PARKS AND RECREATION
There’s a Japanese concept called “nakama” which roughly translates as the friends who become your family. Most of the shows I love have this concept at their heart; Spaced even foregrounds these kinds of relationships, declaring “the family of the 21st Century is made up of friends, not relatives”. The best shows have at their core a cast that truly gels together, where any two characters can be put together for an interesting dynamic, and despite misunderstandings and fallings-out, they stick together through thick and thin. Parks and Recreation exemplifies this kind of group, and does it with wit, grace and unfailing positivity.
With the peerless Amy Poehler at the helm (seriously, I want to be her when I grow up), the producers of Parks and Recreation have managed to create a cast packed with top-notch comedy performers. Everyone brings a different weapon to the table – Nick Offerman’s nuanced dryness, Chris Pratt’s puppyish physicality, Aubrey Plaza’s withering sarcasm, Aziz Ansari’s winning douchebaggery, and Rashida Jones as a magnificent straight woman with a rebellious side. In seasons 1 and 2, Paul Schneider managed to turn straight man Mark into someone with a good line in weary frustration, not unlike Tim from The Office, while Adam Scott’s Ben and Rob Lowe’s Chris, added in the third season, provide a socially inept voice of sanity and a relentlessly positive human dynamo. The main cast is such a perfect blend of different comic types that any combination can make for an interesting scenario, just by allowing their natural dynamics to play out. The actors all inhabit their roles perfectly, all of which play to their respective strengths, and the combination of the fantastic writing and improvisation skills of several of the actors (most notably Poehler) makes for wonderful dialogue and plots that are both full of character and packed with jokes.
All this is without covering the supporting cast of the show. Parks and Recreation have done a great job of building up the city of Pawnee, from deeply uncool local TV host Perd Hapley to Andy Samberg’s Park Ranger with no indoor voice. Of course, no discussion of Parks and Recreation could go without mentioning Jean-Ralphio, a character who makes Ansari’s Tom Haverford look grounded and restrained. The show has a deep, deep bench when it comes to filling the town with memorable characters and great performances.
Not only is Parks and Recreation’s cast a comedy SWAT team, but they have also combined to work on one of the few comedy series out there that operates almost entirely from a place of optimism and idealism. So much modern comedy is based on cynicism, or embarrassment, or simple taboo busting. Parks and Recreation manages to consistently be one of the funniest shows on television, while also avoiding these mean-spirited sources of easy comedy, instead deriving it’s laughs from characters. Even Plaza’s April Ludgate, the snarkiest of cynical hipsters, eventually tires of her friend’s relentless ironic detachment, and in her relationship with Andy she is slowly embracing the happier, less burdened approach to life. Parks and Recreation manages to present us with a vision of a world built on positivity, subtle feminism and a commitment to public service and friendship, and it’s thanks to the wonderful cast that this feels neither false nor saccharine, but instead a welcome antidote to the world’s woes.