After NBC spent months telling us that Parks and Recreation was in no way a spin-off of The Office, despite coming from “the people who bring you The Office”, co-starring former Office star Rashida Jones, and being shot in a faux-documentary style with no laugh track, the series premiered last night, and, you know what? It totally is a spin-off! Oh, sure, the two shows aren’t technically “related,” but, based on the pilot episode, Parks and Recreation is The Office 2.0. Fortunately for all parties involved, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In spite of the torrent of bad reviews and an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, here are three reasons why you should most certainly watch the remaining five episodes.
As The Office chugs along toward 100 episodes, the cast has become too predictable and too large, so we kinda like the small troupe of Parks and Recreation a little more. It starts at the top with Amy Poehler, basically mimicking Reese Witherspoon’s performance from Election, as Leslie Knope, a woman who dreams of herself as the love child of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, and goes all the way down to Aubrey Plaza, playing her patented sullen 20-something (see: The Jeannie Tate Show) to deadpan perfection. However if there is a breakout star among this group, it’s Human Giant’s Aziz Ansari. In what is ostensibly the Dwight-role, Mr Ansari is riotous—a slimy and arrogant jerk who spends his days mocking Leslie and/or hitting on women despite the fact that he’s married. While over on The Office Dwight has become ridiculous and somewhat extraneous in the presence of Andy, Mr. Ansari’s Tom feels believable and, most important, unique—he’s the only guy on the show doing this shtick. Here’s hoping they keep things that way.
Whereas on its best days, The Office is inherently mean and nasty—most of the humor derives from people doing or saying awful things to other people—Parks is surprisingly … nice. Leslie’s worst crime is that she’s a wild overachiever trapped inside an institution that frowns on that sort of behavior. She gets mocked, but none of the digs feel hurtful. On Parks, the only truly mean person is Tom, and even he comes off like a bratty kid in the back of the classroom more than anything else. There was a prevailing thought after Barack Obama became president that comedy would become more kind and earnest. We’re not sure if we believe that will happen (or if we want that to happen), but at least it appears like Parks and Recreation got the memo.
No matter what you think of Parks and Recreation, one thing is certain: It’s better than Kath & Kim.