Set in the titular local government department in Pawnee – a fictional Indiana town – Parks is consistently pleasant viewing. It would be very easy to make a relentlessly bleak comedy about a town council, and while it is the subject of jokes most of the comedy comes from the characters.
The Parks and Recreations department is an excellent source of situations, but the soap elements – the long running character arcs and relationships – are more important. Also, they’re occasionally joyous if you’ve been with the show since the start (because if you have, you’ll definitely have invested in characters).
The writing, beneath the rich tapestry that conveys a whole town, is refreshingly cynicism-free, but never becomes overly saccharine. Characters freely and merrily insult each other to their faces all the time, only to quietly admit that they really love each other when on their own together. It’s a brilliant mix, as you know that the cruelty will culminate in forgiveness.
Led by Amy Poehler, each regular is perfectly cast to the point where it’s impossible to tell where the script ends and the improvisation begins (the six commentaries provide some insight into this, with one of them featuring behind-the-scenes production staff only in lieu of a Making Of). There isn’t a weak link among the leads, with your favourite character changing on a scene-by-scene basis. Also, the editing is superb, with directors and editors displaying comic timing as good as any of the actors. Some of the biggest laughs come from effectively framed reaction shots.
It’s hard to pick a stand-out character, which is a good sign for an ensemble cast: Nick Offerman’s rugged Libertarian Ron Swanson is, however, now so very legendary. Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) is perhaps the most lovable manchild on television, and Aubrey Plaza as brilliantly deadpan as ever, but increasingly sweet as her character starts coming out of her shell. The most falling-off-your-seat-laughing involves these last two and roleplay.
As well as the regulars, Parks and Recreation has a rich supporting cast; the show’s starting to build up a guest repertoire approaching the levels of The Simpsons. Season 3 continues to build on this, adding in obnoxious DJs Crazy Ira and The Douche, and Pawnee’s favourite miniature horse L’il Sebastian, as well as returning favourites and gratuitous Rob Lowe.
For those of you new to the show, it’s worth watching the previous season simply because there are subtle call-backs worth getting. Even with the pre-credits exposition at the season’s start, it might be necessary just to make sure that you’re completely up to speed with events.
Also, you should watch them because they’re brilliant, and to appreciate how Parks and Recreation seems to be getting better all the time, you need some context.
Released on DVD on Monday 8 July 2013 by Fabulous Films.