Monday, February 22, 2010

The Way I Are: Parks and Recreation

So this week's post isn't going to be my usually wordy diatribe: I'm getting guest blogs in the can for here and here, and need to get my review on here. Also, to anyone in the Chicago area: on Saturday, March 13th at midnight, I'll be giving a lecture on the fantastic film Brick, followed by a screening and discussion. Only $5 and you get to meet me! I'm worth at least $2.50, I swear.

Also, I would like to officially announce that March will be Awesome Authors Month on The Unprofessional Critic! Several factors went into this decision: 1) This is a feminist blog, so I'd be stupid NOT to commemorate Women's History Month one way or another, 2) many of my readers are also writers, whether it's blogs, books, or something else literary beginning with a B, and 3) well, I just happened to get my hands on some friggin' awesome galleys (one of the VERY VERY BEST parts about blogging, FYI). So beginning next week, Awesome Authors Month will feature cool book reviews and author interviews--by and for women (though of course the menz are welcome too!). Should definitely be fun.

Anyway, this week's post. I wanted to stay away from literary stuff because that's going to be all of March, and the only movie I took in this week was (for the second time) Dear John. (YOU turn down a free chance to see Channing Tatum shirtless and Richard Jenkins chew scenery!) I've recently discovered Modern Family, but Nikki already covered that in a most splendiferous manner. Then it occurred to me: I'd talk up another recent TV discovery that hit me with a wallop of, "Why the hell have I not been watching this?"

Ladies and germs, I give you: Parks and Recreation.

I'll be honest with ya: I have yet to watch the first season. I remember hearing the consensus when the show premiered last year: it just really wasn't that good. I kept hearing comparisons of Amy Poehler's character to a female Michael Scott, and if I wanted uncomfortable workplace politics, I figured I could just watch The Office. Then, in a move almost unheard of these days, NBC gave the show another chance--in the form of a full season. And apparently things turned around. The writers and cast found their footing, characters became more developed and . . . wait a minute, the lead character was a feminist and it wasn't used as a JOKE?

After hearing that last tidbit, I knew I had to give it a try. It just so happened to fall on a week where Megan Mulally (whom I've always loved, despite my lukewarm reaction to Will and Grace) guest-starred as conniving librarian Tammy Swanson, ex-wife of martini-dry Ron Swanson (the mustachioed Nick Offerman, Mulally's real-life husband). The combination of slapstick and cerebral humor, not to mention the authentic Midwestern feel and giggle-inducing ensemble means I haven't looked back.

Yes, I'm now a full-on Must-See Thursday devotee. Y'all KNOW about my unabashed lovelust for Joel McHale, which I admit has just gotten worse. I'm talking serious celebrity crush--not since The Great Rainn Wilson Fixation of 2006 has a handsome, smart stranger captivated me so. And by the way, Community totally rocks--a smooth cocktail of McHale, Chevy Chase, and a lovably snarky band of miscreants gets me every week. 30 Rock can be cartoonish and broad, but Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin's dream team manages to salvage even the silliest of eps. And though I have to admit The Office can grate on me--why is Michael borderline mentally challenged this season? Anyone? And was Pam always such an entitled brat?--the heartwrenchingly touching wedding episode gives it a pass for at least the rest of this season.

Parks and Recreation is the latest addition to my NBC viewing party. Here's the scoop: Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is an earnest local government employee in Pawnee, Indiana whose long-term goal is to become the first female President, and whose short-term goal is to build Pawnee a new park. Leslie's best friend Ann (Rashida Jones, who's just too cute for words--can I please look like her in my next life?) is a nurse and concerned citizen, and an enthusiastic participant in various town meetings. Add into the mix Leslie's coworkers--including her unsmiling boss Ron (Nick Offerman), her douchetastic assistant Tom (Aziz Ansari), and surly college student April (Aubrey Plaza), not to mention her former fling Mark (Paul Schneider), who is now dating Ann, and Ann's doofy hipster ex-boyfriend Andy (Chris Pratt)--and you have a mishmash of personalities who may not always agree, but get into all sorts of fun scrapes and run-ins with the citizens of Pawnee.

Did I mention that everybody LIKES each other?

Okay, I'm not the first person to have this observation. I believe it was Entertainment Weekly. But here's the thing about shows like The Office: while I dig the cringe-inducing humor and can totally relate to cube-farm battles, sometimes the animosity wears on me. And I will never back down from my Tina Fey is a Friggin' Genius stance, but 30 Rock doesn't have the best character development. What I really love about Parks and Recreation (and Community and Modern Family as well) is that while the core characters don't always see eye to eye...they just as often band together and help each other out.

Case in point: on a recent episode of P and R, Leslie hosted a dinner party to impress her new love interest, the gentlemanly lawyer Justin (the DELECTABLE Justin Theroux--check out Mulholland Dr. and Six Feet Under for more of his smoldering sexiness). Leslie is so devoted to her job that other than Ann, she doesn't have a lot of friends outside of work. Therefore, the majority of people she invites are coworkers...and they show up, not because she's their superior (because in Ron's case, she isn't), but because they like her and Justin and want the relationship to work.

Leslie herself can be quite misguided and socially awkward, but where Michael Scott can get downright mean in his cluelessness, Leslie's heart is almost always in the right place. Though her reunion of Ron and his ex-wife Tammy doesn't turn out well, it's because Leslie genuinely had no idea that their relationship was so contentious and unhealthy (it also helped that Tammy was hugely manipulative and had her eyes on the lot Leslie wants to use for the park). Leslie just thought Ron would feel better if he made amends with his ex.

Also, it's nice to see a single woman on TV without Manolo Blahniks or fake boobs (sure, Poehler's beautiful, but it's a relatable beauty as opposed to unattainable model material) . . . well, get some. Leslie's former one-night stand, Mark, not only works with her but is now dating her best friend. And Leslie and Mark have a nice, friendly relationship. This season alone, Leslie has had not one but TWO boyfriends: a bumbling but sweet cop named Dave (Louis C.K. in a gentle turn free of his usual profanity) and the aforementioned Justin. And of course there's physical attraction involved, but both men are also OPENLY ADMIRING OF HER SMARTS. This shouldn't be revolutionary on TV in 2010. Except it kind of is.

Finally, the writing and acting is stellar. I will say that Ansari gets on my nerves at times, but maybe that's because I've known adult frat boys, like his character Tom. Rashida Jones' Ann often serves as the "straight man" in jokes, but she's getting some zingers and comic moments of her own lately. Pratt's Andy is hysterical in his attempts to win back Ann and his cluelessness at life, and Plaza's April never fails to crack me up with her unsmiling eye-rolling at the politics of Pawnee. But the real standout is Nick Offerman as Ron (Fucking) Swanson. Let's face it, thick mustaches are hilarious. But it's more than that: Offerman's impatience with local government and life lends itself to barbs that are both resigned and quietly simmering. The guy's delivery is im-fucking-peccable.

Oh, and Leslie Knope's feminism. She is uncomfortable in strip clubs (though she treats Tom in light of his divorce). She idolizes Hillary Clinton and keeps pictures of other powerful women in her office. She insists on being involved in a previously all-male hunting trip. She has outright claimed to be a feminist. And NONE of this is played for laughs. If this doesn't make your bleeding heart happy, you're no daughter of mine.

Parks and Recreation can be seen every Thursday on NBC, at 8:30/7:30 Central (after Community). Also, the last 5 episodes are on Hulu. So why aren't you watching right now?

Wait, I take back my apology: that WAS a wordy diatribe.

Happy Monday, y'all!


  1. yes, wordy! ;) but we love it.

    readers: i can vouch that the unpro critic is indeed worth $5, if not $10. :)

  2. I'm all about the wordy. ;)

    We need to make Galentine's brunch a tradition!

  3. Shocker for the day: Nick Offerman is 39 years old. I repeat: 39 YEARS OLD! And he's actually married to Megan Mullally in real life. "P&R" easily is the funniest show on Thursday nights right now.

  4. HE'S ONLY 39? Well, blow me down! What I love is he's so the quintessential middle-aged Midwestern man--very dry, doesn't smile, but has a good sense of humor and gets to the heart of things.

    He's also a U of I grad, I believe.

    I did know that about Megan Mulally. There's a funny little interview on Hulu when they talk about filming the "Ron and Tammy" episode.

  5. Agree. I just think it's hilarious that he's about five years younger than Rainn Wilson who looks, well, 39, if not younger. And yes, Offerman's a U of I grad ... from four years before I started there. This fact blows my mind.

  6. I know I know I KNOW I need to be watching this. But I'm so friggin far behind on my DVR as it is. AND I'm plowing through the entire series' of Buffy and Doctor Who. Not to mention working part time and mothering my toddler......

  7. Ooh, Megan Mullaly? Was that a one time thing? Anyway, it still sounds like a great show.

  8. It is on sporadically and late over here and the one time I caught it, I did find it quite amusing although had no idea what was going on! Great recommendation!

  9. If only I were in the Chicago area! Hope it all goes well :)

    Have heard good things about this, your wordy diatribe sealed the deal and I shall seek it out for sure. And I kind of agree with you about 30 Rock, I absolutely adore it but sometimes the characters go soooo one-step-forward-two-steps-backwards in terms of development that it's frustrating. But at least it's consistent.

  10. Oh my gosh! I wish so much I could come hear your presentation! I love that movie and it would be amazing to hear you talk about it. I wonder if my trip that weekend could be postponed...hmm...probably not though. That's so cool that you're doing that.

  11. Thanks everyone! I'm really nervous about the lecture, and I hope it goes well. I'm really passionate about the film (and in fact wrote about it in an early blog post!), so hopefully that will help.

    Amiee--thank you, and thanks for reading!

    Nikki--you're still allowed to read the blog even if you don't watch the show. ;) I know what you mean--I've had to stop watching new shows because of the commitment it requires!

    Sadako--yes, Mullaly was a one-time guest star, though I hope they bring her back. "Ron and Tammy" is probably my favorite episode. It's not on Hulu anymore, but you might be able to dig it up online.

    Laura--I was watching the Valentine's Day 30 Rock from the first season, and I kind of miss how Liz used to be the normal one. I like her weird quirks and her enthusiasm for junk food, but sometimes it slides into "single lady caricature" too much for my liking.

    Bryn--we've been streaming the lectures online, so I'll make sure to post a link when it's up. Next best thing to being there! :) And I too have mad love for Brick. Joseph Gordon-Levitt should have won awards for that performance.

  12. I'll be honest this project don't like me because I prefer to leave it to women that's something not for me, actually I think you should be other things in your house something creative you know.m10m

  13. Sounds very interesting to me, the curious thing it's that I never hear about this show, I'm gonna look for it, thanks.