This, above everything else, is what I adore about Parks. It’s a comedy that makes you care about the characters, care about Pawnee – the little Indiana city with a questionable past record on race relations and an over-reliance on sugar – and care about Leslie Knope’s tireless quest to make a difference by Doing The Right Thing.
The first season, as even the most hardcore P&R fan will admit, is rather flat and has a myriad of problems– understandable when you learn it had to be rushed due to Amy Poehler’s pregnancy, but once it finds its feet at the start of the second, it becomes something glorious, something that you want to share with people, like you know you’re introducing them to their future best friends. The writers clearly have a huge affection for these characters and the world they inhabit, and it shows; there’s a warmth and a wonderful, infectious positivity rippled through the episodes that’s so rare in TV these days. From Leslie’s unshakable belief that Pawnee is the greatest city in the world, to Tom’s slightly misguided entrepreneurial ambitions, Parks is full of characters – no, scratch that – Pawnee is full of citizens that you grow to love and root for at every turn.
I say ‘citizens’ because Greg Daniels and Michael Schur didn’t give us Chuck Lorre-esque one-dimensional “joke” vessels, they gave us fully-rounded characters with hopes, dreams, ambitions, flaws, and a proper appreciation of breakfast foods, goddammit. Even Tom with all his ridiculous cartoonishness gets regular humanising moments to let us see why he’s the ridiculous man that he is. The turnaround they managed with Andy – a slightly pathetic, occasionally unlikeable figure in early episodes – and seeing him grow as a person into the loveable, semi-responsible man-puppy we have now feels like a perfect symbol for how the show has progressed- from mooching about on The Office’s sofa to standing on it’s own two feet and giving you the biggest bear hug of laughs whenever you stop by.
It reminds me a little of another Inspirational-Small-Town-America effort from the NBC stable – Friday Night Lights. It’d be a whole other post if I were to go into this properly, and a quick Googling suggests that I’m clearly not the only one to think this.
It’s to the show’s eternal credit that it can bring the sentiment without ever getting schmaltzy or overly saccharine (I assume the latter would be driven out by Sweetums anyway) and the quieter moments never feel forced. There’s a moment in the latest season (and if you watch the show you’ll know what I mean) that had been possibly coming for a while, but when it happened it brought a bigger smile to my face – not from laughter, but from happiness – than any show I can remember from the past few years.
So please, if you’ve never watched Parks and Rec, give it a chance. It’s silly, it’s wonderful, it’s warm, it’s charming, it’s inspirational and it’s downright hilarious, which is everything you could ask for in a sitcom.
All of this and I haven’t even mentioned Ron.
And I shouldn’t have to.
He’s Ron F*cking Swanson.