Ron Swanson: Leslie, why don't you take the rest of the day off. I mean, you spend so much time worrying about this park, but, really, who cares?
Leslie Knope: I care. I care a lot. It's kind of my thing, remember?
– Parks and Recreation Season 2, Episode 8 "Ron and Tammy"
The 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. Admittedly, with the breathing room afforded by its more typical season length of 24 episodes (four times the length of the first season), it did feel slightly like a more conventional American show, with more sidetracks and episodes based around stunt casting.
I love how this show manages to be more realistic and relevant than The Office (U.S.), while, at the same time, never treating its melodramatic elements as seriously as The Office did. Pam and Jim aside, everybody on The Office was always such a shallow and repulsive caricature that I was never quite convinced that they could actually have real human feelings. It could be funny to watch them squirm and make fools of themselves, but there was no possibility of my becoming emotionally invested in their story arcs (such as they had). The characters of Parks and Rec are, well, also mostly cartoons, but, through the first two seasons at least, the show doesn't presume to claim a bigger emotional investment than it earns. When the habitually flirtatious Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) falls sincerely for a woman he is utterly unworthy of, viewers are given less than an episode to root for their happy ending, before being reminded of how he is utterly unworthy of her–a refreshingly sober outcome that is truer-to-life and consequently more rewarding than any of the later Office romances.
Meanwhile, Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider), one of the two normal people on the show (along with Ann (Rashida Jones)), was, for the first season, really quite an unusually challenging character for an American sitcom to deal with, because he came across, by most real-life standards, as generally a good guy, but, within the show's narrative, he was not one of the white hats. It was left ambiguous how exactly viewers were supposed to feel about him–another refreshing difference from other shows, where we're often more or less simply told that we're supposed to like certain characters. I actually loved his character and found his arc, as resolved at the end of season 2, to be the most fulfilling I'd seen on a TV show in a long while.
The one minor irritation of season 2 was its overuse of special guest stars, with Will Arnett and Andy Samberg being the worst offenders. They actually gave pretty funny performances, but the roles themselves felt unnecessary, existing for no other reason than to showcase these particular actors' very loud personalities and dominating styles of comedy. As one-off characters, they didn't seem worth the distraction on a show that was strong enough without them.