Enter Netflix, a digital vending machine, dispensing alternate universes just aching to be explored at your leisure. The rabbithole I happily and obsessively tumbled down landed me in Pawnee, Indiana: a small town that's "first in friendship and fourth in obesity." The Emmy-nominated "Parks and Recreation” (2009-2015) starring Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Adam Scott, Retta and Chris Pratt before the movie star slim-down.
I expected an off-beat workplace drama I could half-watch while cooking dinner or use as background noise at work. What I discovered was a quirky, laugh-til-you-cry, cry-til-you laugh modern comedy that was as inspiring and intelligent as it was upbeat and hilarious.
The beauty and brilliance of “Parks and Recreation,” beyond the fantastic and varied cast and the drool-inducing continuity, is that Leslie Knope is a controlling, work-obsessed basketcase, and she never apologizes for it. While a romantic comedy would spin her neurosis, intelligence and dogged ambition as something to be cured by a man, Leslie, her motley crew of employees and friends, and eventual her husband are rightfully awed and inspired by her boundless energy and dumbfounded by her worth ethic. She’s pluckier version of Olivia Pope without all the murder or fashion sense.
With Donald Trump running for President a platform of hate, bullying and "I got guy" tactics, it's refreshing to visit a town where the Big Bad is Ron Swanson, Leslie's boss and dear friend who loves her more than he hates government, or Councilman Jamm, who opposes Leslie because he covets her attention.
"Parks and Recreation" also paints a vivid and bizarre mural of Pawnee, Indiana in a Simpsonian way through its unique local customs (drinking from a water fountain by putting the entire thing into your mouth); celebrities (delusional talk show host Joan Callamezzo and the late Li'l Sebastian); and businesses (Sweetums Corporation and Paunch Burger). It also features a variety of zany characters: my favorite being the stoner animal control guys, the Sapperstein twins and April's macabre friend Orin. Although nothing tops watching Leslie continuously achieve and surpass her goals and the crazy-strange-perfect love affair between April, a macabre college intern and Andy, the airhead musician with a heart of gold.
Though Parks and Rec swings dangerously close to perfection, the downside of binge-watching is that it highlights a show's faults. And Rec does have a few: the biggest being the character assassination of "the beautiful, tropical fish" Ann Perkins' (Jones). While nearly every other character had ambitions outside of the Parks department—Andy wanted to be a rock star and eventually work in law enforcement; Tom wanted to be a mogul; April wanted to save animals and find her true passion while avoiding people—but Ann never had such drive. Thus she was relegated to "dating herself" and "I want to have a baby without a man" storylines, which is the quickest path to character death on most TV shows.
Also, I felt cheated by the time-jump between seasons 6 and 7, which whizzed through Leslie’s pregnancy and the undertaking of raising infant triplets. It’s obvious that Leslie Knope, the professional, can handle anything as long as she has access to breakfast food and a 24-hour office supply store. But motherhood isn’t something that can’t be micro-managed. I would have loved to see Leslie tackle raising her children while attempting to put in 200% at a new, high-ranking job.
Like Leslie's Knope's never-ending, whack-a-mole optimism, I cannot stress how much I loved "Parks and Recreation," and how sad I am that I missed the original run, though gobbling up the entire series like a platter of JJ's waffles was just as glorious. The real travesty, besides all of Tom's failed businesses, is that the show joined the late Li'l Sebastian in horsey heaven without one Emmy for Best Comedy Series or a Best Actress Emmy for Poehler.
Fun/Dangerous Drinking Game: Drink when the following occurs: Leslie scarfs waffles; something is “amaaaaazing”; Andy falls down; April says “murder”; Mouse Rat considers changing its name; Ron makes something badass; and Ann gets an oddly flattering compliment.
Here are four other shows worth binge-watching this during those torturous winter finales...