Quite a few new shows are hitting our TVs this week, but none's more anticipated than tomorrow's premiere of Parks and Recreation, the comedy starring Amy Poehler from the creators of The Office. I've seen the first episode of the series, and here's my initial take:
What's it about? Leslie Knope is a mid-level Parks and Recreation Department bureaucrat in Pawnee, IN, who dreams of a life in the public spotlight. In the first episode, she's attempting to lead her very first subcommittee, hoping to fill in a giant pit in an empty lot and turn it into a public park. The show is filmed mockumentary-style like The Office, with the crew supposedly following Leslie's quest to fix the pit.
Who's in it? Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones, Aubrey Plaza, Paul Schneider, Nick Offerman
The good: The lead role could be just "Michael Scott in the public sector," but Poehler's performance is better than that. Her Leslie is the adult version of a perpetual student government vice president: not as politically gifted as she thinks she is and deluded into believing her star's still on the rise. The other characters in the parks department are plenty quirky — Ansari's Tom is vaguely (and sometimes overtly) lecherous; Offerman's Ron has a weapons cache in his office — and I'm excited to get to know them better. I got a kick out of Plaza as the department's intern; granted, she doesn't do much in the pilot besides chew gum and look bored, but if I were calculating the characters' humor potential per second of screen time, she might win.
The bad: I truly wish this series hadn't been filmed as a mockumentary. It would have been funnier and more original without that device, and it's the major reason it feels so close to The Office. I'm also worried that the show has tied itself to one plot too early. There's a lot of humor in the minutiae of small-town government life, but it seems that Leslie's crew will be stuck mainly on the pit project. Related to that concern is the fact that Jones's character seems shoehorned in; Jones is very funny as the straight woman to Poehler's spacey Leslie, but I also kind of wish her character weren't on board long term.
Will I watch? Sure. The show's not quite there yet; I'd give three stars out of five. But the pilot does a lot of work just to show us who these characters are, and I don't think we'll know how they'll gel into a show until we see what they do.
To check out some clips from the first episode and a gallery of photos, just
Photos courtesy of NBC