Parks & Rec and Other Mockumentary Comedies

When it comes to television, I enjoy creative comedies that keep on giving long after it seems that they should have run out of material. One of my favorite comedic actresses is Amy Poehler, who got her start in sketch comedy in college before joining the Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB), now one of the best places to see improvisational and sketch comedy. Poehler parlayed the UCB’s brief run as a show on Comedy Central into a spot on Saturday Night Live, where she honed her skills alongside Tina Fey.

Poehler currently stars in Parks and Recreation, which is my hands-down favorite comedy on television right now. Parks and Rec, as it’s known to its fans, airs on NBC and stars Poehler as a bureaucrat in the Pawnee, Indiana, Parks and Recreation Department. Executive produced by Emmy Award winners Michael Schur and Greg Daniels, Parks and Rec follows the antics of Poehler’s character, Leslie Knope, and her officemates, who hatch various plans to improve their town. The show has won a Golden Globe in addition to 12 other awards and 62 award nominations.

Parks and Rec differs from some other comedies in that it’s built around the strengths of its cast. The show’s producers identified comedians they wanted to work with, then signed them up and created roles that suited them. Behind the scenes, the show has an improvisational feel, with Poehler sometimes ad-libbing reactions to jokes and the show’s editor just stringing them along one after the next. Despite its laugh-out-loud ethos, the show also takes a swipe at some resonant issues, with the co-worker and friend relationships between many different personalities taking center stage.

Before Parks and Rec, I really enjoyed several of the show’s precursors. Arrested Development, a cult hit that ran for three seasons on Fox before going dormant for seven years and being resurrected by Netflix in 2013, tells the story of a real-estate tycoon and his family falling from grace. This show featured several technical changes from normal comedy filming techniques. It also helped establish the “mockumentary” format in comedy television, an approach which has been taken up by shows such as Parks and Recreation in recent years.

The Office, another of my favorites, was adapted for the United States after the original version found success in the United Kingdom. The show incorporated Arrested Development’s mockumentary format and, for one reason or another, had more commercial success with it, helping to make follow-ups like Parks and Rec possible. It also gave the executive producers of Parks and Rec Emmy Awards, which probably helped them get the green light for Parks and Rec.

The best TV comedies continue to surprise me – sometimes, I don’t think that these actors can possibly top their previous performances. The great ones always do, though, and my favorite shows keep making me laugh, year after year.