On TV: Parks and Recreation
There's so much to like about Parks and Recreation, the new NBC sitcom from The Office creators Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, that it's hard to believe they managed to mangle its single most important element: Leslie Knope, the small-government Pollyanna at its center.
Tailor-made to showcase star Amy Poehler's razor sharp yet endlessly malleable comic gifts, Leslie comes off as a not-particularly-funny caricature of civic idealism and American can-do spirit. Her paper-pushing Dunder Mifflin counterpart Michael Scott is hardly a subtle character study, either, but his motivational engine---the shameless need to be liked, at everyone else's expense--is exactly what's needed to sell this particular sitcom subgenre. (You know the one--that of excruciating workplace moments, captured by unseen documentary cameras as they work themselves through to their absurd conclusions. As far as we know, it doesn't have a name yet. Cringecom?)
As happens too frequently in the pilot, Poehler is outshone by her castmates, who score with the script's funniest scenarios as the star is left with little more to do than provide an array of goofy, cross-eyed grins. I get it--she's not the sharpest knife in the drawer--but the show does Leslie no favors here by rendering her implausibly silent as her passive-aggressive co-worker Tom (a dry-as-burnt-toast Aziz Ansari) comes on blatantly to Rashida Jones at a public outreach meeting. Poehler deserves better.
As for its similarities to The Office -- the whole, "is it a ripoff or a spinoff?" debate -- that seems besides the point. It is what it is, and there's enough here to bring me back for more. Let's start with Paul Schneider, whose quiet, heartfelt performance stole Lars and the Real Girl, and who does similarly impressive work here as a jaded co-worker who admits to once falling into bed with Leslie. Yes, he's our Bizarro Jim--an unlikely, pencil-pushing sex symbol--but his mean streak looks like it could extend well beyond giftwrapping office chairs, and I like it.
Like its Thursday night forebear's early tries, this series has the talent and the pedigree, but hasn't quite yet found the voice. Let's hope NBC gives it some time to grow, presuming the network doesn't just abandon the 8 o'clock hour in favor of a Carson Daly variety strip. RATING (out of 10): 6