[04/08/09 - 05:59 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Parks & Recreation" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c starting April 9)

The network's description: "From Emmy Award-winning executive producers of "The Office" comes a new mockumentary that looks at the exciting world of local government. The documentary cameras follow Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) a mid-level bureaucrat in the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana. In an attempt to beautify her town Leslie takes on what should be a fairly simple project: help local nurse Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) turn an abandoned construction pit into a community park. Leslie is alternately helped and undermined by her colleague, Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), who cheerfully exploits his government position for personal gain. She is also thwarted by her boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) who is philosophically opposed to government in any form. Helping Leslie and Ann navigate the Pawnee bureaucracy is charismatic city planner Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider), whose outlook has been soured by 15 years of public service. If they can pull it off, Leslie hopes that she also will have inspired her uninterested college intern April (Aubrey Plaza) and April's whole generation � all the while moving one step closer to her ultimate goal: becoming the first female president of the United States."

What did they leave out? For all intents and purposes, it's basically "The Office" set in a different locale.

The plot in a nutshell: "These people are the members of the community that care about where they live so what I hear when I'm being yelled at is people caring loudly at me," explains Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana. You see, the perpetually upbeat Knope - and her disinterested co-workers - are the subject of a documentary about said department in all its bureaucratic glory. Her latest task: running the monthly community outreach forum alongside her openly corrupt, womanizing associate Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari). And so amongst the usual crazies ("The head of the police is a ninth degree Mason," explains one attendee), Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), a local nurse, complains about the abandoned condo development next to her home. It seems her layabout/musician boyfriend (Chris Pratt) accidentally fell into said pit, breaking both his legs. Sensing a chance "to have her Hoover Dam," Leslie goes the extra mile and pinky promises that not only will she have the pit filled in, she'll build a park over it too.

Actually doing so however proves to be a bigger challenge. City planner/former flame Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider) explains: "I would say, is it likely? No, it's not likely. But is it possible? [Pause.] No, it's not possible." Leslie's boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) likewise is of no help: "My dream is to have the park system privatized and run entirely for profit by corporations. Like Chuck E. Cheese, they have an impeccable business model." Leslie's inherent Tracy Flick-ness nevertheless wears them down and she gets to form a committee to explore the option. From there Leslie, Tom and intern April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) head on a fact finding mission at the site where, as they say, craziness ensues.

What doesn't work: Let's get the obvious out of the way first - it really is essentially "The Office" set in Pawnee instead of Scranton. From its faux documentary style to Leslie's general self-absorption/delusion to even the snappy theme song, this is an "Office" clone fresh off of the assembly line. And from Michael Schur and Greg Daniels, the minds behind "The Office," no less. Critically speaking it would be easy to pile on this show for its lack of originality but the truth is its real crime is it's only passingly funny. Cheap gags like Leslie falling into the pit or fighting with a homeless man sleeping in a park's slide feel astonishingly predictable and silly while jokes like Leslie telling Tom to jot down her insights for her future memoirs or commenting that "Tom and I work really well together - we're both outsiders, I'm a woman, he's a... I think he's a Libyan" (cut to Tom explaining he was born here and is essentially a redneck) reek of recycled Michael Scott antics.

What does: That's not to say there aren't some fun moments - a reverential Leslie treats Pratt's Andy as if he's a war hero, while Ron gives an amusing tour of his office, complete with giant Bobby Knight photo. Poehler likewise proves more than capable of being able to carry a show. It's just a shame it's not only more original, but also...

The bottom line: ...a lot more funny.

  [april 2009]  


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