I review a whole season rather than individual episodes, so there is a chance of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the whole season yet, stop reading now!
Season two of any tv show is the real test of where it will go and how successful it will be. Particularly when your first season was only six episodes long and the second season is extended to a huge 24 episodes. It’s your chance to reflect on what worked and what faltered in the first season and hopefully correct some of those issues, as well as develop the characters and stories from the first season further.
Luckily, Parks and Recreation seemed to have done this, taking some of the (few) negative issues from the first season and developing the strengths hugely. Characters are changed for the better, others are introduced and fleshed out and we actually have a new, tv icon who is fast becoming one of my favourite tv characters ever.
The first issue to resolve was the feeling that it was a The Office clone. The format being so familiar meant this was always going to be an issue and the show felt like it lacked its own, real identity. It had the crazy boss, in the form of Amy Poehler’s Leslie, as well as the put upon, straight man with Paul Schneider’s Mark. There was even a feeling of a “Jim and Pam” relationship, involving Mark and the other “straight” character, Ann, played by The Office’s Rashida Jones.
Luckily, the show dialled back the crazy of some characters and increased those traits in the more “normal” people and found a fantastic balance. Leslie becomes her own character, no longer feeling like a Michael Scott clone. She isn’t as stupid as his character or as socially unaware. She becomes a character we can root for and get behind, much more than the boss in Scranton ever did.
Mark and Ann do develop a relationship but its more about the issues of being in a relationship than the problems with trying to get together. This works a lot better, does something different from its sister show but is nowhere near the best “love story” in the series.
That’s because the creators do a fantastic job of developing the fringe characters and making their parts and stories much more prominent. Just like The Office, the show is no longer about Leslie or her core four character support but about the whole staff, each with their own back stories, traits, foibles and issues to develop. The best of which begins with the complicated “friendship” between Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer and Aubrey Plaza’s April.
Both these characters have defined personalities and are much more than the comic relief they were in the first season. Placing Andy in the middle of the Government building as a shoe shine was a genius move and means we get him involved in the core of the stories. He is one of the funniest characters, sweet but unaware of the world around him in a great, naively funny way.
Its that development of characters from the presence they were in the first season that puts Parks and Recreation beyond most other sitcoms. The best character in the first season was Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford. This season sees him become more and more of a caricature, playing on the crazy aspects of his personality from the previous season. This begins to water down his influence on the season but makes way for the breakout star of the show, Ron Swanson.
In Ron Swanson, Mark Offerman has created an authoritarian, no-nonsense, macho, misogynistic, brilliant comic creation. More of a one-line, comedy presence in the first season, Ron gets some great scenes in the second season, fleshing out his character and creating a person that steals almost every scene he is in without being the loudest or most outrageous presence. Put him in a scene with Andy and you get some of the best comedy from the season.
The show has a fantastic running thread throughout the season, with the department losing money and influence. Expanding the season to 24 episodes also means we get to see a lot more of the wider responsibilities of the department, like telethons, community center classes and meeting delegations from other countries. It offers the characters chances to get into great situations, ripe with comedy.
Add to the show great guest stars, like Louis C.K and towards the end of the season, Rob Lowe, and you develop the shows appeal even further. It fast becoming one of my favourite shows and will rival the success of The Office if it can continue with this level of quality.
Overall, Parks and Recreation is a lesson in how to create a second season, particularly of a sitcom. Its learnt its mistakes from the last season, dialling down characters and fleshing out others. In doing so it has created some of the best characters on tv, especially Ron Swanson. I’m hoping it can continue this success into the future seasons.
Best Episode – Practice Date: Difficult to choose a best episode but the sub-plot of everyone trying to dish up the juiciest dirt contains one of the funniest jokes of the season.
Best performance – Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson
Should there be another season? – Definitely, this is one of the funniest shows on tv and I hope it can continue, at the same quality, for plenty more seasons.
Season Rating – 4.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)