Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Giving Poehler's 'Parks and Recreation' Room to Find Its Own Way

After its first few episodes, many folks were complaining that NBC's new Amy Poehler comedy, Parks and Recreation -- where Poehler plays deputy Parks director Leslie Knope -- was too similar to The Office, a show from which several of the Parks folks hailed. Poehler's character, people complained, was just a female version of Michael Scott.

However after reading New York Magazine's Emily Nussbaum's ode to the show and Poehler's character, I find myself agreeing with her thesis:

". . . [A]fter five episodes, [Parks and Recreation] has begun to kick free for me, mainly because the writers are onto something timely and resonant with Leslie, a fool who is also a budding heroine . . . [H]er motives are mixed, and her go-girl feminism goofy, she's not wrong to see cynicism everywhere -- the show satirizes her naivete, but it's also clear she's the only one trying to make things better."

Nussbaum added that the comedy showcases a female pol, similar in vein to the lead character in the comedic film in Election, Reese Witherspoon's Tracy Flick. Knope is, "a deserving hard worker, beaten down by the lazy and popular. At its best, Parks and Recreation provides an appealing Flick's-eye view -- the opportunity to see Leslie's burning, bumbling ambition as noble, not merely absurd."

I concur that Parks has started to grow into its own. Having Poehler's Knope work so hard to break through the political glass ceiling is simultaneously played as much for chuckles (because of her vast cluelessness) as it is for the "truthiness" it provides, that being that it's not exactly easy to be a successful female politician.

Knope went to the barbershop where a number of famous local pols have had their hair cut for years, even though that particular barber doesn't usually cut women's hair. He gave her a severe, masculine hair style and didn't understand why she went to him, but Knope was thrilled and felt as though she'd been accepted by the political establishment, that she'd invaded a male bastion where she believed political wheeling and dealing was conducted.

Knope wanted to fit in with the "guys" at city hall and have a few beers with them in the courtyard as they regularly do. But she was felt terribly guilty over having shared a bottle of wine from a gift basket that she'd received and said they couldn't ethically accept as public servants. She then outed herself as an unethical employee, something none of the men would've done and was reprimanded.

Knope -- whose office prominently features framed photos of women politicians -- tried to use a hardball political tactic recommended by her mother, also a local official, in order to help a worthwhile public works project move forward. However when she was unable to execute the borderline unethical political manuever, she was wholesome enough to feel guilty about it.

Sure, at first blush, Leslie Knope may seem Michael Scott-ish, but she's evolving, along with her own kooky brand of dunderheadedness. The show could also shine an interesting spotlight on the wackiness of local government. As a young newspaper reporter who covered my fair share of small town meetings, I know that there's plenty of material the writers can mine to make this show an entertaining, comedic romp, with Poehler at the helm.

Image credit: NBC.

No comments: