After the roaring success of the American version of The Office, Greg Daniels was given a chance to make a similar show for NBC. Although it was originally pitched as a potential spinoff, Parks and Recreation was fortunately given the freedom to stand on its own footing. While it started as a similar workplace comedy with the same mockumentary style, Parks and Recreation had one key distinction: Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler).
Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana, Leslie works too hard and cares too much. The people of Pawnee (motto: “First in friendship, fourth in obesity”) are hilariously resistant to Leslie’s best efforts to improve the town. Her sometimes overwhelming enthusiasm and loyalty elevate every other character on the show, transforming an apathetic branch of small municipal government into a group of treasured friends who love and support each other.
Leslie is far from the only highlight of the cast. Improvisation on-set was highly encouraged, bolstered by a hyper-talented ensemble that combines well-established actors Rashida Jones, Rob Lowe, and Poehler with relative newcomers including Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, and Nick Offerman (can you believe there was a time before he was Ron Swanson?). Each actor brought a different comedic angle to the beautiful mosaic that makes up Pawnee’s Parks Department. Eventually, the show garnered such recognition that it starred many real-life celebrities in guest roles such as Vice President Joe Biden, Senator John McCain, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Leslie’s personal hero, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
After a rough (and fortunately brief) first season, Parks and Recreation is top-notch comedy the rest of the way. Hilarious and heartwarming, it’s a perfect binge for either a first-time watcher or a long-time fan. The characters and relationships grow organically throughout the series as Leslie nurtures a misfit group of government employees through budget cuts, shutdowns, and corporate interference. Spoofing real-life political stories, Parks and Recreation avoids cynical or mean-hearted humor. Instead, it leans into a sweeter kind of hilarity, grounded in emotional beats and witty dialogue. This has become a trademark of creator Michael Schur, whose other works include Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place.
It’s hard to recommend Parks and Recreation without spotlighting Ron Swanson. A libertarian who hates the government, Ron is the head of the Parks department and Leslie’s boss. Offerman’s deadpan portrayal of the ornery woodworker is by far one of the best parts of the show. Offerman’s real-life wife Megan Mullally guest-stars as Ron’s evil ex-wife Tammy 2 (his second ex-wife of that name — the first is played by Patricia Clarkson). Their chemistry makes Ron and Tammy’s ongoing feud one of the best running jokes of the entire series. Ron’s exaggerated views on life, masculinity, and government are hilarious on their own:
“There is only one thing I hate more than lying. Skim milk, which is water that’s lying about being milk.”
However, his aphorisms are belied by a genuine desire to help his friends. Despite his attempts to make the Parks department as slow and ineffectual as possible, he offers Leslie guidance when she is feeling lost or defeated, such as with the iconic line “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Underneath his disgust of yoga, sandals, and vegans, he helps his friends as much as Leslie does, by sharing his own life’s wisdom.
With shortened first and final seasons (125 episodes total) and 22-minute episode runtimes, the series comes in at a total binge-time of around 65 hours. Seven seasons give the show lots of time to expand upon the lives of every member of its large cast of characters and to flesh Pawnee out into an immersive and complete community.
The final season is dedicated to wrapping up every character’s arc, including that of many of the beloved guest stars from throughout the show’s run. Shows that wrap up deliberately are always more satisfying than those that are fighting cancellation to the last breath. Nothing ruins a binge more than a cliffhanger at the end. Parks and Recreation uses every second of its final season to give the Parks crew one last challenge to face before moving on with their lives. Like a true workplace, you may not end up with your current colleagues forever, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the time you have together. Leslie learns that lesson the hard way as she must slowly let her proteges go, one by one, to follow their own dreams. Just as they are all the better for having worked with Leslie, we are all the better for having watched Parks and Recreation.
In the end, Parks and Recreation is a show about doing your best in the face of the world’s colossal indifference. Leslie Knope inspires us all to keep our chin up and soldier through the worst in order to find the sunshine and miniature horses on the other side. So treat yourself to some waffles and a binge of the best sitcom out there. Pawnee is waiting.