In case you’ve been able to avoid my Twitter feed, or speaking to me in person for any length of time, you probably haven’t heard me sing the praises of my favorite show on TV for three years running, Parks & Recreation. Not only does it sport the best cast of any show currently on TV, and most of the best ongoing plot threads, but it’s got a writing staff for which I’d go to the mat, any time, anywhere.
Parks & Rec‘s genius is two-fold: its comedy comes from its characters (not from incessant put-downs and insults, nor from noncontextual pop culture references), and it’s willful engagement with the world that informs the lives of its audience. A lot of people have said that Breaking Bad is the entertainment masterpiece of the Great Recession, and they’re probably right, but where Walter White mines the darkest parts of his soul to survive, the staff of the Department of Parks & Recreation of Pawnee, Indiana, leans on each other, and the town, in turn, leans on them. Sure, not all entertainment has to be a laugh riot, but it doesn’t have to be relentlessly, overbearingly depressing, either (Adam Scott, in an interview with my beloved A.V. Club, compares his show favorably to The Wire, and I can’t blame him. It makes sense, the way he explains it. I’ve been comparing it to The West Wing from the moment I saw the first ad).
If you’ve never watched my current favorite TV show, I’d advise the least adventurous among you to start with the beginning of the second season, and those moreso to begin at the beginning. Just like the Americanized Office, Parks & Rec had an abbreviated, 6-episode first season that’s rather impressively littered with miscues and awkward stutter-steps. There are some real gems in those six episodes, don’t get me wrong, but it turned a lot of people off the show for good, and that’s a shame, because Michael Shur and his writing staff were able to take a step back, reevaluate their show, and tweak the problem areas in order to come up with one of the best-realized ensemble comedies since maybe Newhart, which also bucked up and reinvented itself when it realized it could be so much more than it initially was.
Parks & Rec manages to be both humble, and ambitious, and that attitude’s reflected in every single character on the program. The best shows tend to wind up building an ad-hoc, dysfunctional family that still accepts everyone for who they are (hell, Joss Whedon’s made a reputation and career doing exactly that), and that’s what Parks & Rec has done spectacularly well. I don’t know whether the affection the characters had for each other came first, or the actors, but either way, it bleeds over, and I honestly don’t think I’ve seen a group of people on TV work this well together in a long, long time.
Plus, I think the show relentlessly (if subtly) promotes an invaluable lesson for Americans who live in this day and age: we’re all in this together, as people, and as such, we’re far stronger united than we could ever be sniping at one another. Even though Leslie Knope’s a government-all-the-way sort of person, and her boss, Ron Swanson (easily the best character American television’s produced since Bubbles, Al Swearengen or maybe even Homer Simpson), is a government-despising libertarian, they love each other as people, and look past all the other crap. In the end of the second season, when the financial crisis and budget cuts force the outright closure of the Pawnee city government for a summer, Ron and Leslie still find a way to do what she says government’s supposed to do, provide services for people, bring people together. Ron may not believe in government, or in his job, but he believes in Leslie, and that’s good enough for him.
I’m not precisely sure why Newton and Galt would be watching Parks & Rec; maybe they’re trying to tune themselves in to the trials and tribulations of the common man, so as to better be able to lord it over them when they take over the world. Then again, maybe they just think Aziz Ansari and Ben Schwartz are hysterical, and tune in every week hoping for another dose of Jean-Ralphio. I know I’m always looking forward to seeing him again.