characters, and these actors are still incredible. Parks and Recreation is fantastic, mostly because it’s never mean, or cruel, or harsh. It is one of the most feel-good series of television ever created, and you really should check it out if you get a chance. Go on, why don’t you take a trip to Pawnee? After all, it’s the best town in America. And maybe even the world.

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