Parks and Rec As A Sit-Com?

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

Well, I thought I had seen it all, but I was once again amazed and mildly amused when NBC aired its first episode of “Parks and Recreation,” a sit-com. NBC describes it thusly: “The new series is a half-hour mockumentary that looks at the exciting world of local government.”

I’ve become more open-minded as the years have shown me that I’m not always right, even though it may seem as though I should be. So I’m not going to judge the wisdom of network execs just on this one episode.

The Breakdown

For those who may not have seen it, I’ll give a rundown on the “plot.” The scene is a small town–Pawnee, Ind.–and the plot revolves around the day-to-day life of the parks and rec department.

The city is fictional, though it has put up a Web site that looks very real until you start reading some of the material. For example, a story about the “Raccoon Eradication Program” features a logo of a cute raccoon in a circle with a slash through it. In the tourism section, the site states that “Pawnee is not a tourist Mecca, but this fact has made it a somewhat desirable location for those looking to get away from the crowds.” Oh, and the new snow-removal policy? “Pawnee will no longer remove snow.”

The characters for the show are still what I’d call “in development.” The leading actress–Amy Poehler of Saturday Night Live-fame, plays Leslie Knope, the recreation deputy director, a 30-something, over-exuberant, somewhat naive lady with a desire to please everybody, no matter what it takes. In this episode, she tries to transform a vacant lot into a park after it had been abandoned by a bankrupt builder, who had already dug an enormous hole for a basement.

Then there’s her boss, Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman. He believes the government should not be involved in parks and rec, but that it should all be “privatized.” Hmm, seems I’ve heard that somewhere before. Swanson appears to be a Hunter S. Thompson type, anti-establishment, former hippie who cut his hair and started working for “The Man,” and hates himself for it. One of Leslie’s colleagues is Tom Haverford, played by Aziz Ansari, who in real life is a stand-up comic of some repute. He is a “Yeah, whatever” type of guy who seems bored with the whole working thing, and would rather be somewhere else doing anything else. There are other characters, some in the rec department and some in other city positions.

The Not-So-Funny Truth

Does it sound funny yet? Again, final judgment is still pending, and I’ll give it a few more episodes before I decide whether or not to exercise my right to vote by changing channels or not even turning on the TV.

First impressions are the ones that stick, they say. If that’s true, then here’s the impression that so far has stuck with me.

My first impression is that this is a satire on local government, maybe on government as a whole. Perhaps I’m too close to the subject, but for me, instead of its being funny, it was depressing. It depicts public administrators as simplistic, addle-brained, self-serving pudding-heads who run about aimlessly without a clue.

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