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 V.18 No.16 | April 16 - 22, 2009 

Idiot Box

Familiar Ground

“Parks and Recreation” on NBC

Still looking to fill gaps in its Thursday night schedule (See ya, “Kath & Kim.” Not like we’ll miss ya.), NBC has talked the creators of “The Office” into contributing another sitcom. Though “Parks and Recreation” isn’t an actual spin-off of “The Office,” it’s as close in subject and tone as a show can be. Wisely, the show is designed as a vehicle for star Amy Poehler.

Poehler made waves in her time on “Saturday Night Live” and has recently tried her hand at the movie scene (co-starring in Baby Mama and teaming up with hubby Will Arnett as ice-skating siblings in Blades of Glory). She’s a go-to ensemble gal but may not quite fit the lead actress mold. Which is why “Parks and Recreation” makes for such a good, low-key showcase.

Poehler plays Leslie Knope, a midlevel bureaucrat in the Parks and Recreation Department of unexciting Pawnee, Ind. Her sunny, unflappable optimism (borrowed, perhaps, from the immortal Tracy Flick in Election) puts her at odds with her corrupt, bored, mostly uncaring office mates. Knope actually relishes her chance to go in front of the public and listen to their often useless concerns. “These people are the members of the community that care about where they live,” says Knope in the pilot episode’s best line. “So what I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring ... loudly at me.”

The show gets its initial story arc from “The Office” grad Rashida Jones, who plays a nurse trying to get the gaping pit of an abandoned condo development next to her home filled in. Sensing her chance to shine, Knope adopts this as her cause célèbre, vowing to build a park on the site. Leslie’s boss (Nick Offerman) is of no help, admitting he thinks all public parks should be turned over to corporations “like Chuck E. Cheese.”

The faux documentary style of the show may feel overly familiar—especially located so close to “The Office.” So, too, may the main character’s cheerfully delusional, lacking in self-awareness attitude (shades of Michael Scott). And so far, the show lacks the quirky spontaneity of “The Office.” It’s amusing, but it’s not yet funny. But then, it took “The Office” a while to break out of the shadow of its British predecessor. Poehler is a ringer, and if anyone can make this a success, it’s her. She’s got a good cast around her. Aziz Ansari (from “Human Giant”) makes an impression as Knope’s openly lecherous co-worker, and Offerman (“American Body Shop”) is particularly suited to his role of uncaring autocrat. (The giant poster of Bobby Knight behind his desk is an especially nice detail.)

For all intents and purposes, “Parks and Recreation” is “The Office” with more fresh air. But if you like “The Office,” this spin-off-that’s-not-a-spin-off makes for an appropriate lead-in.

“Parks and Recreation” airs every Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on KOB-4.

 

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