So I finally got around to watching the six episodes which constitute the first season of Parks and Recreation, the new series from Greg Daniels and Michael Schur (The Office - USA), which aired earlier this year. The show is superficially similar to The Office, it's filmed in a talking head/mock-umentary style and the humour has parallels, but beyond that it's quite a different beast from the expected show. Which was initially thought to be a spin-off from The Office.
Amy Poehler stars as Leslie Knope (a good sign because I generally love sitcoms with a character named Leslie in them - see 10 Items or Less) the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana. At a meeting with the townsfolk one nurse named Ann (Rashida Jones) stands up to complain about a huge hole near her home. A hole that her boyfriend Andy (Chris Pratt) fell into and broke his legs.
Leslie forms a committee to deal with said hole; bringing on board Ann along with co-workers Mark (Paul Schneider), Tom (Aziz Ansari) and their intern April (Aubrey Plaza). The committee is "pushed through" by Ron (Nick Offerman) a bureaucrat who believes local government should do absolutely nothing at all but quite likes Leslie. So Leslie embarks on a quest through local government to try and fill in this huge pit and get a park put on top of it.
It has to be said that the first season is something of a mixed bag, while it does have a few great moments smattered about, on the whole it's a tad underwhelming. Leslie is enjoyable, but doesn't rise to any great heights of comedy and the show seems a little lost with where to direct her. Poehler herself is fantastic in her performance, hardly surprising considering her pedigree - and at times her performance does manage to echo Michael Scott's brilliance, while also reminding me of her husband's (Will Arnett) comic genius. There are a couple of moments where she delivers lines which reminded me of either GOB (from Arrested Development) or Michael Scott. This is a good thing.
As for the supporting characters, they're a mixed bag. Tom is rather "eh", but then again I didn't really like Aziz's performance in Scrubs, so it's not surprising I don't like his portrayal of Tom. They're very similar characters. Likewise April is rather weak as characters go, having little more than a single dimension at this time. Mark has a little more depth, but also toes the line towards that dreaded 'Will they/won't they' trope when placed near Leslie (they had sex once, will they get together in the end? WHO CARES? Pfft!) And Rashida is solid as Amy, but plays the role straight - giving an every-woman for others to bounce off.
But there are two supporting performances which are nothing short of fantastic, the first is Ron - the apathetic bureaucrat who would rather do nothing and promote people who feel the same way. His observations and talking head interviews are at times side-splitting in their hilarity and his office is just awesome. The second is Andy, who provides some great physical comedy combined with general piggish "douche-ness" and occasional moments of genuine thoughtfulness. He's the terrible boyfriend who does just enough to make himself be likable and seem redeemable before lapsing back into being selfish.
So on the whole the first six episodes are solid, but not amazing. There's some real promise in the show lurking beneath the surface - the cast certainly has people capable of great comedy moments - and given time to find it's groove this show could grow. The first season of The Office (USA) was at around a similar level and that grew into one of the best sitcoms on American television at the moment, so Parks and Recreation is certainly something to keep an eye on.
I've already heard that the second season shows strides in improving the show, and I'm going to get on that as soon as possible.