At long last, Parks and Recreation has found its way onto British television. This graduate of the NBC comedy school – which counts 30 Rock, Community and The Office USA among its alumni – is already in its fifth season in America, enjoying critical acclaim and winning loyal fans.
The show is set in the Parks and Recreation Department in Pawnee, a small town in Indiana. Its troubled past is depicted in its murals, which feature an alarming number of atrocities against native Americans. Its residents resist change with vehemence, often by throwing objects at government employees during public forums. The town’s biggest celebrity is a miniature pony called Lil’ Sebastian.
Moustachioed Head of Department Ron Swanson despises bureaucracy, and leaves it to his deputy, Leslie Knope, to run the show. Leslie is hyperorganised and relentlessly optimistic. An avid reader of presidential biographies and passionate about getting more women into politics, middle-level government is Leslie’s raison d’être.
The first series focuses on Leslie’s determination to make an abandoned pit into a new park, after local resident Andy Dwyer falls in and breaks both his legs. But this is not a show you watch because you care about the pitfalls of planning permission. It is the characters which keep you coming back for more. And now it’s the turn of BBC Four viewers to get acquainted with the lively and lovable faces of Parks and Rec.
Among the staff is Tom Haverford: a young, ambitious Jay-Z wannabe. He loves girls but can’t get them, his walk-in-closet is his world and his favourite pastimes include abbreviating words. Much-maligned employee Jerry Gergich is mercilessly teased by his colleagues. April Ludgate is an unpaid intern whose sole aim in life is to be bored. Andy is a lazy man-child who fronts a rock band which can’t decide if it should be called ‘Mouse Rat’ or ‘ThreeSkin’ (formerly ‘FourSkin’ until one member left).
As a devoted fan of Parks and Rec, it has been strange for me to rewatch these early episodes. It’s like finding a photo album of your parents when they were in their twenties: you recognise them, but they aren’t quite the same people that you’ve come to know and love. Ron has not yet acquired his resolute majesty. Sassy, gossip-mad Donna is absent. April’s formidable misanthropic humour is not shining through. Leslie errs on the side of irritating rather than endearing. Moreover, terrifyingly chirpy state auditor Chris Traeger and his cute, nerdy assistant Ben have yet to make an appearance.
Whatever your thoughts on the first few episodes, I implore you to persevere with Parks and Rec. It is an utter joy of a show, with a first-class ensemble cast. At some point during the second season, you stop feeling like a work experience student and become a real member of the office, with deep affection for your co-workers. Give Parks and Rec a fair chance and it will pay dividends.