Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Parks and Recreation (Season 1)

I recently marathoned the first season (it's only six episodes) of Parks and Recreation. I had watched the first episode when it premiered years ago. Thinking it pretty awful, and finding most critics in agreement with that assessment, I had not bothered tuning in for the second. I later heard that it had become a good show—in fact, one of NBC's few highlights, by most accounts—and I would occasionally catch a new episode and think that, yeah, it was pretty funny.

Although my first impression had been that it was no more than a reskinned The Office, I now find that it covers some pretty unique territory, providing a comical yet not altogether inaccurate window into the workings of local bureaucracy. This is of interest to me because, during this past election season, I was very marginally involved with a political campaign at the grassroots level. The second episode, "Canvassing," was a particular highlight, as most of my political action involved canvassing the local community to generate support for our initiative. The episode perfectly captured the apathy (often even antipathy) of the general public to anything even vaguely political, the largely ineffective tactics that canvassers employ to try to lead their targets toward a desired response, and the rapid sapping of one's enthusiasm after repeated rejection against all efforts.

Based on my personal experience, I must say Parks and Rec is startlingly true-to-life in capturing this world—a sometimes insular club, whose work seems to have almost no practical significance to the average citizen (nor, arguably, to effective policy), yet whose members nevertheless will fight tooth and nail to push forward the most inscrutable little bit of ordinance, because quite a number of them are simply true believers in the work that they do and the responsibilities that they hold. In Parks and Rec, this spirit is embodied in the character of Leslie Knope, whose sincere optimism and determination may come across as naive, if not even delusional, but also has a way of winning people over. It inspires, against all reason and red tape, and rekindles, even in those grown jaded, a will to action, as they recognize in her something attractive lacking in themselves. Somehow, impractical though her dreams may be, she is exactly the right person for her job—the one person who actually gives a damn about it. However much pessimism "the real world" may instill in us, I think there remains always some part of us that never stops wanting to believe, so why not cast our lot in with those who still sincerely do? If you'll indulge me, I feel this attitude is aptly summarized by one of my favorite quotes from another show I love: "Doesn't matter where we come from, what we've done, or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be."

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Watching it now from the beginning, so that I can better follow along with the dramatic elements, I also think it's a strong show apart from any feelings one might have on the political aspects. Oftentimes, when I'm watching a BBC show, such as the UK The Office or Merlin, I wonder to myself, are there American shows that the Brits covet, the same way that TV enthusiasts here find their exports so cool and classy compared to our homegrown content? The answer, obviously, is no, because, when it comes to TV and movies, America has long provided the bulk of the world's entertainment (at least in the West), so Europeans are probably already accustomed to watching American television on their regular stations all the time, without thinking to label them as imports. Nevertheless, watching the first season of Parks and Rec, I thought to myself that this was one American show that I would be proud to show off to my British friends (supposing I had any). And, yes, that was probably an incredibly stupid thought, since Parks and Rec is, after all, undeniably a variation on The Office, and they would more likely be intrigued by something uniquely American, along the lines of South Park perhaps, rather than a clone of one of their own shows.

I suppose what I really mean to say is that, to me, Parks and Rec is an American take on a British show done right—far more so than the American The Office ever was. And that is maybe an even stupider thought than my last stupid thought, considering that, as a viewer, I don't actually get the appeal of many of the more popular BBC exports, such as Doctor Who, so who the hell am I to talk about "a British show done right"? And, furthermore, I've only seen the first six episodes of Parks and Rec, now in its fifth season, and maybe it all falls apart later and becomes just one of those typical American comedies, lingering on far beyond the story it has to tell and, along the way, trading realism and artistic integrity for cartoon plots and storybook contrivances. For now, I'm still excited to see more.

1 comment:

Parks and Recreation (Season 2) | FRAGGIN' CIVIE said...

[...] second season of Parks and Recreation maintained the stellar quality of the first, its comedy becoming sharper as the writers and actors got a better sense of the characters. [...]