Literary Television: Parks and Recreation
This post ended up being fairly long. I have no apology. The blog should be long since I’m talking about the entire series of a show, consisting of 6 seasons. It’s like writing about an entire book series, and that simply cannot be done in just 500 words.
So the idea behind this post is that I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting time doing other activities. So I am going to write about them as though they are pertinent to what this blog is about. And, it is really. TV shows are stories, just like books are stories, and this blog is about me dissecting stories and writing my own (I know the focus of this blog seems to be malleable. Wasn’t this blog originally about me reading a top 100 list?).
I used to feel bad about binge watching shows, but then I realized I do the same thing with books or my own writing or a video game. I get into something and I can’t stop until I finish it or until I get bored. I used to berate myself for binge watching television. Because it’s supposed to be bad for you, I guess. I would feel guilty about it and just feel like shit, yet I couldn’t stop until it was finished. I’ve decided I was wrong to treat myself in that way. I should lean into the quirks of my personality. TV shows are just stories after all. It is a different form of literature. Why is it OK for me to do it with a book and not with television? The answer is that it isn’t fair.
I’m slowly learning to accept myself and not force myself to adhere to some alien expectations that I cannot meet. I am who I am, and it’s weird how long it is taking to realize this stuff. Or maybe I’m making excuses for being a shitty person. See? I still can’t squelch it.
Literary Television. This will be the name of the new category I will have on the blog. will analyze television shows (the entirety or at least until I’m current) the same as I do books. Though they won’t be as often. I even planned on doing a top 10 movie list. Not my own, mind you. But I will watch someone else’s (like WatchMojo’s on youtube) and then talk about how they are wrong…that seems to be what I’ve been doing anyway. It all started as a way to embrace new stories, but I have a knack of bitching about how stupid I think other people are, and it feels wasteful to ignore that special talent.
Without further ado….the first Literary Television blog….
Parks and Recreation. The best show in the world that my sister dislikes. “Terrible” I think was the word she used to describe this wonderful show. Though she did laugh quite a bit when I forced her to watch an episode. She claims Amy Poehler is the problem, but I argue that one gets used to and even starts to care about her character.
I watched five and a half seasons of Parks and Recs in under two weeks.
I actually tried this show a while ago. Back when the first season was just starting, and I thought it sucked. It was nearly identical (in my mind) to The Office. It was mockumentary, but the mirroring was found within the main character, Leslie Knope. She had the same personality as Michael Scott from The Office. She was overly confident and under competent. She was ditzy and nagging. And the show was centered on her messing up everything and then embarrassingly trying to fix it (just like Michael in The Office). That was enough to turn me off the show.
I went back to Parks and Recs for a couple of reasons. The first is because it has been on for six seasons. In my mind this means that it had to be good, at least to someone. It also had actors that I liked. I like Aziz Ansari’s stand-up. And despite never seeing the show, I know Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) well, though not personally. He seems to be everywhere. And with Guardians of the Galaxy coming out, I found myself getting a man crush on Chris Pratt. I needed something to distract me for a while, so I gave a random sixth season episode a chance, and I thought it was great. I watched the next episode just to make sure and it yielded the same results. I laughed out loud a couple of time in each episode (I should note that I generally don’t laugh out loud, I may grin or snort, but rarely do I LOL).
I promptly went to my Amazon Prime account and began the second season. I didn’t want to go back to the first season because I had a suspicion that it would put me off the show again. It turned out to be a great decision. Only later, after watching the whole of the Parks and Recs catalog, did I go back and watch the first season. It was only six episodes. And most of the characters were different. I noticed this in watching from the second season, but I genuinely thought it was my perception of the characters from five years ago that made me think they were different. Nope. The show runners purposefully changed the characters.
Leslie Knope was changed, but in subtle ways. She is still overly confident and a bit annoying, but now she is overly competent instead of incompetent, and she is underappreciated, which makes her a more sympathetic character. She went from ditzy to clever, but she still had that fun airy side, but it comes off as more nerdy than buffoon. She always tries her hardest and always does a tremendous job, the problem is that she is rarely given the credit she deserves.
The character of Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) is a struggle musician, but he was also an asshole. In the first season, I mean. In the second season he was more of a puppy. He says funny things and he’s a dumbass, but he means well. No longer a prick at all.
The last really big change was with the character of Ron Swanson. After the first season his mustache thickened and he became more distant from responsibility. In the first season he is willingly going to hearings and running meetings and playing scrabble online. The second season on drops these qualities. He hates technology and even buys a typewriter at one point and uses that instead of the computer. He hates doing anything work related which goes better with his other quirks, like hating the government. It makes sense since he works for the government, why would he want to try at his job? He also relies heavily on Leslie’s over-competence. It gives them a great relationship and one that is more than a “will they, won’t they” which is what the show seemed to be doing in the first season.
I’d like to talk about the mockumentary format for a moment. I like it. I enjoyed Arrested Development, Modern Family, The Office, and I’m sure there’s another one I’m not thinking of. The mockumentary format allows the audience to get a candid piece of emotion that they wouldn’t have normally gotten from the character. For you Office fans, think of Jim’s coy glance at the camera every time Michael said or did something ridiculous. These moments are great. They can add depth to a character.
Also, in the mockumentary, the characters actually tell the audience what they are thinking. This can add tension to an otherwise dull situation and it can also add quite a bit of comedy. You can also get a candid remark about a situation and get to know what a character was thinking during a scene after the fact. It is a different type of funny.
Finally (mockumentary finally, not blog finally), the mockumentary style of acting seems more sincere than the run of the mill comedy acting. On Friends, there was always a level of over acting. This is seen on all other single camera or multi-camera shows, How I Met Your Mother, for instance. In a stage comedy where the show is filmed in front of an audience (Big Bang Theory) the actors seem to yell all of their lines. The formula for the jokes on BBT are also more obvious, which I also think comes with the live audience filming. To keep the live audience, thus the television audience engaged, the jokes have to be rapid fire, and there always seems to be the same cadence of line, line, joke, on that show. Everything is to build to a joke, which is usually a sarcastic remark or an “Oh Sheldon,” moment which is eerily reminiscent of Family Matters and Urkel. The comedy is more “in your face,” whereas with mockumentary it is more subtle.
Now I’ll jump off from that point. The comedy in Parks and Recs is more subtle, but they implement more off-the-wall characters than The Office did. The Office seemed to only have Michael and Dwight, and everyone else was “normal.” In Parks and Recs everyone has a certain level of normality, but each character is over the top in their own special way, and just enough to keep the laughs coming.
Something that I noticed with different series when I watch them is that they become stale. The same jokes are told over and over again (Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock) or an introduction of a new character doesn’t quite work (The Office). I realize that The Office might not be obvious to everyone. I’m referring to Michael Scott leaving and then Andy Bernard tried to replace him. It didn’t work.
Parks and Recs, when they add new characters, they introduce new personalities. If a person leaves the show, the show runners bring in a fresh outlook on the world, not just a rehashing of the person that is now gone. And after six seasons the show still is stale free because of that reason. There are the laughs that come consistently every episode from Ron Swanson and Andy Dwyer, but other characters take turns giving the viewer a laugh. I enjoy how well rounded the show is.
There are quite a few characters that are small roles that reprise every season for just one episode or two. There are too many great guest stars to list.
The best aspect of the show has to be the writing. The moments are believable and the situations have a weight to them, and despite the silliness of some of the characters the important moments of the show really have an impact. The characters are sincere and they are likable. Some of the stories are even inspiring, like with Andy and April’s relationship (the new Jim and Pam as I like to call it) and Leslie’s political run for city council.
I think it really is a great show and Ron Swanson is one of my favorite characters ever. He’s up there with Jack Donaghy and Barney Stinson.
Anyway, it’s a good show. I’m not rating these in any way. I wouldn’t have watched more than one episode if I thought that the show sucked. It took me two weeks to watch 2,200 minutes of television. That’s roughly 37 hours. Man do I manage my time well. And apparently you do just as well if you’ve managed to read all the way to this line.