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Parks and Recreation: Season 4 Premiere

By Scott Root · September 26, 2011

Parks and Recreation began as a cheap rip-off of The Office. There was the shaky camera work, the abnormal boss, and every color of strange coworker. In four seasons, not much has changed. It still feels like it’s trying to be the office, but that it can’t quite nail the formula well enough to suck me into it. It essentially has all of the elements of The Office, but done half as well.

First of all, looking at Aziz Ansari’s character, Tom, coming back to the department after starting his “international entertainment” company feels like a poor imitation of BJ Novack’s meteoric rise and subsequent fall at Dunder Mifflin. He came on spouting all of this amazing rhetoric and appeared to double the paper company’s sales, but he actually had no idea what he was doing nor did he understand the ramifications of his actions. Tom has the same problem with his company. He’s created something that sounds really important and marketable, but all he really knows is how to make swag for his company. The main difference is that on The Office something, the future of Dunder Mifflin, was actually at stake if Novack’s character failed. For Tom, it seems like we’ll watch him blunder around for a season before finally coming “home” to the department. There’s definitely some opportunity for comedy in this little subplot, but there’s nothing to lose when his company ultimately folds.

Of course, the main plot also seems like something shamelessly ripped off from The Office. This season, Leslie Knope (Amy Poeler) will be running for political office. Granted, the other show has never taken on this plot exactly, but it was really only a matter of time. It seems that this plot could easily be on The Office if only the best qualities of Michael Scott, Jim, and Dwight were all combined into one person… oh wait, that person IS Leslie Knope. She’s devoted to her job in the way Michael Scott was, she’s personable like Jim, and she’s as thorough as Dwight. In fact, she doesn’t seem to have many flaws at all. She’s a shoe-in to win the race, because she handles everything in the episode pretty much perfectly.

Sure, at one point, she runs off into the woods to get away from her problems, but the fact is that she comes to her senses pretty quickly and faces her problems head-on. Actually, this isn’t even really a problem, because most normal, healthy people go through a similar process when faced with problems. Though the first instinct is to runaway, they successfully come back to their problem and face it after a short period of avoidance. In fact, I would personally find it a bigger character flaw if she didn’t avoid her problems at all. She, quite frankly, needs a major character flaw, and there are two ways that it could cut. She either needs to be a bit too thorough to the point where she can’t focus on anything without following to it’s extreme logical conclusion, which would cause her to be bogged down later in the season as running for office becomes a bigger task, or she needs to have so much ambition that she doesn’t care what comes her way, and she chops down her problems at the root.

Of course, both of these have the potential to be quite interesting. The latter would have more impact for this episode as what she was facing was breaking up with her “boyfriend” played by Adam Scott, who also happens to be her supervisor. Though Scott’s performance is the most redeeming and unique part of the show, the conflict doesn’t live up to the potential. He’s a bit too ready to accept that Poehler’s character needs to break up with him for her own shot at political office. Where’s the conflict?

TV should be about characters the viewers want to come back to watch week in and week out. Having a critical and inflexible flaw is crucial to creating characters that will always be the source of their own problems. We watch TV to see the characters make bad choices. We yell at them not to open that door, or date that hobo, or run for office. Unfortunately, the characters in Parks and Recreation don’t seem to have the kind of irredeemable flaws that makes me want to come back to them week to week. Leslie is just too good at handling her own problems. Everyone is mature, and quite frankly, boring.

The main difference between The Office and Parks and Recreation is that at least The Office has characters that seem to be incapable of repairing their flaws. Their good intentions get the best of them. Conversely, characters on Parks and Recreation have good intentions that pan out quite nicely. The road to hell is supposed to be paved with good intentions, but at this point it seems unlikely that any character from Parks and Rec will go through hell’s gates, this (or any future) season.