The NBC sitcom, Parks and Recreation, has really come into its own this season. The writing has gotten stronger and the characters are more developed. It is part of NBC’s great Thursday night lineup.
On the surface this hilarious show is a pastiche of pop culture and absurdity set in an ineffectual parks department in an unremarkable town. Viewed from a slightly different angle, however, Parks and Rec makes the case against government.
Last night’s episode encapsulates the premise of the show. Leslie Knope, the somewhat hapless and ironically named heroine, reuniting the former heads of her department to have them reminisce about their wonderful time in the Parks Department for an annual catalog the department produces. All goes awry as the men were bitter and resentful. Revealing that they had sought their positions for either the pensions or as stepping stones to higher positions. The job was a secondary annoyance. Mixed into this mess were her coworkers, who are at best lazy and incompetent (endearing as they may be), and her boss, Ron, who hates government and is openly resentful of doing anything (Ron is horribly awesome).
The assumption is that this show is a parody and exaggeration because it is a comedy. Yet look no further than the Metro section of your local newspaper and you will surely find a current investigation, or two, into waste and abuse by and incompetence of entrenched government employees. Investigation of these people gets less funny when city attorney fees start piling up. Things get downright humorless when we learn of the severance packages these characters are contractually obliged to receive
Comedy, at it’s most basic, is all about timing. Sitcoms, or situational comedies, add context within which the funny happens. In the context of television hapless, moronic and resentful civil employees are a hoot. Their real life counterparts, the ones that we pay, not so much. When Parks and Recreation stops doing its job of entertaining it gets cancelled and replaced. What happens to government when it stops doing its job?