I didn’t like the Office. I’m sorry. I’d go as far as to say I loathed it, gritting my teeth with rage every time someone was bleating on about how it redefined comedy, how Ricky Gervais was a comedy genius (do you people remember the 11 O Clock Show?) and how it was practically a new genre of comedic wonder. Yeah, whatever.
However, The Office got ported off Stateside, where it found new stars, and more importantly something that it lacked in the UK version... a bit of heart. I’ve started to catch up with the US Office, and it’s made me realise what I hated about the original, as the new writing and new cast give it warmth, and although you still cringe at the awfulness of the things that happen, it happens to people you enjoy watching and care about.
All of this preamble leads me to what I actually want to talk about, which isn’t the Office at all, but follows that same documentary-of-the-uncomfortable style. I mean, of course, Parks And Recreation, now well into its second season in the US. A fantastic cast of relative unknowns, led by SNL’s Amy Pohler run the parks department in the local government of Pawnee. I’m not going to tell you what goes on, not because it would spoil the fun... it’s just that the situations are pretty much irrelevant in a show that is so well held up by its characters.
Top of the pile is Leslie Knope (Pohler), who is ludicrously enthusiastic, unfathomably moral, and holds on to her impossible dreams and ambitions with crazed fervour. For the first few episodes, it seems that she’ll be terribly annoying, but somehow the opposite happens. Despite her many failings, Leslie Knope is played as being basically sweet, and always trying to do the right thing by herself, her friends, and her city. It’s a testament to Pohler’s talent that it works so well, and it’s the core of the warmth and heart of the show.
“Bah, warmth and heart? Bollocks to that!”, some might say. We want our comedy mean and dark and cruel. Well tough, that’s not the P&R way. While the mockumentary style is lifted directly from The Office, I think this show has something different at its core, and the only comparison I can make in terms of how it feels is that it’s like The Good Life (which, if you haven’t watched it, stop reading now, go and find it somewhere, and watch it). It’s an old-fashioned comedy in a new-fangled style. The characters are people to celebrate, and the problems they face (with inevitable hi-jinks and hilarious consequences) are what make them, and by association the show, loveable.
So there you have it, you haven’t even met these people yet, but I urge you to do so – and as the second season progresses, the show has really found itself, with the supporting cast really getting their chance to shine (of particular note is the ongoing relationship between Andy and April), and there are some great third-tier performances from Louis CK and... er... that woman with the squeaky voice from Will & Grace. Rather than facing the dreaded second season slump, Parks And Recreation is only getting better as the writers and cast push out more of the potential from their characters, so really, go and watch it right away – you’ll see that uncomfortable comedy doesn’t have to be mean comedy.
If nothing else, you can bask in the mighty glory of Ron Swanson’s moustache. GOD DAMN IT’S BIG.