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A look back at ‘Parks and Recreation’

By Joe Carnovale

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(Official Parks and Recreation Facebook page)

(Official Parks and Recreation Facebook page)

One year ago, “Parks and Recreation” aired its seventh and final season, which jumped into the near and far futures of its beloved characters, revealing where Leslie Knope and company would wind up. In honor of the one-year anniversary of its conclusion on Wednesday, a look back at one of the best comedy shows of its time feels merited.

When the show premiered in 2009, inevitable comparisons to “The Office” from critics and viewers alike poured in, understandably so. Series co-creator and executive producer Michael Schur worked on “The Office” prior to this project.

Naïve and oblivious, the Michael Scott-like Leslie Knope underwent a massive transformation for the second season. The result was a noticeably brighter, kinder, enthusiastic, diligent and impossibly generous heroine in Leslie, brilliantly played by Amy Poehler.

“Parks and Rec” became a show adored by critics and fans, but did not achieve comparable ratings to “The Office” and other primetime comedies. What makes “Parks and Rec” stand out is how such a warm, kind-hearted comedy can exist in today’s often cruel social landscape. The show frequently pokes fun at this norm, using public forum scenes to bring online comment sections to life via the ludicrously uninformed townspeople of Pawnee, Indiana. Leslie must (and usually does) maintain composure while dealing with utterly incompetent complaints and requests.

“Parks and Rec” taught us that in today’s politically-divisive America, it is possible, after all, to have friends with different views and opinions. The friendship between Leslie and fan-favorite Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman, is one of the small miracles the show was able to achieve. “Parks and Rec” excels in its mission of making the viewer happy. Despite knowing undoubtedly that whatever dilemma Leslie and her team are embroiled in will be solved happily-ever-after with a last-minute clever idea, the show manages to make the journey entertaining.

Everything Leslie does is for the betterment of her town and despite an apathetic, frequently antagonistic Pawnee, she rallies her friends and colleagues together and gets to work. Much of the show revolves around the overwhelming kindness Leslie devotes to her friends and their desire to reciprocate. An entire episode is dedicated to her husband Ben (Adam Scott) and best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) struggling to keep pace with the amount of made-up holidays and gift giving.

This is not to say the show didn’t affirm bold stances or deliver biting social commentary regarding serious issues. “Parks and Rec” is unabashedly a feminist show. The number of instances Leslie faced sexism from strangers and colleagues alike is countless.

The show takes to satire as a weapon against inequality and while we laugh at outrageously offensive insults from Councilman Jamm (Jon Glaser), we do so recognizing how his prejudice is misinformed and how ridiculous he sounds. The same goes for the local shock-jock radio station Leslie frequently visits to promote an event, but we take delight in her inevitable success, overcoming adversity to help a thankless town.

What truly makes “Parks and Rec” stand out is its writing. The writers created a main cast of characters so lovable that you cannot help but root for everyone. The key to this feat was writing characters loosely based on the personalities of the actors, exaggerating particular qualities. Leslie has the glowing optimism of Amy Poehler. Nick Offerman may not be the zealous libertarian of Ron Swanson, but like his character, has an uber-masculine persona and an interest in woodworking. Comedy comes naturally with the interaction between such dynamic characters.

What a joy it is to witness Ron and April (Aubrey Plaza) cope with the insufferable positivity radiating from Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe). The marriage of couldn’t-care-less April and well-intentioned fool Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) is one idolized by members of our generation. Eliciting the inner-kid in all of us, such a pairing could only be possible in Pawnee. And the fact that there even exists a character as downright bizarre as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein (Ben Schwartz) is testament of the creativity of the writers.

“Parks and Rec” is not only a show you can watch casually to enjoy the slapstick humor, it is also the type of comedy you can re-watch, looking more closely for subtle jokes with each viewing. It’s the show that keeps on giving. It gave us “Galentine’s Day,” Burt Macklin, “Haverfoods,”  Li’l Sebastian, Entertainment 720, “The Cones of Dunshire,” the “treat yo’ self” meme and my personal favorite, the “Low-Cal Calzone Zone.” It even changed how we pronounce the word “literally.”

“Parks and Recreation” is the show that delivers happiness, and in these modern times, we all deserve some. Except you, Jerry.

Joe Carnovale can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JCarnovale.

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