‘Pawnee: First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity’

Parks and Rec

With the news that BBC4 has bought the rights to the first two seasons of NBC’s Parks & Recreation, I thought I’d write a few words about why I love this show and why you should too.

One reason:

Heart.

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.

And Jerry.

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.

Friday Night Lights

The much missed Friday Night Lights.

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.

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One. Two. Teehee.

Starting a fresh blog is always a daunting task – I’m the same when confronted with a blank, pristine notebook. I never know if I should do an introductory post or just dive right in. The latter, you say? Well alright then, I should probably listen to you after that thing that happened with the thing.

You know the one I mean.

Right, so: comedy.

Now, comedy’s always been something I’ve taken very seriously (yes, I know, I’m the worst sort of person), and it’s something I wish I’d have been able to go into, but being a big blithering stammerer means that a solid six-minute bit would be more like ten and an hour’s set would end sometime during the next ice age, and I just don’t own enough scarves for that. And yes, I know that that didn’t stop Kitson, but the Big D does manage to balance that out by working bloody hard on immaculately structured shows to showcase his extraordinary comedic gift. The closest I have to an extraordinary gift is my surprisingly hard shins, and I don’t imagine that I could stretch that out with an audience for more than twenty minutes.

Half an hour tops.

With that in mind. I’ve decided to get back into writing. This is partly to keep my eye in by making myself post regularly, and partly to spur me into writing some sketches and hopefully the book I’ve been kicking around ideas for for a while. Incidentally, if you see me out and about, feel free to kick me around for a while if you find out that I’ve not been getting on with any of those.

One of the things I always try to do when writing “the funnies” is to keep away from crude jokes, dirty jokes and, to a lesser extent, swearing. I don’t see myself as being “above it” or anything pretentious like that, it’s just that whilst it can be easier to get a laugh with a dick joke or a well placed swear, it’s a cheap laugh and I’d rather try and push myself to get the laugh without resorting to that. The nice side-effect of this approach is that if and when I do decide to drop in a bit of left-field crudity, it has the double impact of the joke itself coupled with the unexpected nature of that joke coming from me.

Twitter is also something I’ve found to be a bit of a godsend when it comes to honing my writing. I’ve always had problems with being a bit of a rambler, and having to constantly pare a line down to 140 characters really helps you see the dead wood that you might otherwise have left in. Brevity is the soul of wit and all that. I’m not so much one for regularly posting joke after joke on there; I find if more useful to look for tweets to reply to to give me something to spark off and it means that I’m constantly scanning for joke opportunities on whatever subject rolls up in my feed.

Whilst I use it as a practice tool, there are some who have taken it to extraordinary places as a medium for comedy. Steve Martin, despite the questionable direction his film career’s gone in the last 20 years, has become a master of the form. His habit of using acronyms and abbreviations in a tweet whilst then explaining what they are short for and the fact that they are being used to save space in that same tweet, is, to me, a perfect bit of comedy. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s completely silly, and it exploits the medium perfectly.

For now I’ll end here and come back with a more focussed piece in a day or two. Maybe sooner if something grabs me.

I’ll leave you with this: