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NBC’s Parks and Recreation
Metacritic: Not Available
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Major Nominations: Outstanding Comedy Series, Comedy Actress (Amy Poehler)
Parks & Recreation is a bit like the little engine that could.
When it started out in NBC in 2009, it was presented as an Office rip-off in promos (Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope was even depicted as a bumbling boss a la Michael Scott). But it was when P&R started to kill ‘em with kindness and develop its own humblebrag style that the series really resonated with audiences.
P&R does something that very few shows do: It finds humor in good people. It’s easy to be funny when you’re poking fun at outlandish or morally reprehensible characters (Jim torturing Dwight Schrute or Michael providing a caustic aside about Lucille Bluth), but most of the characters on P&R are more normal, less cartoonish, which can be challenging when trying to garner laughs.
Yet, one of the funniest things about Leslie Knope is how good-natured and ambitious she is, especially when juxtaposed against anti-government grumps like Ron Swanson (submitted episode “Leslie and Ron” highlights the relationship between the two foils). P&R is very much an ensemble piece that finds its humor in the unique personalities that populate the Parks department. (It’s a tragedy that Nick Offerman has never been Emmy-nominated for his iconic role as Ron Swanson.)
It’s also rare for a show to get increasingly better year after year. Where comparatively The Office only declined in quality, P&R continued to build, despite going through cast changes (goodbye, Paul Schneider) and NBC schedule adjustments. When Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe exited, other characters like the acid-tongued Donna (Retta) and hapless Jerry/Larry/Gary (Jim O’Heir) stepped up and were given more to do. P&R withstood what might cement some shows in canceled obscurity. And the final season continued to take risks that paid off, including a time jump and an episode centered around Andy Dwyer’s Johnny Karate children’s show (also one of the submitted episodes for Emmy contention).
In another submitted episode titled “Pie-Mary,” Leslie encounters controversy when she tries to back out of a pie-making contest and as a result faces accusations of being a lackluster mother and wife. It’s tradition for the wives of political candidates (in this case, Ben Wyatt) to participate, but Leslie doesn’t believe she should have to. In this episode, Amy Poehler’s feminist viewpoints especially shine (“The last contest winner was June Hartwell’s buttermilk meringue. The last contest loser was all women”), and the show makes a cynical statement about gender politics (Ben bests Leslie for the Woman of the Year award)
And finally, in the series finale, the show goes out on top. “One Last Ride” shows Leslie Knope saying goodbye to everyone, with flash-forwards illuminating what would happen to all of our favorite Pawnee citizens. It’s kind of like Six Feet Under’s memorable finale, only less depressing. It’s heartfelt, hilarious (Jean-Ralphio Saperstein faking his own death), and true to itself, just like Knope.
If Emmy voters are smart, they’ll treat themselves by honoring this comedy.