Friday, April 24, 2009

Parks and Recreation, "The Reporter": Off the record

Quick spoilers for last night's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I throw a Scrabble game...

"Parks and Recreation" at this early stage feels like a show that's much more comfortable with its world than its characters.

Though I've never worked in small-town government, I feel like I recognize the way that office works, the way the community interacts with it, and the way that Leslie completely overreacted to the reporter, since hyper-local newspapers like that tend to only run the most innocuous, uncontroversial, even-handed stories possible.

But Leslie is all over the map as a character, and if I don't really understand who she is, it's hard to laugh at how she behaves in different situations. The scene in the diner where the reporter fired one quote after another was, I'm assuming, improvised, in the way that "Scrubs" often will feature scenes that are just an excuse to let Neil Flynn riff. And while Amy Poehler has a strong improv background, it didn't work here, both because she's the main character as opposed to a weird fringe player like the Janitor, and because it just didn't feel like a realistic scene. Like "The Office," this show is trying to build its comedy on top of a very realistic foundation, and while it's possible for characters to behave silly or over-the-top (ala the one genuinely funny moment in the episode, Leslie eating the plant and getting a swollen tongue), you have to believe that this is how the character would act in that moment. And I didn't believe that either Leslie or the reporter would be doing that.

I think there's a show here. I like most of the supporting characters (Ron's speech about why he likes Tom was very nice), and the setting. But just like it took Greg Daniels a while to figure out Michael Scott, I think he and Mike Schur need to spend the hiatus (assuming they get renewed) getting a better handle on who Leslie is.

What did everybody else think?

24 comments:

DonBoy said...

OK, assuming this wasn't just my brain doing a trick: whoever came up with the bit about the question "How big is this lot?" and how Leslie (and the audience) can be primed to hear it as "How big is the slut?" is a genius.

Surely it's a key character thing that Schneider's character looks like an a-hole for the first time. Earlier we'd been led to see him as the guy too cool for Leslie. And I see that the boyfriend's band is no longer called "Just the tip", which just amazed me when I heard it last week.

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest problem with the show right now is that too many of the storylines revolve around the building of the park. The Office barely ever shows us anyone actually selling paper. Most of the storylines revolve around sensitivity training, casino nights, people's weddings, etc. Right now I just don't get the sense that these people have enough to do with each other outside of the subcommittee for anything like that to ever happen on this show.

Also, Ron's pornstache is driving me crazy. He looks like a reject from Swingtown.

7s Tim said...

When the Jones charater reacted to Schneider trying to avoid a "romantic" entaglement, that was just great. As was, of course, his trying to avoid it in the first place. hope this series either gets it all together soon, or has the chance to do so next year. v-o-g-

Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to figure out why people are actively AGAINST this park. I understand apathy, but the angry mother from last week and the fervent decries quoted from people at the diner just ring hallow to me. Why do people in the community want a giant pit in their neighborhood?

Jon Weisman said...

I don't know if it was a sign of early desperation or just a misstep, but I thought last night's "Parks" sold out the primary anchor character they have, Mark. When he tells the reporter that the park has no chance of getting made, even though it was pillow talk, it betrays a naivete that he simply shouldn't have.

Mark is the Jim of "Parks," and of course he should have flaws, but this one just seemed out of character.

I thought this was the weakest of the first three episodes. As Alan writes, Leslie's character isn't coalescing yet, and as a result the show seems adrift. Throw in the similarities in style to "Office" and you start to wonder about the show's creative purpose. I still have faith they can find themselves, but perhaps it's true that it will take giving the park project a rest. It might be nice to have an episode that doesn't focus on Leslie as Quixote.

Anonymous said...

I thought they did a good job explaining why the mother last week was angry. She didn't want a park because it would be loud and make the neighborhood smell like a bbq. But she didn't seem to feel that strongly about it. Then when Leslie starting using her Karl Rove tactics to imply that she was a bad mother if she voted against the park it put the woman on a mission to take down the whole project.

Q Ball said...

I would be careful before labeling character's actions as "out of character."

I agree with the gist of what Alan is saying in that the characters have not been firmly established yet. Last night be found out that Tom was unmotivated, but was he not swiftly establishing contacts for the park (albeit prematurely) just an episode ago?

I feel like I don't have a good read on the characters. Mark has had a slight "douchiness" to him since the pilot, but this episode did take it a little too far. I gotta admit, though, Parks and Recreation first season > The Office's first season so far.

Anonymous said...

Loved it, maybe my favorite of the three episodes so far. Mark was great last night, he seems like a very realistic character. He can be a nice guy, and he can be a total jerk other times. Thats life.

Tom is my favorite, he's my hero. My new goal in life is to get a government job working for someone like Ron.

The only character that is poorly defined so far is Leslie, but she has to be for this show to work. Leslie's character will change as the plot demands. Some episodes she'll seem hopelessly stupid, others she will show more savvy and be more capable in her job. She'll be whatever the plot requires her to be each week. Thats how it works with Michael Scott. He's one of the most inconsistent characters on TV. But Steve Carell is consistently funny and he makes it work. I think Amy Poehler can pull it off too, she's been great so far.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the show is still finding its footing, but it's got a great group of characters. Paul Schneider is doing a terrific job as Mark. The character is so believable - the charming low-key ladies man who knows his strengths but keeps tripping over his own... ahem.

Good stuff, hopefully on its way to becoming great stuff.

Chuck Nottheshow said...

Mike Schur is damn funny. Amy Poelher's SNL retrospective last week was the funniest thing Lorne Michael has produced in at least two years. But Parks just...isn't...funny. I know it's the same criticism of the US Office from when that premiered, at that worked out great. But this is a copy of a copy (I think), and I already have The Office. I don't need another, poorer one.

Anonymous said...

She didn't want a park because it would be loud and make the neighborhood smell like a bbqI know that's what she says, but it's not like an open field. It's a giant open pit! She has kids, as soon as they're old enough they're going to be over there running around and getting lockjaw from all the rusty nails. But, please, let's not have loud music and bbq smells. Really? BBQ smells!

Brian said...

I'm still trying to figure out why people are actively AGAINST this park. I understand apathy, but the angry mother from last week and the fervent decries quoted from people at the diner just ring hallow to me. Why do people in the community want a giant pit in their neighborhood?For any government project, no matter how potentially beneficial, you will have a chunk of people who oppose it and they are 10x more vocal about it than those who approve of it.

I thought this episode was a step down as the whole "freaked out by the local reporter" angle was a bit overplayed. I think they could have done more with just the jealousy part of it without adding the over-the-top paranoia.

Tom said...

I would have rather watched Samantha Who.

Brian said...

If you wonder why people could be against a park, find any small town newspaper's web site and see if they have a comments section. Click and read the comments and you will wonder no more.

Small towns across the country are filled with idiots who just think everyone with money or in power is out to get them. It's a gold mine of paranoid comedy waiting to be tapped.

I think they are still finding these characters and need to focus most importantly on not making Leslie the female Michael Scott. Once that falls into place, I think it will start to work better.

Sandie said...

Alan, odd that you would mention that the swollen tongue bit was the only genuinely funny moment of the episode, because I was cringing during it. I guess I'm just not a fan of the silly physical comedy - I had a similar reaction to the fake fire drill scene in that Office episode that many of you thought was hilarious.

But I thought it hilarious when Mark and the reporter had the "relationship" conversation - the look on Ann's face was priceless. I also really like the fact that Leslie isn't a loser pining after a man she will never have - she's pining after a man she actually did have, which makes it much more interesting.

And I completely understand why people might be against the park: taxes. It's going to cost taxpayers money.

Q Ball, I think what is key to Tom is he is completely unmotivated unless there is something in it for him. His rapid fire woo-ing of the contractors/suppliers was not for the good of the park or the committee, but to line up people who would owe him favors down the line. (Or give him perks now maybe, who knows, maybe he needs his own backyard re-sodded.)

Sean Weitner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sean said...

Also, Ron's pornstache is driving me crazy. He looks like a reject from Swingtown.
Then you should not check out his performance in the 1999 oddball indie Treasure Island.

jcpdiesel21 said...

I didn't care for this episode and I didn't make all the way through to the end. Given the talented, funny castmembers, this show should be much more entertaining, but I was bored by it this week.

Jonathan said...

I am trying to give this show a chance but it has been very painful to watch. I find myself watching the clock to see how much time is left in the episode.

I am not sure if this is related to my perception of the show, but Amy Poehlor isn’t cute anymore. Maybe it is just the baby weight and she’ll lose it, but I always thought her “cuteness” was a big part of her comedy.

LA said...

You know which character has grown on me (and I can't believe I'm saying this)... Rashida's d-baggy boyfriend. For some reason, I think he's hilarious. Go figure.

Tyroc said...

So Leslie was all freaked out about being taped by the tape recorder, but she's okay being taped all day long by those making the documentary? Huh.

Outside of Leslie's introduction of her staff, I thought the episode was pretty laugh free until the last five minutes or so. Aziz is the only one who has a funny character.

I'd rather they tried a new show with a fresh concept in the slot. Too bad Better Off Ted can't be on NBC, as it would fit well and is so much funnier than this show.

The Grauke-Collins Experience said...

I'm a long-time lurker and fan, first-time poster, Alan.

As someone who spent ten years in state government, tasked with coordinating committees (excuse me, SUBcommittees), I can say that I totally get Leslie. I worked with people like Leslie. Heck, I probably was Leslie at one point in my career. Enthusiastic, dedicated to a fault, and just so darn sincere. I find the character pretty spot-on, give or take just a few small misses.

I also think Mark is perfectly written and perfectly played. I find him much more subtle and genuine than the Jim character on the US version of The Office. Not everyone can be wacky all of the time, and Jim has started to really annoy me. (I hope that's my last comparison that I make of the two shows since I'd really like to try to enjoy P&R on its own, despite the best efforts of NBC's marketing department.)

I too roared over the various band names for drunken-slacker boyfriend. Last week, it was Just the Tip. This week, it was Threeskin (it was Fourskin until we lost our bassist). I really hope this is a running joke and they change it every episode.

Anonymous said...

Aziz Ansari is great in this show. I was really glad when Dr. Cox fired his character in Scrubs. This was my first exposure to him as an actor and thought he would bring P&R down. Instead, he plays virtually the same character but is amazing with it.

In fact, I think he is the only thing that makes P&R worth watching at this point. The only laughs I had was when he was on screen. All in all, he is a welcome surprise to the show.

The rest of the cast needs some serious work. This is just a carbon copy of The Office with a better-known cast and one that is less humorous. A boss lost in his/her own delusions, apathetic co-workers, and a d-bag boyfriend? I think I've seen that episode before. If Leslie started making awkward advances toward Ann Perkins or started saying "That's what he said", the circle would be complete.

dez said...

Tom is my favorite, he's my hero. My new goal in life is to get a government job working for someone like Ron.Trust me, it's not nearly as fun as it looks on TV.

Alan, we have some hyper-local newspapers around here who criticize everything, probably to make a name for themselves, so I bought the reporter character in this one.