Monday, September 9, 2013

How “Parks and Recreation” Went from Worst to First in the Sitcom World

Parks and Recreation is one of the best sitcoms on television. It’s clever, it’s sweet, and most importantly it’s funny. But it wasn’t always that way. Far, far from it. A recent Labor Day marathon that included episodes from the show’s first season confirmed what I thought when I first saw them – that show was God-awful bad when it first aired. If it wasn’t for NBC’s desire to get Amy Poheler a star vehicle, we may never have seen what might be the greatest 180 degree transformation of a show’s quality. How did they do it? Here’s how:

They Let Leslie Knope be Leslie Knope: When the show first started, it was The Office set in Flyover Country. The lead character Leslie Knope was just like Michael Scott – a well-meaning fool. After the first season she was allowed to become her own character, an enthusiastic striver and achiever who cares unreasonably about her job and co-workers, which makes her all the more loveable.

The Show Likes The Characters: Instead of keeping Leslie’s co-workers as a bunch of malcontents with annoying quirks, they’ve been allowed to develop their own personalities that let the actors shine…

The Characters Like Each Other:…while also interacting with each other in a positive way that ranges from love and marriage to collegiality. Even Jerry, the office loser, is part of the family.

Editing: The first season was a painfully long takes that tried to milk the cringe factor. The humor in subsequent seasons is faster-paced with lots more quick-hits visually and dialogue-wise.

Casting: The subtraction of Mark Brendanawicz (the lifeless bureaucrat who was supposed to be Leslie’s “will they or won’t they?” opposite) and the addition of Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt was critical to giving the entire show a boost. Rob Lowe and Adam Scott have made this cast the deepest on TV.

The City of Pawnee: By including the many quirks and customs of the fictional Indiana city, the writers have established the most unique sense of place of any on television.

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