Parks and Recreation: Small Town, Big Heart

By far my favorite television series, Parks and Recreation is truly something special: a sitcom that thrives on how much its characters like each other. Brought to TV by the showrunners of the American version of The Office and SNL alum Amy Poehler, Parks and Rec, as its fans often refer to it, has seemingly perfected every lesson learned from the pioneering British and American versions of The Office. Most importantly, it’s found within the formula a way to get inside the hearts and minds of the characters. Every time I think it has reached its highest point, it surprises me with another bump up in intensity and humor, and as it approaches its final season, I find it difficult to say goodbye to the residents of Pawnee, Indiana.

Centered on Poehler’s character, Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation deals with the staff of the city government in a small town in Indiana, with Poehler’s character as the go-get-‘em deputy to Nick Offerman’s Parks and Recreation Department head. With a cast that has included both seasoned pros like Rob Lowe and relative newcomers like Chris Pratt and Aziz Ansari, it has been a comedy machine firing on all cylinders since its premier in 2009. However, unlike other great sitcoms such as Seinfeld or Cheers, Parks and Recreation succeeds based on the heartfelt connections between its characters; conflicts present themselves, but they are always resolved thanks to the steady relationships at the show’s core.

In many ways, this core strength comes from the American version of The Office’s surprising discovery of the pathos inherent to the reality TV satire pioneered by the British version. While Ricky Gervais’ cutting and often hilariously mean-spirited comedy had plenty of bite, Steve Carell’s take on the idiot boss showed that the mockumentary had the power to really delve into character drama, even within a comedy show. Like The Office, Parks and Recreation took a season to gets its footing; season one’s Leslie is often the butt of the joke, but at the conclusion of season six, viewers know her as a plucky, lovable heroine.

Like her friend and one-time SNL collaborator, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler has been part of a TV renaissance for comediennes. Hilarious, smart, and always on point, Poehler’s Leslie Knope is an inspiration even in her lowest moments, such as the season six plotline that saw her facing a recall. Of course, others have disagreed; some critics have questioned the necessity for Knope to become pregnant late in the series, for example. However, despite these questions, it seems assured that Leslie Knope will probably join The West Wing’s President Bartlett as one of America’s greatest fictional politicians.

Of course, season six ended with a bombshell; Leslie takes a new job, appears well on her way toward continued success and happy motherhood, and then the show flash-forwards to 2017. Discussing season seven with Entertainment Weekly, Michael Schur opened up about the plans for the final 13 episodes of Parks and Recreation, teasing fans with the possibilities inherent in a time skip. “We wanted to be the people who ended the show when we wanted to end it,” he said, but I’m sure I’ll be joined by millions of other fans in regretting it. It’s always nice to see a show go out on top, like 30 Rock, but it will be so hard to say goodbye to Indiana’s favorite local government worker.