“Parks and Rec” continues to amuse viewers in the next season

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“Parks and Recreation,” a show from the creators of “The Office,” premiered in 2008 on NBC’s Thursday Night comedy line-up. Featuring the up-and-coming stars of the time Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari and Rashida Jones, “Parks and Rec” was less than underwhelming. Excruciatingly similar to “The Office,” the characters lacked personality, perhaps due to lackluster writing, and the entire concept of the show just seemed unnecessary. Yet, somehow  the show was renewed by NBC and another season of episodes were ordered.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Thank the TV gods for that.

Since the start of the second season, “Parks and Recreation” has hit its stride, yet the success it has found has been gradual. As much as it has improved through seasons two and three, “Parks and Rec” still struggled with ratings. In fact, the show did not return to the fall lineup in 2010; instead it returned as a midseason replacement and continued to struggle with ratings through the third season.

However, “Parks and Rec” benefited from the 9:30 timeslot as well as from show-saving additions in Adam Scott, who plays auditor Ben Wyatt, and Rob Lowe, the high-spirited Chris Traeger. It finally seems to be coming into its own, garnering not only critical acclaim, but also a growing fan base.

While additional cast members and improved writing deserves recognition, Poehler and Nick Offerman remain the show’s driving forces. Poehler, as the overly enthusiastic government employee Leslie Knope, is the perfect balance of wacky and human – basically the same mix that made Steve Carell’s Michael Scott in “The Office” such an iconic character. On the other hand, Offerman – who plays the manly, low-key, meat-loving, government-hating Ron Swanson – is the ideal counterpart. In fact, one could argue that it may just be Swanson’s cult-like following that has resulted in the show’s newfound popularity. Though Offerman was not recognized for his work, Poehler received an Emmy nomination and the show itself is nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Yet, it is the show’s storylines that are not only the cause for all the acclaim, but also for keeping the fan base hooked. Whereas “The Office” seems stale and searching for answers in a post-Michael Scott era, “Parks and Rec” remains fresh and up-and-coming. The show knows how to strike a romantic tone, as well. Leslie’s relationships have always taken center stage, whether it was with police officer Dave, played by special guest Louis C.K., city planner Mark Brendanawicz, played by Paul Schneider, or more recently with Ben. This season offers an intriguing twist, playing out one of multiple cliffhangers from the season three finale, which leaves Leslie having to choose between Ben and her desire to run for office. It does not stop with Leslie, though. Season four will feature the debut of Ron’s other ex-wife “Tammy 1,” played by Patricia Clarkson. Ann Perkins (Jones), Leslie’s best friend and new co-worker, is bound to find herself interested in Chris once more. Lastly, in one of the more unique romantic storylines in recent memory, there’s Andy Dwyer’s (Chris Pratt) and April Ludgate’s (Aubrey Plaza) marriage. They experienced nothing but happiness after getting married on a whim last season, but the daunting responsibilities of marriage will be a point of interest this fall.

Romance, however, is not the only thing to look forward to; several of the characters are approaching crossroads in their lives. While Leslie’s fling with Ben is a new focus, her interest in politics exceeds it. As running for office has always been one of her dreams, it will be interesting to see not only what decision she makes but also how she copes with that decision.

At the same time, Ann is starting a new job as the department’s health director and will have to balance this new job, her friendship with Leslie, her own romantic interests and her full-time job as a nurse.

Another large storyline will focus around Tom Haverford’s (Ansari) decision to quit his job in the department and pursue his dreams of becoming a media mogul by teaming up with his overly-confident friend Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz). Tom’s aspirations have always been on the wild side – such as his attempt to pitch his own line of cologne entitled “Tommy Fresh” – but the follow-through has never been there.

Then there’s the rumored return of Mark. As he has a past with both Leslie and Ann, his reunion with his former coworkers is bound to be awkward, especially with Ben and Chris now in the picture.

With increased viewership and praise from the past few seasons, season four of “Parks and Rec” not only has promise, but seems more than likely to continue its trend of improving. With likeable characters, big decisions and the gaping hole that “30 Rock’s” absence from the fall lineup is bound to create, this may just be the year “Parks and Rec” finds its audience.  Critical acclaim has never guaranteed longevity in the TV business, but at least for another year “Parks and Recreation” has all the right ingredients.

Nick Coviello can be reached at [email protected].