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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Vote Knope!: A Beginner's Guide to Parks and Rec.

I'll start this primer by answering the first question I'm always asked by anyone who hasn't seen Parks and Rec. So it's just like The Office right? No! No! A thousand times, no. While I was on board The Office for the first couple of years, I confess I bailed pretty early. Years before Michael Scott left, years before the writing fell to pieces, and years before Jim and Pam became... that couple.

Something about it just rubbed me the wrong way, it was impossible to put my finger on. I still thought it was funny, I thought the characters were interesting people I'd hadn't seen given justice on TV before (I've known about 4 different Merediths), and the pranks were so good I cursed the gods for not thinking of them myself. I liked The Office, but I couldn't make myself love it.  

Around the same time I had heard Parks and Rec was gaining steam, this would be about halfway through season 2. I wanted to believe the modest hype, being a long time fan of Amy Poehler, so I looked up the pilot...and was thoroughly unimpressed. It was the same feeling The Office gave me, only this time Scott was a blonde woman in the government, what were the critics making a fuss over?

So I skipped ahead on Hulu and watched the last one they had up... then the clouds broke and I saw the light. It was the Halloween episode focusing on the infamous middle school vandal:

It was fantastic, it was a completely different show with the exact same cast. Every character in it had something to do and manged to be hilarious doing it. I had enjoyed myself more over those 20 minutes than the first two years of The Office, but why? I now had no choice but to throw myself into my studies to properly achieve a master's degree in sociology to understand how a person cou- I spent the weekend blowing off homework and devouring the series. 

I figured it out. The Office was a show you laugh at, Parks is a show you laugh with. Parks never had the "hey, look at the freaks!" vibe I could get from The Office sometimes and "The Big Bang Theory" always. It was like a revelation. It didn't have to mine laughs from the cast's collective misery. After 6 episodes the writers decided to change Poehler's Leslie Knope from a pitiful lunatic to an admirable one. Thus, they purged nearly all cynicism from the show proving that great comedy can effectively (and consistently) come from the heart.

So here we go, These are what I believe to be the best points of entry to Pawnee Indiana:

Greg Pikitis-S2: EP, 7

You never forget your first time (as much as I tried, zing!) and Pikitis still holds a very special place in my TV heart. I cannot recommend a better first episode. Its funny, its fast paced, its Louis C. K.'ied, and there's a twist ending! But seriously folks, please watch the second season front to back, but if you really must insist on browsing...

Ron and Tammy-S2: EP, 8

The one right after it is just as great, if not greater. Setting up the library as Pawnee's root of all evil, as well as pitting the real life married couple of Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally
against each other, made that season's mission statement loud and clear. The statement was "We are going to try to make this the funniest damn show that's ever existed." three years later I say they succeeded.

94 Meetings-S2: EP, 21

This isn't one of the best episodes, but it does show its greatest strength. I'm not a fan of the A story here, what with Leslie trying to save a historic Gazebo that takes a majority of the running time. The B side, with the office trying to run through almost a hundred meetings with Pawnee's local wackjobs in one day, is more than worth it. Even if there are aspects of a P&R episode you don't like, it will assuredly bungee towards something you will love if you give it five minutes.

The Master Plan-Freddie Spaghetti S2: Finale

They say the reason M*A*S*H lasted as long at it did was that whenever it rotated cast members, it always traded up. We may have lost Brendanawicz in the end of season two, but in his place rose Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger who are (literaly?) the best pinch hitters since the 4077. Each bringing a new, or refining an old, dynamic on what was already a well balanced show. With their addition to the cast, P&R was ready to move beyond the "cult hit" world and confidently stride on their way to greatness! (pictured below)

Flu Season-S2: EP, 3

This is it. This is my favorite. I know you're not supposed to do that, they say it gives the others personality issues. But if you put a gun to my head demanding my favorite episode, Flu season is it. P&R already existed in a heightened reality, but now half the cast had a creative excuse to act even weirder. Their opportunity is not wasted and what follows is simply glorious. If flu season dosen't make you a believer, than I'm afraid to say, nothing will. But please, give it at least a couple episodes. Once it's got you in its friendly, vice-like, bear hug, it will never let you go.

...and you'll never want it to. VOTE KNOPE!

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