When NBC decided to take a British show called The Office and make an American version of it, they took the script from the British pilot and almost remade it word for word. For every character, there was an American counterpart. For every joke, it was either retold verbatim or it was rewritten for American sensibilities. The success or failure of the pilot for the American version of The Office owed more to the creative power of Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant, who created the British version than it did Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, who interpreted it for American audiences.
What could be credited to Greg Daniels and Michael Schur is the subsequent episodes of The Office that took those British version-inspired characters and relationships and put them into very familiar American workplace situations—making it a show that we Yankees could grow to love and appreciate on it’s own merits.
Now NBC brings us “from the team that brought us The Office” a new show starring Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live) called Parks and Recreation. This show, entirely created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, attempts to take the Documentary/Comedy format of The Office and transplant it into a city’s government agency with an entirely new cast of characters.
As with any new show, it’s hard to get a real sense of how good this one is going to be by the half-hour pilot, alone, but there’s one thing I noticed as they sandwiched it between two new episodes of The Office in an attempt to gain an audience: there wasn’t much laughter happening in my house caused by Parks and Recreation.
Now, what makes The Office work for me are the familiar situations the characters find themselves in as part of an office. For example, when my friend Derek and I worked in the same office space, we had great fun playing pranks on our co-worker, Shirley. One favorite prank of mine was taking a screenshot of all the windows open on her computer and making that her desktop so when she came back to her desk and tried to click on a window or a folder, nothing would happen because it was just an image and not an actual file. This would make her think her computer was frozen and would then have to restart. She did this a couple of times before we broke it to her that we were playing a joke on her. And so I always get a kick out of the pranks Jim plays on Dwight and secretly wish that I would have thought of that, myself.
Part of my problem identifying with Parks and Recreation was that I’ve never attended a public meeting for city planning before so I just had to assume that the meetings portrayed in last night’s pilot episode would ironically ring true and would be funny if I connected with it.
I must admit, though, that it’s not a total loss. Amy Poehler’s character, Leslie Knope, is in some ways similar to Michael Scott in The Office, but without the crude and brash behavior. She is someone who hasn’t let the city government system suck all the enthusiasm and optimism out of her—much to the chagrin of her co-workers. She is the main subject of a fictional documentary that’s being filmed and she is very aware of being on camera and loves sharing her story with the world. Unfortunately, the camera also see’s everyone else’s lack of enthusiasm and their desire just to put in their time so they can go home.
In the pilot, Leslie Knope conducts a public meeting where community members have the opportunity to air their grievances. During this meeting Ann Perkins (played by Rashida Jones who portrayed Karen, the other woman, in The Office season 3,) who has come to complain about a pit next to her home that was dug by a construction company that promptly went out of business. Ann complains that her worthless (my opinion, not hers) boyfriend accidently fell in the pit and broke both of his legs. Leslie decides that this is her opportunity to make a difference in the world and promptly “pinky promises” to take care of the problem and transform the pit into a park, somehow.
It’s clear that the rest of the 6 episodes that have been produced are going to center around her efforts to get this accomplished. I was amused by the fact that they all celebrated so strongly the permission she got to form a “committee.” Well, isn’t a committee just a body of people that sits around and talks about something but doesn’t actually get anything done? I think she has a long way to go in getting her promise fulfilled.
A slight disconnect with the subject of tonight’s episode, though, is that many of Leslie’s character establishing moments were formed in a very nice park. Doesn’t that go against the idea that this town needs another one? I don’t know, maybe that was the point and it was supposed to be funny, but to me it just seemed a bit clumsy.
I’m not the type of person to bail on a show after the first episode, especially one made by the same people partially responsible for my favorite comedy on television, but I sure hope that Parks and Recreation can find its groove soon or I predict it won’t be around for long.