A Love Letter to Parks and Recreation

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STUDIO CITY, CA – OCTOBER 16: (L-R) Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Retta, Michael Schur, Adam Scott, Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari, Jim O’Heir, Aubrey Plaza and Rob Lowe attend the “Parks And Recreation” 100th episode celebration held at CBS Studios – Radford on October 16, 2013 in Studio City, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic) Michael Tran FilmMagic

Thank God, sometimes you do get a second chance to make a first impression. As I gauged different ways to open this tribute, dedicated to a television show that means so much to me, that’s given me so many laughs and shown the right way to do comedy for seven seasons, it’s that sentiment that stuck out the most. Ironically, and sometimes things just work out in life, we’ve reached Number Two on our Outkick the Coverage comedy rankings. It wasn’t planned to be this way, but I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute to one of my favorite shows of all time than to quote the title of Leslie Knope’s book:

Welcome to Pawnee, the greatest town in America.


I honestly feel like I should be writing this piece next week at this time, but I need to get further away from the actual run of Parks to see whether it could topple the steel giant we’ll be discussing as we finish the comedy list. Regardless, it’s without question that Parks and Recreation, which completed its seventh and final season last night on NBC, is the most consistently brilliant comedy I’ve ever seen. But, just like Ben Wyatt, who became a great leader, there was an Ice Town moment.

When Parks was first advertised and I read the initial blurbs about the show, my initial thought echoed many avid television junkies: Are they just putting The Office in a government setting? The way it was shot, the mockumentary format, it being on NBC and initially placed after the Thursday Night powerhouse, what else could I think? By that time, I felt The Office was past its peak and I wanted something new. Early in Season 3, I started reading rave reviews about this NBC show I continually believed was dead in the water and hadn’t watched as of that time. I acquired copies and decided I’d give it a shot. The first season of Parks was fine. It was perfectly fine. It wasn’t a standout and it didn’t elicit much of a response from me, but I was dedicated and I wanted to give it more than those six episodes.

One of the main problems with the first year, other than it being a little dry, was the character of Andy Dwyer, played by Chris Pratt, who I’d never laid eyes on before. Andy was a sad sack slob who had an attractive, intelligent girlfriend, and treated her like garbage. He had no ambition. He fell into a pit outside the couple’s home and broke both his legs, then expected Ann (Rashida Jones) to wait on him hand and foot. He also milked it for all it was worth, even when he was nearly healthy. She advocated for the pit to be filled in, which is how she met Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). I didn’t dislike Andy. I hated Andy. He was ruining any chance I had of enjoying Parks & Rec in that first year. I was definitely on the fence, but wanted to understand why so many people were so adamant in their love of this show set in Pawnee, Indiana.

Season 2 opened a little stronger, but still I wasn’t sold. Then came “Sister City”, which was the eleventh overall episode of Parks and Rec. It was a story about Pawnee’s sister city, Boraqua, Venezuela. The Boraquan parks department visited Indiana, led by Raul (Fred Armisen). This was the episode that had me laughing hysterically, thanks to the cultural differences and the way Amy and Fred played off each other. Here, I started to feel affection for the show. By the end of that second year, I was fully infatuated with Parks and Recreation. Once the third season concluded, I was in full on love. This dame completed me. I needed to put a ring on it with a quickness.

The Leslie Knope character changed in the down time between the first two seasons, in similar fashion to Michael Scott’s transformation in the early years of The Office. However, while Scott was written far more silly and ridiculous, Knope was shifted to become smart, driven, and respected. Both worked for their respective programs and for their specific audience. At some point, very early in its run, the minds that created and crafted Parks figured out what they wanted their show to be and they made those ambitions their reality. In the process, they left us last night with some of the best characters, some of the finest storytelling, some of the funniest one-liners, some of the smartest, cleanest humor, and one of the most improbably well-crafted ensemble casts in television history.

How do I pay tribute to this wonderful show that’s given me so much joy over the past several years? I’m not sure there’s a way to provide it with the level of accolade it deserves, but crowning it number two in this list, above some other fabulous and well-decorated comedies, hopefully is a start. Truly, once “Sister City” aired, Parks never made a misstep. They got everything right, every single thing, to the point it was almost annoying. These guys just couldn’t screw up. Michael Schur and Greg Daniels, who collaborated to create Parks & Rec in 2009, used the talent in their brains and subsequently allowed the talent in their midst to flourish.

They got everything right, but how right? Well, the prime example is the one mentioned earlier. Andy Dwyer went from a loathsome character to an appointment character. He was pure hearted, his brand of stupid was uproariously funny, and, in true Jim and Pam fashion, once he found the love of his life, he didn’t screw it up. April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) was the perfect woman for Andy, and vice versa. After a misunderstanding that stretched it out just a bit, Parks & Rec put the couple together, for good. There was no screaming, no hatred, no tension, just pure happiness and peace. They matched. There was no reason to mess with it once it was done, just let them be great on screen together. They became terrific individual characters and were dynamite as a duo.

When Rob Lowe and Adam Scott joined the cast, as with many shows, there were questions as to whether the new additions would change the formula or lead to some kind of imbalance. Instead, both became highlights. Scott’s portrayal of Ben Wyatt ended up being one of the more important fixtures of the latter seasons and his love of Game of Thrones and Batman and so many other geek icons was a needed contrast that added another pop culture dimension to the show. Lowe’s Chris Traeger character, originally just planned for a handful of appearances, felt like he was written as a regular all along. They were both tremendous characters and the work was top notch.

Parks and Recreation evolved from season to season but it never felt like it lost its overall focus or changed into a different show. Some actors left, some arrived, but Parks was always Parks. The biggest reason for the continuity was in the rock solid consistency of its main cast, which started at the top with Amy Poehler.

We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third. (Leslie Knope – S3E13)

Here’s the most obscenely glowing compliment I can pay to this intergalactic-level talent for this epic performance. Amy Poehler, through her work with the Upright Citizens Brigade and later on Saturday Night Live, is as good a sketch performer as your preferred deity of choice could dream up on his (or her) best day. She was incredible on SNL, both at the Update desk and with her character work on the show. On UCB, she was indispensably good. Male or female, she could compete and shine with anybody. She was good enough to stand next to Gilda, in Radner’s time period, and hold her own, perhaps even ascend past any of her cohorts. She worked with Ferrell and didn’t disappear into the background. She sat next to the most talented collection of women Lorne Michaels ever employed and was arguably the best of all of them. She was astonishing. She was timeless. She was just so damn good. And…

Parks and Recreation is the best work she’s ever done.

Are you kidding me? This sketch goddess, this beautiful woman seemingly made of smiles and laughter, actually exceeded all of it with what she did on a low rated comedy show on NBC? You’d better believe it. No one else could have played Leslie Knope. Put her next to Gandolfini or Cranston or, in her own genre, O’Connor or Grammer. These roles where it seems positively unimaginable to see anyone else in that slot, Poehler is right there with all of them. She was so good for so long on Parks that it remains positively criminal that she’s never won an Emmy, particularly because she has been nominated five times and has lost out in each.

Poehler wasn’t alone in terms of a Parks character an actor was born to play. Maybe even more flawlessly matched was Illinois-born Nick Offerman to Pawnee parks department director Ron Swanson, who I’m ready to call my favorite television comedy character — ever. Swanson worked for the Parks department in a position of authority and loathed government. He was as conservative as a man could be, believing in all the relevant rights to privacy, to bear arms, and to be left alone. He was a simple man, who once said as much, adding, “I like pretty dark haired women and breakfast food.” He was a meat eater. He liked woodworking and manual labor. He trusted no one with even the smallest morsel of personal information. And, he was a riot.

History began on July 4, 1776. Everything that happened before that was a mistake. (S6E1)


I am an official member of a task force dedicated to slashing the city budget. Just saying that gave me a semi. (S2E24)


Leslie: Why would anybody ever eat anything besides breakfast food?

Ron: People are idiots, Leslie. (S2E20)


I call this turf ‘n’ turf. It’s a 16 oz T-bone and a 24 oz porterhouse. Also, whiskey and a cigar. I am going to consume all of this at the same time because I am a free American. (S2E15)

Offerman and Swanson felt like the same person, to the point that some of the artsy side of his book, “Paddle Your Own Canoe,” kind of surprised me because I was expecting to read stories about claymores and not owning a GPS device. Nick is an accomplished carpenter and woodworker, however. His wife, Megan Mullally, who played Ron’s second wife, “Tammy Two”, is an expert at playing insane, sex-crazed women. Tammy Two was just that kind of psycho, which allowed her to excel in a way I haven’t seen since her breakout work on Will & Grace. And, her cleavage is outstanding. I say that because I know she would appreciate it…and because I appreciate it.

Leslie: Basically, we’re being attacked by Godzilla, and to beat Godzilla, we need Mothra. No offense.

Tammy Two: None taken. I’m very flattered. Who’s this? Who’s this tall drink of water?

Andy: Andy.

Tammy Two: Hey, Andy. How’s it hanging?

Leslie: Listen, we need to break Ron from her spell! Can’t you just move your butt around or wear a dress made out of meat?

Tammy Two: Well I could do all of these things, and have, but that bitch is crazy. When Ron left her and we got together, she threw acid on my foot. (S4E2)

I thought Aziz Ansari was a funny guy and was a big fan of his first televised comedy special. But, he’s always going to be Tom Haverford, the sarcastic, idealistic, trendy, fad oriented underling that worked for Leslie Knope. Haverford’s reliance on the quotes and successes of Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, and every other hip hop or Hollywood star of the moment never ceased to be funny. Schur, Daniels, and the rest of the team took it to another level when they brought Ben Schwartz into the proceedings to play Tom’s friend and later his business partner, Jean-Ralphio, who was even more obsessed with the same type of things, and was also lazier, less intelligent, and far creepier.

Tom: This is Ben. He’s here to help us with the paperwork.

Jean-Ralphio: Ben is that your real name?

Ben: Yes…

Jean-Ralphio: Oh you could do better than that. I’m gonna help you out right now, your name is Angelo. Angelo thank you so much for coming out. Get a thicker tie, it looks weird on you. It makes your head look like a fish. Secondly, I don’t know where the paperwork is, but when you find it can you take care of it for us? We don’t have any pens ’cause we’re afraid it’s gonna leak on our shirts. Well actually I hate the name Angelo I’m gonna switch it up for you right now. Your new nickname is


Jean-Ralphio: Jell-o shot. What do you think about that J-shot? Any questions? (S4E2)

Characters like Tom and Andy showcase the gift of Parks and Recreation and also illustrate the skill of those associated with the project. Both characters grew from one dimensional, flat, stereotypical males into fully realized men with emotions, with goals, and with newfound maturity. Well, relative maturity. Andy is playfully ignorant and an adult adolescent. Chris Pratt improvised lines and is crazy funny on the outtakes. He was great in Guardians, but Andy Dwyer is his Requiem. He creates an entire alter ego, FBI super-agent Burt Macklin, who fights against fictional villains. He’s also “framed for a crime I didn’t commit”. Later, he becomes Johnny Karate. That character is enough to put the show in the top five. In most cases, both Tom and Andy made me laugh far more as they became aware of people other than themselves, but the more over the top stuff works better with a foundation that has something holding it together.

Andy: I tried to make ramen in the coffee pot and broke everything. (S4E11)



Andy: I’m allergic to sushi. Every time I eat more than 80 sushis, I barf. (S5E9)


Leslie: So, I was wondering, how did we get matched up on hoosiermate.com?


Tom: I created 26 different profiles, each one to attract a different girl. Tom A. Haverford is athletic. Tom B. Haverford is brave. Which letter did you get?

Leslie: N, Tom N. Haverford.

Tom: Ha! The n stands for nerd. I never check that one because no one ever responds to it. Tom N. Haverford collects globes. His favorite movie is books. (S3E10)


Tom: On a scale of one to Chris Brown, how pissed is he? (S2E10)

Retta, who played Donna Meagle, went from background to rack focused in front. Donna evolved from an office employee to Tom’s “Treat Yo’Self” partner in crime and an exceptional realtor. Retta, maybe more than just about anybody in the cast, could flip the switch from being selfish to selfless and sell it as a performer. Just last week, she showed it as she first used and then later did a major favor for Garry Gergich (Jim O’Heir).

One of the first casting choices for the show was Rashida Jones, who played Ann Perkins, a nurse who would become Leslie’s best friend. Jones was Jim Halpert’s girlfriend in the third season of The Office, and Parks was indeed originally conceived as a spinoff, though Rashida wouldn’t be playing Karen Filippelli. Ann’s love life, while not usually Parks’ greatest source for entertainment, helped to move the show along. She was with Andy, leading April to see her as an enemy until the bitter end. When she got with the city planner, Mark (Paul Schneider), that romance created conflict with Leslie, who was in love with him. Her relationship with Chris Traeger would help to complete both of those characters stories on the show, and also created the dramatic on again, off again stuff that enabled other relationships to be left in peace.

Ann: Hey April. I thought you could use some pillows?

April: Are you trying to smother me?

April: [grabbing a knife] Help! This lady nurse is trying to smother me to death with a pillow!

Ann: Okay, never mind.

April: Stay back! Slut! (S3E2)

Ann Perkins, who had a serious job and made attempts at a more serious life, was very reminiscent of what Ben Wyatt would become. Both were paired with Leslie and the juxtaposition and differences between Knope and either one of those two always provided the right comedic mix. Also, in the heaviest moments, when the show did want to push emotional buttons, the chemistry amongst either pairing was impeccable. Rashida is yet another sterling example of the right person for the part.

As funny as Parks and Recreation was, week after week, year after year, my favorite thing about it is how pure the laughs were. I’m so tired of the dirty jokes and the constant sexual innuendo in television comedy. I’m not some kind of stick in the mud. I enjoy it just as much as the next guy and often tell the filthiest story in the room. It’s just so easy to take that path drawn up by the lowest common denominator and then beat the hell out of that drum. I love the actors in The League, but the show is disgusting and I don’t have an affinity for the writing. I don’t laugh cleanly. I laugh more out of shock value. I think it cheapens the proceedings. It isn’t a new development, as sex has been the source for comedy forever. It’s certainly there, particularly with Mullally, but Daniels and Schur gave me a different flavor of humor, whether sophomoric or more refined, that relied on cleverness and timing. I appreciate that. I can finish any episode of Parks and I just feel fulfilled and think to myself, “That was fun.” My laughs always came from deep inside, even when occasionally mean spirited at the expense of Garry (maybe) Gergich, whose coworkers called him Jerry, Larry, Terry, and various forms of jackass as they berated him and blamed him for everything.

Jerry Gergich: Okay, so you’re sure now that everything is okay that I’m… down there?

Dr. Harris: Perfectly healthy.

[to camera]

Dr. Harris: That man has the largest penis I’ve ever seen. I actually don’t even know if he has mumps. I forgot to look. I was distracted – by the largest penis I’ve ever seen. (S4E1)

The rule of quality over quantity is why Parks and Recreation succeeded where so many others fell short. The sex jokes were great because they weren’t in my face every second. The crass words were spaced out and had more impact as a result. The heavy moments were excellent because they were used when the time was right. The liberal politics worked because they weren’t often malicious, plus Ron was always there to even things out. The Jean-Ralphios of the show, including his ridiculous sister (Jenny Slate), all the many recurring but non-regular characters were around just enough for us to clap when we saw them on screen and never wore out their welcome. The cast didn’t blow up and expand to some insane number and it wasn’t about children or child actors who grew up and became tedious. Most importantly, it was always funny, in a way that didn’t get old and never felt cheap. Parks and Recreation had the right answers to my test, without fail, for at least five years. I actually put the red pen away for good two seasons ago.

In a rare occurrence we’ve seldom seen on television, especially in comedy, Season 7 has been said by many to be the best Parks season, both because of the fan service and the elegant fashion in which the show concluded over the past two months. I can’t rank the seasons, because I love them all so much. That would take some time. I can tell you this final year has been superb stuff. But, every season once the show found its voice, has been extremely special.

Chris: Pawnee is the fourth most obese city in the United States.

Tom: Soon to be third. Look out, San Antonio. (S3E10)

The stories, from Lil Sebastian to The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show to Mouse Rat to the world’s smallest park to Ron’s favorite steak restaurant closing to Morning Star to Grzzyl to Ben’s political career to the Cones of Dunshire to anything that presented an opportunity to use news anchor Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson), every single one was good. I use that descriptor frequently in this article because honestly, that’s the only way to describe it correctly. Parks & Rec is good. It was good for me, it was good for you, it was healthy, it was filling, it was a complete, utter positive in a world full of nonsense, vitriol, and compost. When there was compost on Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope could fix it in twenty minutes.

Parks never rated higher than 96 for any of its seasons. NBC didn’t find a way to make it work on a mainstream level, though their promotion for Parks, for Community, and for 30 Rock was always dismal. Somehow, because of the critical acclaim and perhaps, even though they didn’t know how to push it, because they knew what they had, we still got seven seasons, even if abbreviated. It doesn’t leave with rooms full of hardware, but that’s the fault of those selecting awards, not of the show. Poehler will have one more shot at an Emmy. They have one final chance not to screw this up. Parks and Recreation is comedy’s version of The Wire. It’s another glaring indication of just how unimpressive Emmy voters truly are and how comical they’ve become. It’s an indictment that shouldn’t ever be forgotten. Hopefully, one day, the Emmys will learn from their mistakes.

Tom: You gotta help me, man!

Ben: Why? It seems to be going the usual amount of gross.

Tom: No, this is way different! She’s not married anymore! She had like five bottles of alcohol and she’s calling me “Caramel”! You’ve gotta throw some cold water on the situation. Start talking about nerd stuff!

Ben: You know, “nerd culture” is mainstream now. So, when you use the word “nerd” derogatorily, it means you’re the one that’s out of the zeitgeist.

Tom: Yes, that’s perfect. Just like that: be incredibly boring. (S4E3)

These actors and this staff loved working together. Watch the outtakes between the seasons, most of which are now available on YouTube, and it will be crystal clear. Parks was a family full of people with a collective desire to make people laugh. And, they did, while cackling the days away themselves. Every one of them is now important because they worked together first, rather than for individual glory. Parks and Recreation leaves behind a resume and a wealth of content that is nearly untouchable. It may have started out as a hopeful re-creation, but that hyphen disappeared quickly. Parks and REC-reation left the air on February 24, 2015 after surpassing its uncle in every way.

So many people have never spent any time in the fictional world of Pawnee, Indiana. Luckily, thanks to Netflix and DVDs and Hulu and syndication, the highways are still open. It’s time to take a vacation folks. It’s quite possible, just like it has been and continues to be for me, it will be the best trip and the best decision you ever make.

Thank you to Schur, Daniels, Klein, Wittels, Goor, Yang, Hiscock, Dippold, Peretti, and everyone I neglected to mention on that writing and production team. Thank you to the cast. Thank every one of you for giving me, for giving the world Parks and Recreation. Thank you for every moment of laughter you gave us. Thank you for never wasting our time. Thank you for a cast of characters we’ll never forget. Thank you for great writing, captivating chemistry, and excessive joy. Thank you for staying true to yourself, not being afraid of taking risks, and of getting everything right.

Oh…and from the bottom of my heart and the brightest spot in my soul, thank you so effin much for Ronald Ulysses Swanson.

I’m @GuyNamedJason on Twitter. Please follow me there. Also, just give me all the bacon and eggs you have. Wait, wait. I’m worried what you just heard was “Give me a lot of bacon and eggs.” What I said was, “Give me ALL the bacon and eggs you have”. Do you understand?

(This piece is dedicated to the memory of Harris Wittels, who passed away last week of an apparent drug overdose. He had been battling addiction for several years and had been very open about those struggles. In addition to his writing and production work with Parks and Recreation, he was a phenomenal stand-up comedian and a genuinely, naturally funny man. He was exceedingly well-liked and well-respected by his peers, including his NBC family. In the final few seconds of the series, following the credits, a black screen appeared with one sentence in white capital letters. I join them, from a distance, in the sentiment.)

WE LOVE YOU, HARRIS. – The Parks Team

THANK YOU, HARRIS. – Outkick the Coverage

10. Frasier

9. The Office

8. Modern Family

7. NewsRadio

6. 30 Rock

5. Community

4. Sports Night

3. Friends

Written by Jason Martin