By: Ruby Garff
Workplace comedies have been around for decades. It’s always struck me as kind of strange that people come home from work and choose to turn on a show about people working. Oftentimes, characters don’t even seem particularly happy in their jobs and careers, and yet, they’ve amassed massive popularity over the years. The first workplace sitcom is credited as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which debuted in 1970. Not only was this show groundbreaking for carving out a new sitcom genre, but it’s also iconic for portraying an unmarried, independent woman making her way through a male-dominated industry. Many workplace comedies have come in the decades since–from Taxi to Cheers. These shows focus more on everyday Americans–the people who reflect the audiences watching. Nothing represents this relatability more than The Office.
The Office first aired in the UK in 2001. The Office was produced by the brains of Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais, who created, wrote, and directed the show. Merchant and Gervais were focused on creating a wholly realistic and down-to-earth office setting. They shot The Office like it was a documentary, complete with interviews and shaky cameras. The mockumentary-style would come to dominate workplace comedies. It was truly a pioneer, for The Office and the shows that were inspired by it defined the sit-com genre throughout the 2000s and the early 2010s. The hardest-to-believe aspect of the show was the personality of the boss of the show, Ricky Gervais’ David Brent. He’s almost villainous, more than a little crazy, and self-assured to the point of full-on delusions of grandeur.
Given the fame it received across the pond, The Office came to the United States in 2005 and was adapted for American television by Greg Daniels. Initially, The Office saw mixed reviews. It would be a few episodes until people truly began to see the greatness The Office was capable of. In my opinion, initial negativity was a product of the American version of The Office attempting to directly recreate its British counterpart. Michael Scott is far from the Michael Scott of later seasons of The Office in season 1, and that’s because he’s David Brent. I’d argue that Michael Scott is unlikable throughout most of The Office, but in this episode, it’s on a whole different level. He’s cocky and abrasive, but also a straight-laced and strict boss with his slicked-back hair and tight-pressed white shirt. In my opinion, season two is where the show really took off with the fan-favorite episode The Dundies.
In that short period of time, The Office has become one of the most popular American TV shows of all time. Nearly everyone has seen at least one episode. I have been through the whole series once and rewatched many of my favorite episodes multiple times. The Christmas episodes come on every December without fail; I have seen my favorite episodes “Stress Relief”, “The Injury”, and “Dinner Party” more times than I can count; however, none of these binge sessions can compare to the amount I’ve watched and rewatched my favorite comedy TV show of all time, Parks and Recreation.
Parks and Rec began development in 2007. Inspired by the success of The Office, NBC asked Greg Daniels, who had adapted The Office for American television, and Mike Schur, a producer on The Office, to come up with an idea for a spinoff show that would follow the same format and mockumentary style. Eventually, Daniels decided firmly against a direct The Office spin-off and ended up with the loose idea of a TV show focused on local bureaucratic government. In the wake of events like the 2008 economic crisis and election, the public developed a much more keen interest in the government and how it affected their lives. Daniels and Schur took inspiration from one of my other favorite TV shows, The West Wing, which is a drama focusing on the fictional President Josiah Bartlet and his administration. They aimed to create a comedy version of this show, one where the stakes were much lower. Parks and Recreation soon signed on The Office alumni Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, and most critically, SNL star Amy Poehler. The pilot would follow a basic plot line, and Amy Poehler would play Leslie Knope, a woman holding a middle-management position in the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana. Aziz Ansari would be her subordinate, Tom Haverford, struggling to take issues as seriously as his boss. Rashida Jones would play Anne Perkins, a citizen of Pawnee trying to get a dangerous pit behind her house filled in. Additional cast members included Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson, Leslie’s Libertarian boss; Chris Pratt as Anne’s boyfriend Andy Dwyer, who had fallen into the pit and broken his legs, initiating the events of the pilot; Paul Schneider as Mark Brendanawicz, a city planner and romantic interest of Leslie’s; Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate, an apathetic department intern; and Jim O’Heir and Retta as Jerry Gergich and Donna Meagle, additional Parks and Rec employees.
In the beginning, nobody thought Parks and Recreation would succeed. They had lower ratings than the shows in the block surrounding them, The Office, 30 Rock, and Community. The first episode is nothing incredible in my opinion. It’s good; I would say the first season definitely consists of decent comedy, but there is not much here that would be able to convince you that Parks and Recreation should be my favorite show of all time. The Office also had this kind of start, and similarly to The Office, I think it’s because they were trying to be something they weren’t. Leslie Knope acts like Micheal Scott in this episode–she almost appears delusional in her optimism and ends up as a punching bag most of the time. Leslie ends up falling flat on her face in this episode (literally and figuratively as she ends up falling down into the giant empty pit she’s trying to fix) and it’s not as funny as it is kind of discouraging and sad. Growing pains aside, the show also hits its stride in the second and third seasons like The Office, but I believe Parks and Recreation grows past The Office becomes clear.
There are few characters I love and care about more than the ones in Parks and Recreation. Each character is likable in their own way, and throughout the show, you get the sense that they genuinely care about each other. Relationships develop and deepen over the show’s run, and believing that the people who work in the Parks and Recreation office are genuinely friends isn’t hard. Even Andy Dwyer, who is at first portrayed as incompetent and unlikeable, being probably the worst boyfriend ever, ends the show as one of the most beloved characters. He comes off as earnest and well-meaning, no matter how childish he acts. There are many characters in The Office that I love, however, with most episodes I end up disliking most of them. I understand that they are flawed and human, but even Jim and Pam, the universal favorites, have moments where I straight up hate them. Almost nobody at Dunder-Mifflin feels like actual friends, in Ron Swanson’s words, they appear simply as “work proximity associates.”
At the end of season two, when Parks and Recreation brings on the characters Chris Trager and Ben Wyatt as budget specialists coming to Pawnee to help save them from their debt, the ensemble cast finally feels whole and complete. It’s also worth noting that they finally decided to snub Mark Brendanawicz, who was really the only member of the cast who wasn’t pulling their weight. Ben Wyatt replaces Mark as Leslie’s main romantic interest and this change is a welcome one. Seasons 3 and 4 follow Leslie and Ben’s will-they-or-won’t-they romance (a requirement of sitcoms) taking the shape of a modern-day enemies-to-lovers forbidden love story. Actually, if you pay close attention, it’s Pride and Prejudice. Like, actually. It’s incredible.
I could gush about the characters and their relationships for hours, whether that be the friendship between Ron and Leslie or Leslie and Ann, or the romance of April and Andy or Leslie and Ben. However, most people watch these shows for comedy, and comedy is something that Parks and Rec does very well. There’s an endless amount of quotable lines and scenes that make me laugh no matter how many times I see them–like when a disheveled Ben Wyatt shoves a clay figure into the camera, saying, “Do you think a depressed person could make this?” The show has even more one-liners that at least earn a smile from nearly every viewer. Though I don’t like to judge The Office and Parks and Rec purely on their comedy, comedy is so insanely subjective. I may laugh out loud at a joke that doesn’t even make someone else smile. Both shows share a few writers and have casts chock full of comedic talent, and we probably have Parks to blame for Chris Pratt’s rise to fame, while The Office gave the world John Krasinski. However, Aubrey Plaza, Nick Offerman, and Amy Poehler are national treasures in my opinion, and it’s very possible that they wouldn’t have the notoriety they have now without Parks and Recreation. The Office is hilarious, sure, but it overstays its welcome. By season 6 or 7, I’ve essentially fully lost interest in everything that’s going on, while I think Parks stays consistently strong up until its 7th and final season. 3 and 4 are definitely the show’s strongest seasons and, in my opinion, are peak comedy television.
Whenever I have absolutely nothing to watch, I pick up my remote and almost reflexively turn on Parks and Recreation. I start from the show’s stellar 3rd season and binge it all the way through. When I’m cleaning, Parks and Rec, when I’m sad, Parks and Rec, when I’m hopelessly bored, Parks and Rec. There is essentially no other show on the planet that comforts me in the way Parks and Rec does, and when sitting down to watch a TV show after a long day, the only thing I want to feel is comfort. The Office will never feel the way that Parks and Recreation does to me. If you’ve never seen Parks and Recreation before, I hope that you decide to give it a try. Lose yourself in the satirical, yet sincere masterpiece of comedy TV; let yourself fully believe in and begin to care about these fictional characters and their relationships. Just watch Park and Recreation, I promise you won’t regret it.
Cover Image Credits: Rob DiCaterino