Parks & Recreation Is Awesome

parks and recreation castI sure have fallen for Parks and Recreation. This is a show that I went from writing off to enjoying to abandoning to now mainlining on Netflix. Thanks to a bad start that went way too The Office, my wife and I weren’t fans of the first few episodes. Eventually we came back around and watched chunks of various early seasons but fell off thanks to the many time slot changes and other shows popping up we were more into. Now, I can’t think of a better show on television (or that was on TV).

I know a lot of people call this the Golden Age of TV because shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and True Detective are telling these amazing, complex, dark stories, but the shows that I continue to be drawn to all revolve around friendship. I realized not long ago that, instead of watching mean teenagers get bumped off in horror films or henchmen get face-kicked in action films, comedies make me feel better when I’m down. Sure the laughs in Parks & Rec, but I can’t think of a show that’s a better example of what real, honest human relationships should and can be like than this one.

As a work-from-home dad who spends the majority of his time behind a keyboard partially below ground whose friends all have regular jobs in other parts of the state and country (who is also super-shy, but thrives on human interaction), it can be difficult for me being so isolated. I love my wife and kids and my folks moved here not long ago which was an amazing sacrifice on their part, but you start to miss your friends and wonder if you still even have connections to those people when you mostly exist to them as a person on an email chain.

Recently, I had the chance to be a good friend and was helped out by another. A friend-since-high school’s brother passed away a few weeks ago and I drove to Ohio to be there at the wake and the funeral before coming right back home. It was an important thing for me to do because being friends isn’t just hanging out, drinking beer and telling old stories, it’s being there for the hard times as well. Thanks to the support of my wife and parents, I was able to make this happen and I’m glad I did. Another longtime friend and his wife were nice enough to let me stay on their couch the one night I was in town, so the circle kept on going. This past weekend, another set of good friends came up for a visit. I can’t even remember the last time just the four of us hung out. It was a great recharge for my system.

Anyway, this is all a long-winded way of saying that friendship has been on my mind a lot lately and Parks & Rec exemplifies how I feel about friendship in all of it’s many forms. First of all you’ve got Amy Poehler’s Leslie who is such an amazing, positive person that she actually makes everyone around her better. Her peers and even superiors see this and do their best to help her in any way they can. They don’t just vote for her when she runs for city counsel, they run her campaign. You really get to see this intense friendship these people have formed in the Season 5 episode “Ben’s Parents” when just about everyone from the office threatens Ben (Adam Scott) harm if he hurts Leslie.

But, it’s not just that. Like I said above, being a friend involves wading into the bad times with them, but also moving way outside of your comfort zone to help them. The loner April (Aubrey Plaza) participates in government not just because Leslie and other characters believe in her, but because she knows they would help her out. Ron, the grizzled anarchist/libertarian often times breaks his rule of staying out of peoples’ business because he knows that no one has a bigger hear than Leslie. Or Tom (Aziz Ansari). Or Andy. And, at the same time, he’s grown a bond with April thanks to their shared interest in not liking most people. We also get to see the real talks that people have when they’re this close. Anne (Rashida Jones) might not have it together as much as Leslie does, but she is often the voice of reason when the overly enthusiastic government employ starts to lose her way.

The romantic relationships are also some of the best around. They’re real and complicated and feel earned even though you don’t necessarily spend entire seasons wondering if the people will get together or not. I worried that Andy (Chris Pratt) and April might be rushing into things too quickly when they got married, but the work so well together, it’s amazing! And how great is it watching Ben and Leslie? Sure there was some of that will-they-won’t-they stuff, but most of it felt real and honest instead of “Uh oh, Ross came back from Europe with a girlfriend just as Rachel realized she loved him!” (I love Friends, but boy did that relationship tumble around like a drunken gymnast.)

Better yet, those relationships have grown and changed over the seasons (I’m towards the beginning of five as I write this). If you saw a first season episode with April being snotty and then a fourth season one of her being nice to Chris (Rob Lowe), you might think the character had been radically altered for some reason, but watching the whole thing shows you all the good things that she’s done that have changed her in various ways. Some people balk at the idea of changing. They think that however they are is the way they are and that’s that, but my parents instilled in me pretty early on that people go through life and a lot of different things can happen that result in changes. Basically, nobody’s perfect, but there are ways to better yourself and P&R shows that without being preachy or even that obvious about it.

All of this might sound like I’m talking about a serious show, but it’s also one of the funniest around. How can you not like Ron? Or cringe-laugh at all of Jerry’s nonsense. Or just love (and pity) Tom at the same time? I laugh so loud at some Andy-related incidents that I worry I might wake the kids up.

And a lot of those laughs come from the show’s own sense of continuity and history. I’ve always been drawn to narratives that give readers or viewers or listeners little easter eggs. The world of Pawnee Indiana is filled with insane sugar companies, wildly literal newcasters, the oddest assortment of residents this side of Twin Peaks and people who adore a tiny horse simply for existing. These more out-there elements get balanced so well with the heart-based ones that you almost don’t notice. The little nods here and there to previous storylines and episodes probably would have gone unnoticed by me were I watching this series when it was on, but I’m catching and appreciating a lot of them this time around.

All in all, I’ve had an amazing time re-watching this show and can’t wait to see how it ends. I’ve seen that the last season isn’t on Netflix Instant yet, so I just added them to my disc queue and will pop them up top when the time comes.

Canceled TV Cavalcade: Party Down (2009-2010)

I don’t remember exactly when my wife and I tried watching Party Down for the first time. I think it was before we finished Veronica Mars (possibly before we even started) and might have even been while she was still pregnant. We watched the first two episodes of the show about a group of LA carterers who all want to be doing something else and then stopped. I’ll get to why in a bit.

To break things down, you’ve got Ken Marino playing the very enthusiastic boss who wants to own his own salad restaurant franchise, Adam Scott plays a former actor just trying to make ends meet, Lizzy Caplan wants to be a comedian/actress, Martin Starr wants to write hard sci-fi screenplays, Jane Lynch was an actress and Ryan Hansen also wants to be an actor. Each episodes features the gang working some kind of event from a funeral to an NFL draft party and sweet 16s to singles parties. The events themselves lead to various misunderstandings, but there are also overarching stories about these people, their relationships and what’s going on outside of work.

Much like Louie, a show whose first season I watched and wrote about over on my dad blog Pop Poppa, the thing that makes Party Down click for me is how real it gets at times. Sure, there are the usual sticky relationships between some of the caterers, but  there are also some real moments of camaraderie between these people who would otherwise not even know one another.

The moments that got to me the most, though were the ones closest to home. Seeing as how the cast of characters is essentially made up of people trying to follow their very-difficult-to-attain dreams, there are several moments throughout the 20 episode series where they question whether their goals are actually attainable or not. As someone who would love to get his act together and write a book or a screenplay, I can completely relate to this. When is it time to finally give up and move on to a job at the Post Office or something? Or isn’t there a time? The great thing about this series is that, one of these low points actually takes place at an awkwardly planned orgy party.

The reason my wife and I stopped watching Party Down the first time around is because the second episode isn’t very good. The mostly liberal caterers find themselves working a college conservative party that Governor Schwarzenneger is supposed to attend. The political angel is actually fine, but Marino’s arc in the episode is just ridiculous and involves him not only dealing with one ruined flag that’s supposed to be given to the governor, but later taking a different flag, dirtying it on the ground right out in front of the party and accidentally setting it on fire. It sounds like something out of an old slapstick movie. I’ve got no problem with slapstick, but it just doesn’t fit the overall tone of the show and didn’t make me want to keep watching. I know a few other people I’ve talked to stalled out here, but I really recommend powering through or just skipping that one and moving on through the rest of the series.