How we made Parks and Recreation
May 14, 2019 7:56 AM   Subscribe

 
Parks and Rec is the best sitcom of all time (caveat: seasons 1-5)

If you watch the very early episodes, you can see how much it is influenced by the darker side of the Office, in that we're supposed to focus on the character's negative traits and find the humor there, but pretty quickly you can tell that both the actors and writers have fallen in love with these characters and the humanity shines through without losing any of the humor.
posted by gwint at 8:16 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I've never watched the six episodes of season one and I don't ever plan on doing so. Otherwise, hard agree with your comment.
posted by thecaddy at 8:17 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Yeah I watched the first couple episodes and didn’t like the light in which the characters were shown. I had been told it gets better, but sometimes I take that as, “you'll get used to what they’re trying to do.” So I didn’t continue. But maybe I’ll add it back to the list.

I also don’t like sitcoms, so maybe I still won’t like it? Kimmy Schmidt is probably the only one I’ve been able to watch.
posted by greermahoney at 8:23 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Season 1 is different from the rest of the show but it has its moments. Also it's really cool to see a then-unknown Chris Pratt become a breakout character.

I really love the world they built of raccoon infestations, lil' Sebastian, Sweetums, Cones of Dunshire, Paunch Burger, Perd and Joan, The Lerpiss clan, and all the other crazy residents who showed up at town meetings to complain about things and if you've ever been to an actual town meeting you'll know it's not so far off from what actually happens.
posted by bondcliff at 8:28 AM on May 14 [8 favorites]


> I had been told it gets better, but sometimes I take that as, “you'll get used to what they’re trying to do.” So I didn’t continue. But maybe I’ll add it back to the list.

Nah, they basically changed the premise, vastly for the better.

From season 2 onward it is a sweet and goodhearted and kind show and I love it. It took me a while to go back for a rewatch after the disaster of 2016 — it was a sore spot for a while, because it was too much a reminder of the timeline we could have had — but I rewatched it and I'm glad.

The only thing I can say against watching it immediately is that Mike Schur followed it up with The Good Place, and The Good Place is so next-level wonderful that if you have a limited tolerance for sitcoms, you should probably watch that one instead of Parks and Rec.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:31 AM on May 14 [21 favorites]


I really love what Schur is doing with the sitcom form. Most 90s sitcoms mined humor out of watching horrible people be horrible, from Seinfeld to Friends (yes, they are all horrible people. Even Phoebe. Don't @ me). But Parks & Rec and the Good Place manage to somehow pull humor out of good people with good intentions, characters you can root for even when they're making bad choices. Like, Leslie Knope isn't incompetent or stupid or a tinpot dictator. She's hyper-competent with a big heart, but she's socially awkward and over-enthusiastic. After Schur sitcoms, I just don't want to watch anything where the show's creators & writers don't love their characters.
posted by skullhead at 8:40 AM on May 14 [15 favorites]


Because Marx tells us we should ruthlessly critique everything existing:

“But the idea of a show about politics without a dark edge seems deeply weird to me. Politics is the business of power, and one of the oldest human endeavors. How is that not going to be a little dark?” The Weird, Frictionless Politics Of Parks And Rec (Awl)

“The gap between Parks and Rec and our own reality had been widening for years. Leslie transformed into a bureaucratic superhero in the spring of 2011, just as Republicans were taking over the House of Representatives and state governments across the country. The major legislative accomplishments of the Obama administration were all in the rearview mirror, but frustrated liberals could watch Leslie put together an epic town harvest festival. ” Already Great, The Dead-end optimism of Parks And Recreation. (Dissent)
posted by The Whelk at 8:53 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


Ron was based on a real person the writers had met. They thought it was really funny that the head of department was trying to bring down the government by keeping things inactive.

Yes, this I suppose was much funnier before it became the actual policy of the actual executive branch vis-a-vis most federal agencies. Now these sentences just make me depressed.
posted by theatro at 8:57 AM on May 14 [19 favorites]


Yeah, the gestalt of the show was basically leading up to a Hillary presidency. But blaming a sitcom for people's political complacency seems a bit much.
posted by gwint at 9:06 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


It’s a very odd show. Season 1 was so bad, but somehow NBC let them rethink the show and come back with a funny season 2. That never happens. After that it was consistently good, until again it significantly changed gear for the last season, season 7, bizarrely set two years in the future and with everybody doing different jobs, which was terrible again.
posted by w0mbat at 9:07 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


The world building in Parks and Rec should be required study for anyone writing a TV show. I can tell you better places to eat in Pawnee than the actual town I grew up in. Skip right past Sue's Salads and hit JJ's for breakfast. For a classy as !@#$ dinner, it's gotta be Tom's Bistro. Finish it all up with a nightcap at the Snakehole lounge.


I would definitely buy a ticket for a tour of the city hall murals.
posted by cmfletcher at 9:08 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


i liked season 7
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:09 AM on May 14 [18 favorites]


I'm not convinced that a fictional show needs to mirror real-world shittiness. I like that Schur's shows have a view of humanity that is significantly more optimistic than reality! The actual world is full of garbage; it's nice to have a respite from that.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 9:13 AM on May 14 [10 favorites]


So far, I did Schur's world. The comments went straight from "Parks and Rec" to "The Good Place," which both have characters with true affinity for each other a desire to be a force for good, and an ability to thread the line between real world and cartoon. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" got overlooked, and it's a pity. You have those characteristics, but at the same time, it's ready to look at police profiling, LBGTQ+ acceptance, and other issues, while building a world just as rich as the others.

So far, "Abby's" seems to be the only misfire.
posted by MrGuilt at 9:18 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


We were all immediately trying to protect ourselves from Aubrey Plaza, who played intern April. It was clear from the get-go that she was treacherous.
What is this about? Is it real life or within the show? Like others have said, I wasn't able to get in to this show.
posted by Bee'sWing at 9:18 AM on May 14


It’s not too far from the argument that the Daily Show captured and neutered anti-government sentiment by making dutifully watching TV and being in on the joke into the extent of possible politics. Since the US is a TV-run state where the most watched news channel talks directly to and gives orders to the sitting head of state, maybe we should take a slightly harder look at our popular fantasies and desires. Most sitcoms are, after all, fantasies about having a close knit peer group or a job isn’t trying to actively kill you.
posted by The Whelk at 9:18 AM on May 14 [14 favorites]


I write this as someone who went out for waffles after the finale cause the show was just so gosh darn likable.
posted by The Whelk at 9:20 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


I’d auditioned for the American version of The Office, specifically for Mike Schur who, unbeknownst to me, wrote my name on a Post-it and stuck it to his computer. A few years later, he remembered the Post-it and said: “I want this guy on my new show.”
This is a very Schur thing. Everyone who's ever guest-starred on The Good Place has said "Yeah, I read for [The Office | Parks and Rec | Brooklyn 99], and someone bigger than me got the part, but then I got a call from Mike a few years later and he'd written this character for me...'."
posted by Etrigan at 9:35 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]


Sure, most people in Parks and Rec are sweet but they just shit all over Jerry at every opportunity and it's frankly terrible to watch. It did give us Galentine's Day and the Johnny Karate 5 Karate Moves of Success, but I think one viewing was more than enough.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:42 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


I binge watched the whole run earlier this without ever seeing it previously, and I liked season 7. Season 1 was meh, but the show builds on previous events, so I'm glad I watched it.
posted by LionIndex at 9:48 AM on May 14


Yeah but Jerry is like the Buddha who attained nirvana without having to leave his happy family or his beautiful palace.
posted by gwint at 9:49 AM on May 14 [21 favorites]


NBC looked at me for one role and said: “This guy is going to have to kiss Rashida Jones at some point, and we don’t think Nick is visually in that category.”

Geez, they cant even bring themselves to say the words "Mark Brendanawicz" 10 years after the fact.
posted by Think_Long at 9:54 AM on May 14 [20 favorites]


Sure, most people in Parks and Rec are sweet but they just shit all over Jerry at every opportunity and it's frankly terrible to watch.

I think it's seasoned by the fact that it's made abundantly clear that while the characters shit on him, the show itself knows that Jerry is being picked on for no good reason. A few times they hang a lampshade on the abuse he gets, and while he's the butt of jokes at work, they make his home life charmed to the point of ridiculousness. He is wife adores him and is literal Christie Brinkley, has a wonderful family, and (spoiler alert) becomes the town's beloved mayor for 30 years before dying in his sleep on his 100th birthday.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:02 AM on May 14 [15 favorites]


I can't quite bring myself to blame Parks and Rec for its underlying depoliticized liberalism,1 though The Whelk makes a good point about the complicity of 2000s-early 2010s media in the reëmergence of open global fascism.

I've never seriously thought about watching Brooklyn Nine Nine, due to having a zero-tolerance policy on police apologism. Should I reconsider?

Good Place seems to be edging up toward something closer to radicalism than liberalism, and it makes me so excited to see.

[1]: Amy Poehler shows are where I look to when the weight of the world makes me want to hide under my bed forever. Like, Making It, the crafts competition show she recently did with Nick Offerman, is such a wonderful warm blanket of a show to watch. On the one hand it's exactly the sort of thing I need right now to find the strength to carry on (and like I'm not alone there), but on the other hand future generations will likely read our need for over the top sweetness and gentleness in our media as basically a symptom.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:04 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Even Gerry/Larry/Terry/Gary shits on Kyle.
posted by cmfletcher at 10:08 AM on May 14


The problem with B99 is that it’s a very charming cast with great chemistry and well constructed jokes about an institution that regularly gets away with the murder of torture of innocent people.

It’s really hard not to see it as just like a light comedy about brownshirts, to me. Nothing about the show is tied too hard to them being cops, they could be bakers. Why isn’t it about a bakery?

I single out PaR for its politics, which went from optimistic into straight up fantasy but like, every single cop or lawyer show on TV is High Fantasy with no relationship to the real world. And that’s fine, realism is an artistic choice not some objective truth, but this has an effect on how people see institutions - the CSI effect on juries is pretty well known and Orwell’s essay on boys adventure stories gives a good argument that you can propagate ideology without being aware of it.

So I say let’s be aware of it. Give me a dark dramadey about public defenders where the majority of people are innocent but the system doesn't care, doesn’t pay the defenders enough, and just needs to fill prisons and extract fines. Current Affairs just shared the story of a relative who went from Fox News repeater to loving the new freshman democratic congressmen cause they saw Knocking Down The House on Netflix. Narrative matters cause most people don’t get their politics or their ur-worldview by logically working out what is ideal.
posted by The Whelk at 10:12 AM on May 14 [20 favorites]


(and yes the Good Place admitting it’s impossible to be a good person if you have to make rent was one of the most delightfully unexpected turns on TV in recent memory)
posted by The Whelk at 10:14 AM on May 14 [13 favorites]


> (and yes the Good Place admitting it’s impossible to be a good person if you have to make rent was one of the most delightfully unexpected turns on TV in recent memory)

and also the year they picked for [spoiler] to have happened seems to indicate that the show's got an underlying anti-imperialist / decolonial thing going on. which like I'd never thought I'd see anything approaching that in a lighthearted candy-colored American sitcom.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:25 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Because Marx tells us we should ruthlessly critique everything existing:

Dead Red Goat, eh?
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:26 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


The Good Place is so next-level wonderful that if you have a limited tolerance for sitcoms, you should probably watch that one instead of Parks and Rec.

Oh! Funny, I love The Good Place, I just somehow didn’t categorize it as a sit com.
posted by greermahoney at 10:26 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Give me a dark dramadey about public defenders where the majority of people are innocent but the system doesn't care, doesn’t pay the defenders enough, and just needs to fill prisons and extract fines.

That describes some episodes of The Good Wife and The Good Fight.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:30 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


(I did enjoy the underlying theme on TGW that all cops are idiots)
posted by The Whelk at 10:44 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Geez, they cant even bring themselves to say the words "Mark Brendanawicz" 10 years after the fact.

It may not be that they can't say the name; they just may not trust everyone reading will know/remember who you're talking about.
posted by MrGuilt at 10:54 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


He is wife adores him and is literal Christie Brinkley, has a wonderful family, and (spoiler alert) becomes the town's beloved mayor for 30 years before dying in his sleep on his 100th birthday.

He also has the most enormous penis the Pawnee doctor had ever seen.
posted by bondcliff at 11:25 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]


[One deleted; let's skip spoilers for The Good Place please.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:14 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Bluntly, I don't care if the show overcompensates for Jerry getting shat on by his officemates for having an absurdly great home life or whatever happens in the future or whatever. If you're being an asshole to someone for no good reason, and then eventually someone says, "But they won the lottery," guess what, you're still an asshole. On The Office, Michael Scott is an asshole to Toby, the HR guy, but that's mostly because Toby is the guy who tells Michael that he can't do certain things because it's illegal. Hitchcock and Scully on Brooklyn Nine Nine are lazy, gluttonous slobs, but are completely unabashed about it, and even have their moments to shine. (Hitchcock had the precinct record for closed cases before Jeffords broke it--as someone put it, NYC back in the day was basically The Purge--and even Scully has a great singing voice.) I started watching P&R not that long ago, and was already uneasy after Aziz Ansari's #MeToo moment, and finally gave it up after yet another character joined in the Jerry hate-on.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:20 PM on May 14 [6 favorites]


After Schur sitcoms, I just don't want to watch anything where the show's creators & writers don't love their characters.

This. I also am not at all into shows anymore where the characters are actively mean to each other for humour for viewers. After going from Brooklyn 99 to Parks and Rec to the first season of the Good Place and the last couple of seasons of Community, and the first four seasons of Schitt's Creek, we're now watching our way through Metafilter-favourite Happy Endings and I just find it generally too mean-spirited to really enjoy it, even though I really want to and I quite like the characters. The constant calling Alex stupid and Max fat is just too much.

Even in Parks and Rec it physically pained me to watch them all be so mean to Gerry/Gary/Larry, though I appreciated/was somewhat consoled by the foil that he was a very sweet man with the most excellent of lives outside of work.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:21 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I can't watch B99 either. Most of it is the unpleasant thing that sits in my head going "stop mking the NYPD – the fucking NYPD — look good," but ngl, I also have never got the allure of Andy Samberg. So basically everything the Whelk said, with that.

If they had made B99 about ANY other job and without Andy Samberg: I would be so down.

If they had made B99 about ANY other job and with Andy Samberg: I probably still wouldn't watch, but I'd feel a lot better about the show.

(I don't hate Samberg — he's not Fallon, after all. Samberg's got some talent. Just that, well, like with the Lonely Island, occasionally he's good, but there are faaaar more misses than hits for me.)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 12:56 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


In defense of B99, sometimes the real world does creep in. Terry getting arrested for walking-while-black was a great episode. Especially since they had Holt be the voice of the establishment: "Keep your head down, make change from within, and everything will be better... eventually." Which was a remarkable (and depressingly realistic) thing to say in a show / fantasy where the characters would have been expected to stick together and the expected advice would have been to fight it all the way.

B99 also has had moments of self-awareness regarding the prison system, the drug war, the culture of racism, sexism and homophobia within the force. But for the most part it's a light comedy which does feel uncomfortable if you think about actual police for very long. I still like it though. It's worth it for the heist episodes alone.

And in the highly unlikely chance that anyone from the show is listening, could we please get a 100% flashback episode where the young, fit versions of Hitchcock & Scully team up with Detective Holt?
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 12:56 PM on May 14 [9 favorites]


For me, Parks and Rec hopped over the shark once they started bringing in the star / politician cameos. Still enjoyed it at the time, but I guess I can't get over Jerry. The further I get away from watching it, the more Jerry's shadow looms over the entire thing.

Which, in a way, turns this supposedly sunny show into something actually dark. That Pawnee cannot be a utopia without a ritual victim. The light comedy version of Omelas where the characters can be sweet and wonderful to everyone so long as there is one person they can pour on all their hatred and cruelty.

In some ways, that makes it a slightly more interesting and disturbing show. And makes the core premise somewhat of a misdirection. That these are generally terrible people. But they found an outlet which cures them of being terrible to 99% of the population.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 1:03 PM on May 14 [9 favorites]


I find it so weird that people are that turned off by the Jerry scenes that it sours the whole show. I usually also dislike it when someone gets shit on for no reason, but I love P&R. I guess I think it came through that the Jerry character was actually not hated, instead they just crapped on him because someone thought it was a funny thing to include. Like, the show makes it obvious that it's just performative, subtly breaking the narrative convention that the characters depicted are supposed to be real people, at least within the bounds of the shared suspension of disbelief that is film and TV. Or maybe it's that they deftly make it obvious that Jerry isn't actually adversely affected by any of it. It just rolls off him like water off a duck's back. Anyhow, if you also usually dislike it when a character is shit on, give P&R a shot nonetheless, you might find it doesn't bother you much, like I did.
posted by axiom at 1:40 PM on May 14 [11 favorites]


In almost any other show, Jerry getting shit on wouldn't be that big of a deal. Comedy is obviously full of such things. But, on Parks & Rec, the characters are poised as good and loving people who become even more good and loving as time goes on. Towards the end, they're presented as ideals as much as characters. In that context, the Jerry stuff is both out of place and undermines their entire characterization.

I mean, in one scene they focus on their petty problems while ignoring Jerry having a heart attack. Giving him no aid or attention at all. In any other show, that would the clear mark of a villain. Or at minimum the mark of a self-centered asshole. Not the actions of the heroic, caring good guys who are supposed to represent what good government and good public workers can be.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 3:28 PM on May 14


> Towards the end, they're presented as ideals as much as characters.

Are they though? It's been a while since I've watched the show, but I remember them as likable, mostly-decent people who happen to work at city hall. Maybe with the Jerry thing even thrown in there specifically to show the dumb human BS they're subjected to, same as anybody else.


Given the tiresome GOP/libertarian rhetoric of painting Govmint™ as some kind of an Evil and Sinister Force, it's nice to see a show whose premise is the opposite - that these are actually just regular people doing their jobs, because parks need maintenance, trash needs to be picked up, we don't get festivals if nobody plans them, et cetera.
posted by bring a tuba to a knife fight at 4:31 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I don't approve of the Jerry abuse, but most of the rest of it was pretty good. I don't know what to make of that, to be honest.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:52 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


> Given the tiresome GOP/libertarian rhetoric of painting Govmint™ as some kind of an Evil and Sinister Force, it's nice to see a show whose premise is the opposite - that these are actually just regular people doing their jobs, because parks need maintenance, trash needs to be picked up, we don't get festivals if nobody plans them, et cetera.

I think that's why I'm given to forgive the show for the stuff that The Whelk (rightfully) identifies as problematic. Leslie Knope is a type of heroic community-oriented bureaucrat that you don't normally see in American media.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 5:38 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I mean that’s true and as someone who attends city comptroller meetings for fun* I appreciated a sunny, positive view of local government but they only got it cause they defanged Ron the Libertarian contrarian with all the power into a goofy uncle.


*they are not fun
posted by The Whelk at 6:21 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I loved season 7 of P&R. I found it tighter than the previous seasons because it was half as long, and Ann Perkins hardly appeared.
posted by nnethercote at 7:53 PM on May 14


After Schur sitcoms, I just don't want to watch anything where the show's creators & writers don't love their characters.

Bojack’s writers love Bojack too, but...yeah.

OK. Still rings true, just differently.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:15 PM on May 14


We were all immediately trying to protect ourselves from Aubrey Plaza, who played intern April. It was clear from the get-go that she was treacherous.
What is this about? Is it real life or within the show? Like others have said, I wasn't able to get in to this show.
This is a joke. April Ludgate was apparently written to be as much like Aubrey Plaza as possible, because they loved her and thought she was amazing and really wanted as much her in the character as possible. But April is dark and weird and crabby in a way that's different from Ron Swanson but ultimately just as likeable.

The first season, and much of the first half of season two, are complete write-offs for me. It was too much like The Office for me at that point, which is ultimately a show about finding humour in the humiliation of others. I like a sitcom where compassion and redemption are baked in, and Parks & Rec did eventually become that show. Characters can behave cruelly to each other in such a show, as long as the show itself doesn't endorse the cruelty and humiliation, as cringe comedy generally does; it needs to use it as a tool to work towards something else (anyone else remember The John Larroquette Show? Before the network messed about with it and it got all manic, that was what it was up to). The Jerry stuff initially started out as the same kind of ritual humiliation cringe comedy indulges in, but eventually it became a joke about that style of comedy, and a way of actively criticizing it. It's not a running joke where the punchline is being cruel to Jerry, it's a joke about how stupid it is to find being cruel to Jerry funny, or for that to be the premise of an entire style of comedy. I feel like a lot of the stuff Community did with Chevy Chase came from a similar place (some of what they did to him, but also the role he played and what he did). Brooklyn Nine-Nine functions in a similar way for me; it is absolutely not a sitcom about cops, it's a sitcom about cop shows. It examines and undermines and jokes about the ways those shows work and what they present to the world. It's more problematic than something like Commuity, Parks & Rec, or The Good Place, though, because it still needs you to love the characters and see them as compassionate people independently of that premise, and the premise shouldn't really allow for that.
posted by Fish Sauce at 7:48 AM on May 15 [7 favorites]


Since Larroquette was mentioned, I’m wondering if Night Court might be a sort of spiritual predecessor to Parks and Rec.

Also, stretching further....Wings? From Roy to Ron.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:13 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


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