Flashback: Another Look at Another Look at ‘Parks and Recreation’

With Parks and Recreation making its long, long-awaited return tonight, we thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at a post we wrote in September of 2009, just before the show returned for its sophomore season.  Right now, in January of 2011, Parks and Recreation is widely recognized as one of the best, if not the best, comedies on television (which is why it was so excruciating when the series was pushed until mid-season to make room for the abominable Outsourced), but just about 17 months ago when it was coming off a lackluster, somewhat disappointing first season the story was much different.  It’s developed into one of the most reliable, warmest, funniest shows on network TV or any other channel, and boasts perhaps the deepest ensemble cast, but back before its second season the jury was still out, and it was a show very much still finding its footing.  But Jumped the Snark went ahead and asserted the potential of the show, watching the first season and finding much room for improvement but also much room for greatness.  And we think its fair to say that both this blog and Parks and Recreation were vindicated.

In that post we outlined three areas where Parks and Rec most needed to progress to reach the quality of a show like The Office, its spiritual forefather (and not only has Parks and Rec equaled its progenitor, it’s now surpassed it.  The student has become the teacher).  Let’s take a look at those recommendations and how Parks and Rec took them into consideration.

1) Leslie Knope needs to maintain believability.  She can say and do dumb things, but ultimately there has to be a reason for her to be in the position she’s in, and we have to be able to get behind her.

We’d have to say that they took this note to heart, evolving Amy Poehler’s Knope into a more well-rounded character who is not solely focused on building a park and rekindling her romance with Paul Schneider’s Mark Brendanawicz.  She became the true heart of the Pawnee Parks and Recreations Department, not its eccentric, incompetent, myopic Deputy Director, showing affection for her team and often getting it in return.  Her relationship with department head Ron Swanson, reminiscent of the Liz Lemon-Jack Donaghy dynamic on 30 Rock, has been particularly successful, allowing both characters to demonstrate new shades.

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2. Continue to develop the supporting cast.

Parks and Rec certainly heeded this advice, as the excellent ensemble work is probably the most integral factor in the show blossoming during its second season.  We’ve already mentioned Ron Swanson, played with a delightful wink by Nick Offerman, who became something a critical darling over the last season, his love of whiskey, bacon and hunting finding many admirers.  Aziz Ansari, whose stock outside the show rose along with the series,  continues to peel away the layers of Tom Haverford, showing his vulnerabilities and insecurities, while still playing up his douchier sensibilities.  Then there’s Chris Pratt, who as malingerer Andy was our MVP of the second season.  Couchbound for nearly all of Season 1, legs broken from a fall into the local pit, Andy was more like a vestigial organ, a part of Rashida Jones’ Ann that she no longer needed but couldn’t get rid of.   However, freed from the sofa, and employed at Town Hall thanks to Leslie (in a rather contrived move to get Andy closer to the rest of the cast, but a contrived move that has paid handsome dividends), Andy has meshed especially well with the rest of the Pawnee civic employees, while finding new romance with April (even though it’s a bit child molesty.  But if we can accept Jeff and Annie on Community, we can give Andy and April the benefit of the doubt.  Plus, Andy acknowledges that it’s a little weird).  And like the employees at Dunder Mifflin, the lesser of members of the Parks Department, like Jerry and Donna, have stepped up when needed.

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3. Perhaps most importantly, figure out what to do with Rashida Jones.

Now here is where the show has yet to click, continuing to feature the lovely Jones, but still not in a way that feels organic or engaging.  Once the park development subcommittee storyline took a backseat (to the show’s benefit), Ann’s major connection the department was her relationship with Mark.  However, when the two broke up and Schneider left the show, she had less need to constantly visit City Hall, so when she was there (so often) it felt forced, and kind of illogical.  Andy, at least, had gotten a job there.  Ann often had no official business at the office, outside of being Leslie’s best friend (which is also somewhat forced).  There were also a few episodes last season when Ann didn’t appear at all, due to Jones’ feature film obligations.  But the show didn’t miss a beat in her absence, and you have to ask yourself if she left the show would it be fundamentally different?  Would it significantly suffer?  At this point, as much as we like Jones, we’d have to say no.  If you scrubbed the last season clean of Ann, the show likely would not have been altered tremendously.  And if she was excised from future episodes, it might not be to the series’ detriment.  She’s not hurting the show, the character is just not adding much right now.  Luckily, Parks and Rec has succeeded despite failing to address our last note.

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So after a terrific, eye-opening second season, where does the show go from here?  Here’s are our three recommendations for Season 3.

1.  Stay the course.  Things are going well, stick to what has worked while still trying to improve and evolve, continuing to reveal more and more about the characters, from Leslie all the way down to Jean-Ralphio.

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2. Figure out what to do with Rashida Jones.  See above.  As we said, they’ve yet to successfully integrate her character like they have with Andy and Ron.

3. Be careful and judicious with the new guys.  At the end of the second season the show brought in Rob Lowe and Adam Scott, perhaps in an effort to draw in more female fans and Party Down acolytes respectively.  Lowe’s presence, specifically, seems to be designed in part to address the above conundrum, replacing Schneider as Jones’ romantic counterpart.  If that works, then they’ve solved that problem while successfully adding another member to the cast.  If it doesn’t work, however, then Jones’ role is still murky and Lowe’s presence might serve as a distraction.  We’re less concerned about Scott, whom we’ve adored since his brief run on Boy Meets World, as his budding romance with Leslie has already unfolded nicely.  Still, our fear, however unfounded, is that these two strong male actors will throw off the dynamic of the show, with the storylines focused on those two at the expense of the ensemble cast.   Look at the havoc Lowe has already caused:

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Okay, we’re really not that worried.  The show has proven that whether or not it ever finds a proper place for Rashida Jones it should remain on NBC’s Thursday night comedy block for many seasons to come.

Welcome home, Parks and Rec.

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