July 24, 2013

The Awl - Weird Politics of Parks & Rec

I have watched all five seasons of Parks & Rec compressed into the last 6 weeks. There was a clear shift from season one to the rest of the series. I noticed it mostly in the characters, but it was in the politics too.

I’m not sure what the writers envisioned when then started the show, but it is clear that vision changed by the end of season one for whatever reason. It went from a pseudo-realistic look at small town politics to a (arguably better) show that lived in a fantasy world where nothing really mattered and smiles and sunshine got the job done.[1]

I’m not sure you can fault a sitcom for not showing a realistic look at what it takes to navigate local government. Nobody wants to watch that. Maybe not nobody. Mike Barthel at theawl.com has an interesting take on the series that I mostly agree with except the whole part about wanting a more realistic depiction of local government.

“Parks and Rec” presents a provincial utopia of philosoraptor-kings in which there are never competing legitimate interests, never hard choices, and never any need to engage in political maneuvering. Between seasons one and three, Leslie Knope’s fiefdom transformed from a recognizable example of small-city politics to a kind of put-a-bird-on-it polis where decisions are made not on the basis of power (or analytical rigor) but out of authenticity, whimsy and friendship.

I enjoy Parks & Rec in spite of its subject matter. I liked all the first five seasons and the article above was clearly written before the 5th season aired. Season five dives more into the adversity involved with politics, in my opinion, to the detriment of the show. They’ve also marched out characters like councilman Jamm and Mona Lisa which further remove Pawnee from any real life Indiana town. Parks & Rec hasn’t jumped any sharks. Not even close. But It might be getting its life jacket buckled. I feel like they have put themselves in a weird spot going into season six.

➔ The Weird, Frictionless Politics Of ‘Parks And Recreation’ | The Awl


  1. The ├╝ber-niceness of the show and characters made their cruel treatment of Jerry so effective. It has always been one of my favorite running gags.  ↩



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