We are back with some exciting news. This past week, Parks and Recreation returned with an all-new special episode to benefit COVID-19 relief efforts. Not only will we have a brief recap of the episode in the coming days, but we will begin our deep dive into one of the greatest comedies of our generation, Parks and Recreation. That is right, we will be revisiting the shenanigans of the beloved Pawnee Parks department, which is quite literally the most exciting thing we could do.
This recap will probably be a little longer today as I wanted to spend some time providing background on the show. In a typical rewind, we will break down the plot, provide some insight into the episode, and relive some of our favorite moments or quotes from each episode. We may also include a section called "What Would They Do?" where we look at some real-world news and detail how we think some of our favorite Parks and Rec characters would handle the situation. Either way, we promise to try and keep this fun! So, treat yo self to some Paunch Burger and a child-size drink as we get things kicked off. Background The conception of Park and Rec began back in 2007. At this time Greg Daniels was tasked by NBC with creating a spinoff of The Office, the mockumentary comedy Daniels adapted from a British series of the same name. For fans of The Office, the idea for a spinoff stemmed from a season three storyline featuring a brand new branch in Stamford, Connecticut that existed in the same company but was separate from the main cast in Scranton. Greg Daniels didn't like the idea of doing a spinoff at the time as he feared it would dilute the quality of The Office, a show that was starting to pick up steam with fans and critics. Eventually, network executives won out and Daniels agreed to create the series. To flush out a potential premise, Daniels brought Michael Schur onboard to help develop the show. At that time, Schur was a well-respected writer on The Office while moonlighting as Moose, Dwight's cousin, on the show. Michael Schur later went on to create two other beloved series: Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place.
As Daniels and Schur moved forward in the development process, the two tried to find the right fit for a traditional spinoff of The Office. Originally, the connective tissue between the two shows was intended to be a copy machine. The story goes that a broken down copy machine at the Scranton branch would be sent off for repairs. The refurbished machine would then make it's way to its next office, the Pawnee parks and rec department. Eventually, this idea was left on the cutting room floor. When nothing seemed like an ideal fit, they decided to develop an original story idea that would utilize the mockumentary approach of storytelling shared by The Office. The duo landed on doing a comedic version of popular government dramas like the West Wing. Interestingly, one of the premises considered was to follow a government official trying to rebuild their career after a major scandal. If this sounds familiar, it's because they eventually incorporated this idea into Ben Wyatt's backstory when he was introduced during the second season. By mid-2008, Schur and Daniels were hard at work writing the pilot. Inspiration for the plot was drawn from an actual park project in California that took 18 years to complete. Schur and Daniels also modeled Pawnee citizens off of actual California residents who opposed parks in their town. I guess I should be surprised that Pawnee is essentially a real place, but nothing really catches me off guard in this year of our lord 2020. In addition to the bones for the town and story, the duo's research also informed the backgrounds of several members of the principal cast. The character of Mark Brendanawicz was loosely based on real city planner Schur and Daniels met while the show was in development. Similarly, Ron Swanson was based on a real libertarian politician in Burbank, California who favored little government. The old adage is that life imitates art, and it seems Parks and Recreation's creators took this to heart. In a lot of ways, this leads to the success of Parks and Recreation. Yes, some of the complaints and storylines are exaggerated for comedic sake, but many of the roadblocks Leslie Knope faces are rooted in reality. Speaking of Leslie Knope, the duo wanted to avoid making the character an incompetent bureaucrat that just ran for office. Instead, they chose to focus on an overly caring government employee and the relationship with her best friend. Thus, Leslie Nope and Ann Perkins were born! Cue angelic music.
By February 2009, NBC began heavily promoting the show for an April 2009 premiere. Parks and Recreation received an initial order of six-episode for the first season that would air between April and May of 2009. On April 9th, 2009, Parks and Recreation debuted on NBC. The show tried to capitalize on The Office's strong following by slotting the premier in between two episodes of its sister show's fifth season. The show's premiere did well, bringing just over 6.5 million viewers; however, the first season saw a steady in viewers. As with most shows, it took a while for Parks and Recreation to find its legs. By the end of season one though, the audience can notice a small shift in the characters that is carried out throughout season two and the rest of the series. So let's take a look back at the pilot episode of Parks and Recreation. Plot Meet Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the deputy director of the Pawnee parks and recreation department. Leslie is a dedicated civil servant who believes the government is the lifeblood of the positive change for the citizens of Pawnee.
These people are members of the community that cares about where they live. So what I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me. -Leslie Knope
Leslie's colleagues are a diverse group of employees who don't always share her enthusiasm. Parks department director Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is a Libertarian who believes in little government.
My dream is to have the parks system privatized and run entirely for profit, by corporations. - Ron Swanson
Also joining Leslie at the parks department is her right-hand man Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), a sarcastic yet underachieving government employee. April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) is an intern at the department who uses her dry personality to highlight her disinterest in the job. Rounding out the parks and rec crew is Donna Meagle (Retta) and Jerry Gergich (Jim O'Heir). At the time of the pilot, neither Donna or Jerry had much of a direction but Schur and Daniels loved the actors so much they included them in the show with plans to flush out their backstories later. Which is great because Donna's hair was a real gryzzldump. We love you Donna, but this person is not the fabulous women we have come to know!
Finally, the parks department frequently collaborates with Mark Brendanawicz, a disillusioned city planner critical of government involvement after years of dealing with red tape. Mark is also Leslie's former lover, having slept together one time, five years before the premier.
Leslie is - unique. Um... Government work can beat you down. I would say that I lost my optimism about government in about two months. Leslie's kept hers for six years. -Mark Brendanawicz
While hosting a community forum, Leslie meets local nurse Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones). Ann complains about a giant pit near her house, which was dug out for a since-abandoned condominium development. Ann believes it is the government's responsibility to fill in the hole after her boyfriend Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) falls in the pit, breaking both of his legs. Leslie makes a pinky promise to get the pit filled in and to put a park up in its place.
Leslie seeks out the advice of Mark to determine how hard it would be to get a park built. Mark believes the project to be virtually impossible to complete due to the amount of red tape involved. Ron similarly doesn't want the project to move forward as he believes it would be a waste of money.
I don't want this parks department to build any parks because I don't believe in government. I think that all government is a waste of taxpayer money. - Ron Swanson
Undeterred by Ron and Mark, Leslie takes Tom and April to meet with Andy for the very first time. Andy is a lazy musician, who expects Ann to take care of him while he is recuperating.
After this initial visit, Leslie visits the pit with Ann, Tom, and April. Of course, Leslie falls into the pit, needing immediate medical attention from Ann. While Tom and April ruthlessly mock Leslie, Ann begins to warm up to Leslie, even as she needlessly wears a neck pillow in place of neck brace (in a scene reminiscent to the season two episode of The Office entitled "The Injury").
She's a little doofy, but she's sweet- Ann Perkins
With April and Tom continuing to make fun of Leslie, Mark takes pit on her. Impressed by Leslie's ability to maintain her enthusiasm for government, he calls in favor with Ron to get him to greenlight an expiatory subcommittee for Leslie's park. To celebrate, Ann and Leslie enjoy drinks together with Ann vowing to do whatever it takes to get this park built, "even if it takes two months".
Reaction Man, I love this show. With everything going on in the world, it feels so comforting to revisit a show so near and dear to my heart. Like a hug from your mom on a bad day, Parks and Recreation just seems to make everything better. With the special this past week and starting this rewatch, my heart is full of joy. Okay, enough of my biased love for the show. When looking back at this episode, not a lot happened. To be fair, the pilot has to establish a setting, character, plot, and theme. This episode certainly does that in spades, setting up the central story that will be a major plot for the next six seasons. The thing that stuck out most was the characters themselves. With the hindsight of the complete series, it's interesting knowing how much the characters change over the next seven seasons from the ones we meet here. While the structural frame for what the show will become are all in place, it is clear the writers and actors were still finding their footing when too came to character and story.
A great example of this is Ron, who is positioned as a suit-wearing, business-minded individual who hates government. While he does take business seriously and certainly continues to hate government, Ron becomes a wilderness enthusiast who enjoys woodworking and the saxophone. This struggle to find its footing while it searched for its own identity put the show at risk for being canceled during those first few years. The ratings for season one episodes continued decline week after week. Much The Office, it was mid-way through season two when the show's fan base started to build.
The other issue the show faced upon its launch was differentiating itself from The Office. Fair or not, Parks and Recreation was destined to be linked to NBC's other mockumentary comedy. Inevitably, people would compare Leslie Knope's park crew to that of Michael Scott's ragtag office staff. Initial test screenings for the episode found some disliking Parks and Recreation as they felt it was just a copy of The Office. Other criticism levied against the show was that it was boring, predictable, and lacked a dateable male lead. Sorry Mark! Give Michael Schur and his fellow writers credit for not only being patient despite this initial criticism but for creating a believable setting that anyone could relate to. They also let the actors pull in some of their personalities into their characters, which gave so much life to the group of dedicated park employees the audience watched each week. While I do understand this criticism at the time of the release, I am more fond of the premier episode rewatching it 11 years later. While not a ton happened, it did introduce us to some wonderful characters and the central plot thread that would weave throughout the show's fabric for the entirety of its run. Lights, Camera, Perd Review Famed Pawnee reporter Perd Hapley once had a movie show called Lights, Camera, Perd. We thought it would be a lot of fun if we gave each episode if we let Perd review each episode along with us.
"The review that this reporter has is a statement. The show has a lot of heart but just doesn't feel serious. I give this show 2 1/2 stars, which is my rating for this show". Thanks Perd! And with that, we have finished our first review. Hopefully, you have enjoyed this. Episode two should be a little shorter but we will also look at adding some new features to each review, so who knows. Either way, it is going to be a fun time.