If 2016 has got you feeling down, always remember that Knope springs eternal
Why binge Parks & Recreation?
Another week into the new world order to near constant misery that is 2016, there could be no better time to consider reacquainting yourself with the most bizarrely efficient branch of local government ever committed to screen – the Parks & Recreation Dept of Pawnee, Indiana.
The sitcom, created by comedy heavyweights Greg Daniels and Mike Schur, was originally intended as a direct spin-off of the American version of The Office, with Rashida Jones set to reprise her role as Karen. The mockumentary format was retained, but the show was instead built around Amy Poehler’s lead character, Leslie Knope. This decision would prove to be the secret to the show’s cult success.
In Knope, despite the homophonous qualities of her surname, Parks & Rec offers viewers an indefatigable woman who knows the power of yes. In the opening season, a six-episode replacement for a cancelled show, Knope is shriller and less fun, but who develops over the course of the show to become one of the most likeable sitcom characters ever written. And she pulls everyone else up with her. By the time the final episode comes along, the madcap antics, the bizarre characterisations, the familiar interpersonal beats, and the – fully realised but utterly weird – local customs of the fictional town cannot but be warmly embraced by every viewer.
Parks & Recreation is smalltown America at its best, a place where bureaucracy and the American dream go hand in hand.
How long will it take to watch?
While its first and final seasons bookend the show with shorter runs, Parks & Rec still managed to knock out 125 episodes across its seven-season run. But at roughly 22-minutes an episode, the sitcom remains the easiest TV genre to binge, with four episodes in a row a very manageable daily allotment. The whole shebang shouldn’t take more than a month to squeeze in the 45 hours and 50 minutes.
Where can you binge it?
Parks & Recreation, despite being a critical darling, never became more than a moderate success. Its cast has since gone on to bigger and better things, and it is easily found on multiple streaming services – across the Atlantic. On our side, things get a little trickier. It’s not available on Netflix or on-demand on Sky, nor is it even currently broadcasting on TV.
Having only ended its run in 2014, DVD boxsets are not particularly cheap, with the entire run coming in at around the €85 mark. For those on a budget, it might be best to try and pick seasons up individually over time, but that doesn’t lend itself to the most convenient of binges.
Any hurdles to overcome?
Like many sitcoms, Parks & Recreation takes at least a season – and maybe half of the second – to find its comedic footing. The large number of episodes of American sitcoms mean that audience fondness grows as we learn more about the characters, with their relationships and interplay with each other becoming the rewarding part of watching. The point is: you might not immediately take to the show, but stick with it.
Other than that, it is undeniably sweet. So sweet that it openly mocks its own saccharine qualities by having the town be home to a dubious confectionery company, Sweetums. The show manages to overcome all of this by slicing through with surreally funny plots, bonkers local traditions, and perfectly-cast cameo roles.
Who steals the show?
Parks & Recreation is at its best at two different moments: when its ensemble cast are firing off each other, and when Poehler delivers Knope’s talking head asides. Poehler pitches her performance to perfection, turning what could be manically annoying into utterly charming.
A scene to sample:
The second season’s fourth episode, Ron& Tammys, sees Nick Offerman’s robust libertarian Ron undergo a personality change when he reconnects with his first wife. In order to keep him in Pawnee, Leslie agrees to a drinking competition involving moonshine, showcasing the comedic chops Poehler has mastered over years of improve and sketch performances:
What to follow it up with?
Poehler’s long-time collaborator Tina Fey’s two sitcoms, 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, both pair well, though The Office, at least the American version, is the show most spiritually and stylistically connected. Other than that, maybe give Broad City a run, which Poehler produces, and which, while about as far from Pawnee, Indiana as it could be, exists in a post-Knope world where female characters can be whoever they want to be and we’ll love them for it.