We’re first introduced to Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) as she loiters in a community park’s sandbox, surveying a little girl about the level of enjoyment she experiences while shoveling sand. This one moment, no matter how small, sets the tone for the eagerly awaited series Parks and Recreation, as Leslie, in all her smiles and good intentions, is saddled with a thankless, and mostly immaterial, position at the local Parks and Recreational Department. Fortunately, though, nothing fazes her. Even when she takes a rolling dive into a hazardous, dug-up parking lot, she’s back in the office the very next day fighting for what she believes in: the community’s safety, and the revitalization of that same, excavated lot into which she fell.
There’s purity in Poehler’s character, emanating the dopey, wide-eyed sweetness reminiscent of The Office‘s Steve Carell, but with a tinge of Homer Simpson-like ham-fisted slapstick. When a then-pregnant Poehler sadly left the halls of Saturday Night Live last winter, many expected she would be handed a program showcasing all of her incredible chameleonic abilities. Parks and Recreation comes up just short on that front, since the character of Leslie is a bit one-note. Still, Poehler continues to have a profound gift for making you laugh at the most oddball, pitying characters, without ever condescending to them. From a girl with one leg on a dating show, to a winning impersonation of Dennis Kucinich, she has a knack for getting at the heart of her characters even as a storm of laughter roars in the background. Here, she fills out Knope nicely, but hopefully as the show progresses, she’ll be able to dig deeper into that endless, crazed comedy toolbox of hers.
The documentary aesthetic (zooming in and out with quick pans) has worked well in the past for both British and American renderings of The Office. Parks and Recreation is a clear descendent of the show, as creators Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, half of the team behind the U.S. edition of The Office, made sure to supply a well-stocked supporting cast of characters to fill up the offices of this small-town, governmental head quarters: Aziz Ansari (of MTV’s Human Giant fame) stars as a woman-obsessed underling to Poehler, and Rashida Jones (a holdover from the U.S. version of The Office) plays a registered nurse taking her first plunge into local community politics, reporting the devastated lot to the department. The jarring, awkward humor is similarly facilitated in the pilot as well. It’s now just a waiting game to see if this patchy episodic specimen can gradually move past its Office-inspired roots and trudge toward developing its own individual, winning skin.