TV: Parks and Recreation

IF I WERE to tell you that one of the best comedies about to come to British television was a mockumentary following the working and personal lives of a group of people working for the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana, you might not be immediately enraptured. Allow me to go into more detail, however, and maybe you’ll be prepared to give Parks and Recreation a chance.

Now in its fifth season in the US, Parks and Recreation is due to be broadcast on BBC Four later this year. The first season, originally a mid-season replacement, is only six episodes long and acts as something of an extended pilot. The scene is set and the troupe of strange yet endearing (for that is the staple requirement of comedies these days) characters take their stations.

Amy Poehler leads the excellent ensemble as eternally optimistic and enthusiastic Leslie Knope, the Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation department. Poehler makes for a fantastic lead-in character – Leslie’s intensity could make her unlikable, but the combination of some clever scripting and Poehler’s ability to improvise (the occasional quick cut scene of Poehler throwing out line on top of hilarious line in response to certain situations are definite series highlights) soften her waffle-loving, women’s rights championing edges.

Parks-And-Rec-Season-2

Joining Leslie in the special little world of Pawnee, where citizens are enamoured of a small horse called Li’l Sebastian and hate on pretentious neighbouring city Eagleton, are a group of people who put up with her mad plans. Assistant Tom thinks himself something of an entrepreneur too big for Pawnee, nurse friend Ann is caught up in the whirlwind of small government bureaucracy whilst only wanting rid of the huge pit next door to her house. Sullen intern April is attracted to puppy-in-human-form Andy, Ann’s ex-boyfriend who once fell in the pit and broke both of his legs. Libertarian Department Director Ron Swanson is something of a cult hit, with an army of followers online, something the moustachioed stalwart of masculinity would be proud of.

There’s no doubt that it’s the characters and the way in which they grow on you that will keep you coming back for more, but they would be nothing without the storytelling. Creators Greg Daniels and Mike Schur, who previously worked on the American version of The Office – before it started going downhill – have pulled together a very capable group of writers. The stories of Parks and Recreation thrive on their characters evolving through decisions and accepting consequences in a world littered with equal parts silliness and the satire of small town Americana. Story arcs are carried through organically and there’s rarely a missed beat.

The first series doesn’t best demonstrate what the show’s later seasons have been capable of, but it did provide the creators with the feedback needed to make changes and carry on as an even stronger beast, flexing further than the initial concept. Once it finds its feet by mid-season two, it starts walking well-paced and proud, hysterically fighting down the laziness and team building activities of modern day government.

So please, if you’re tickled just a bit by the first season, but unsure about whether to continue, I would urge you to do so. The second season and beyond make it completely worth it.

Parks and Recreation  airs on BBC Four on Wednesdays at 10:00pm.