Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A Beacon of Knope in a Sea of Woe

By Danny Marchant

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Much has been said about the diminishing quality of  “The Office.”

George Harrison once said that he believed the spirit of The Beatles was transferred into Monty Python. While that is probably just hippie nonsense, it could explain why “Parks and Recreation,” a show from the same team behind “The Office,” is one of the best shows on television. As “The Office” totters into antiquity, “Parks and Rec” is hitting its stride.

Last Thursday, “Parks and Rec” began its fifth season. It was around the fifth season that “The Office” began to show signs of age. From the 21 minutes that aired last week, “Parks and Rec” still seems like a show in its prime.

The relentlessly optimistic Leslie Knope (played by the Emmy award-winning Amy Poehler) is the newly elected City Councilwoman for Pawnee, Ind. Poehler, along with Tina Fey, is the proud owner of a classic television character. Knope is unfailingly cheerful in the face of all kinds of obstacles. It would be easy for a show about a small-town politician to by cynical. Leslie’s refusal to dismiss herself and her town isn’t played for laughs. The show is sincere in its admiration for Pawnee and its residents.

One of those residents is also the show’s breakout character. For the past four years, Nick Offerman has delivered some of the funniest lines with a perfectly straight face. Offerman plays Ron Swanson, the government-disdaining government employee, with a permanent grimace and a fantastic moustache. The season premiere saw him hold forth on his usual topics of meat and masculinity. If you are not watching the show, you are missing out on the comic genius that is Offerman.

The big plot point of the season seems to be the challenge for Leslie to make her relationship with Ben Wyatt (played by Adam Scott) work while he’s in Washington, D.C., running a congressional campaign. The long distance will surely be the cause of any drama this season. But it also gives the writers opportunities for cameos by Sens. Barbara Boxer, Olympia Snowe and John McCain. Maybe “Parks and Rec” will become the go-to place to see your favorite U.S. congress-folk. It will be like C-SPAN, only with comedy and more than one lonely camera set up at the back of a large room.

The episode’s title, “Mrs. Knope Goes to Washington,” could be an alternative title for the show. For all its modern sensibility, the show is a throwback to Frank Capra movies form the 1930s and 1940s. The show is one of the nicest comedies on television. It’s a rare moment when you find yourself laughing at someone. The writing is sharp, fast and sophisticated, but it still manages to leave you with the feeling that no one got hurt.

Television is one of the best artistic mediums today. Between HBO, AMC, and FX, storytelling has been revolutionized by talented writers, directors and actors. But so much of that television is set in dark, morally complicated worlds. “Breaking Bad,” one of the best dramas on right now, is about a very, very bad man. “Game of Thrones” can’t make it two episodes without killing off a character. And “Louie” may be hilarious, but it isn’t “nice.”

This is why “Parks and Recreation” is such a popular show. It proves that a TV show can avoid controversy without being inane. It’s not especially topical, it doesn’t have big guest stars, and it hasn’t broken new ground. But it’s incredibly funny. So watch the second episode tonight at 9:30 on NBC.

Danny Marchant can be reached at [email protected]

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