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Far From (Being) the Pits: An Advance Review of Season Two of NBC's "Parks and Recreation"

I'll admit that I wasn't the biggest fan of the first few episodes of NBC's single-camera comedy series Parks and Recreation, when the series initially debuted earlier this year.

The first few episodes seemed like a stilted knockoff of creator Greg Daniels and Mike Schur's own fellow NBC comedy The Office, populated by cartoonish characters, and an unnecessary mockumentary angle that didn't offer any nuance or develop the characters or their situations.

But then something rather miraculous occurred: the series improved in the last batch of episodes in its freshman season, toning down the hidden camera/talking heads format and transforming its leading character, Pawnee's Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), into a more three-dimensional and complex individual, rather than a bumbling female Michael Scott type.

I had the opportunity last week to watch the first two episodes of Parks and Recreation's second season, which launches later this week, and I have to say that the series has found its footing and built upon the creative success the series found in the latter part of its first year, offering a wickedly funny comedy about local politics and small town kooks.

If you missed the first season of Parks and Recreation, here's what you need to know. Poehler plays Leslie Knope, a hyper-ambitious public official in Pawnee, Indiana's Department of Parks and Recreation (hence the title), whose goal is to transform an unsightly pit in the middle of the town into a public park, a Sisphyean feat that will likely never, ever be accomplished. But it's a necessary MacGuffin to bring Leslie together with some of the other characters, including Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), a local nurse who lives next to the pit and whose layabout boyfriend Andy (Chris Pratt) fell in the pit and broke both his legs. Ann and Leslie form a rather endearing friendship, even as they find themselves enmeshed in an unofficial love triangle with city planner Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider).

Still with me?

The second season picks up shortly after the events of the first season. If you stuck around and enjoyed the back three or so episodes of the freshman season, you'll definitely enjoy what's to come. The second season's first episode ("Pawnee Zoo") not only ranks as the best episode of the series to date but also is absolutely hysterical, much more so than the fifth season opener for The Office, in fact.

The humor is not only deadpan and played absolutely straight but it's also deftly layered. A publicity stunt in which Leslie marries two penguins at the local zoo becomes a scandal when it's discovered that the penguins in question are both male and Leslie becomes an unwitting poster girl for gay marriage. It's a canny take on a contemporary issue and one that the writers handle adroitly while never losing sight of Leslie's dual needs of being loved by everybody and getting ahead in politics.

The second episode, "The Stakeout," likewise keeps the bar high in terms of humor, quality, and characterization, managing to weave together romance, hot-button political issues (racial profiling, drug control), a zany subplot, and a new romantic interest for Leslie (the hysterical Louis C.K.). Despite the episodes being self-contained, there's a nice slight serialization occurring here and it makes for some deeper investment on the part of the audience.

Leslie not only changes throughout her experiences (though at her core she's still one hell of a conflicted individual) but so too do the interpersonal relationships between the series' core cast. The second episode gives each of them an opportunity to shine, giving Aziz Ansari's Tom Haverford, Aubrey Plaza's April Ludgate, and Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson some nice moments as the writers juggle several subplots at the same time as furthering the romantic quadrangle between Leslie, Mark, Ann, and Andy in some rather unexpected and intriguing ways.

If these installments are any indication, we're in store for a fantastically funny and deftly written season of Parks and Recreation, one that looks poised to overtake The Office in terms of savvy humor and biting wit. Michael Scott, watch your back...

Season Two of Parks and Recreation launches Thursday night at 8:30 pm ET/PT on NBC.


Nuala said…
I'm looking forward to the new season.

I agree that last season's finale was when P&R really started to click. I think The Office similarly took several episodes before it found its footing.

In fact, I found the first four or so episodes very off-putting. I think Steve Carrell said his father had a hard time watching the show and seeing his son being such a jerk, but then the writers and Carrell found a way to make Michael sympathetic.
AskRachel said…
I wasn't crazy about this show at first but, as you said, the episodes kept getting better and better. I'm still not sold on the mockumentary style but I think there is a lot of potential for this show and am happy to hear that it's starting out its second season strong.
Martin said…
The last few eps of Parks & Rec were way funnier than The Office which has just gotten boring. I don't even know if I'm going to watch The Office this season but I will definitely tune in to see Parks & Rec.
Unknown said…
Ha! Even the description of the plots is funny. I look forward to them. (Whereas, I'll watch The Office but I'm not anticipating it like I used to.)

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