‘Parks and Recreation’ NBC’s newest creation

Jeremiah Lim

At the beginning of NBC’s new sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” protagonist Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) asserts that people “need [government] again.”

Leslie is the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation department in Pawnee, Ind. She believes that, whatever the public’s misgivings, local government can provide real solutions to relevant problems.

Leslie then proceeds to that morning’s critical task: prodding a drunken man out of a playground slide with a broom.

Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur of “The Office” fame, “Parks and Recreation” is developed in much the same style.

An unexplained film crew documents Leslie’s workday as she pontificates on her own place in the political landscape. “It’s a great time for women in politics,” she says obliviously in one talking head. “Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, me, Nancy Pelosi.”

Despite a slight air of self-importance, Leslie is no Michael Scott. She is never mean-spirited or cruel, and she does not particularly care about being well-liked. Rather, she has a boundless energy and enthusiasm for making her town a better place.

For example, when confronted with a hostile crowd at a public forum, Leslie interprets the crowd’s yelling as “people caring loudly at me.”

It is this enthusiasm – or perhaps, naiveté – that helps her face the often thankless tasks of working the public sector.

Most of her coworkers are apathetic. Sleazy subordinate Tom (Aziz Ansari) makes fun of Leslie behind her back. And, she has to deal with her boss, Ron, who, despite working in government, categorizes himself as decidedly anti-government.

His dream is to have the park system privatized and run by corporations for profit, much like Chuck E. Cheese. “They have an impeccable business model,” he says. If “The Office” is about finding joy and humanity in the mundane corporate world, then “Parks” is about fighting for something worthwhile in a cynical, world-weary environment.

The show draws much of its comedic edge from the various frustrations and indignities that Leslie must endure, both inside her bureaucratic workplace, and in the real world, when she must face the public.

While moderating a public forum in an auditorium, someone turns out all of the lights. When Leslie is actually faced with the public, they proceed to chastise her and waste her time. “Now, I have a few things I want to say about Laura Linney,” one random complainer says.

Poehler does an admirable job of imbuing Leslie with the can-do attitude that makes her character sympathetic to others. It’s hard not to root for someone who fights for what she believes in and won’t take no for an answer.

She wisely decides not to play Leslie at full-tilt. While some of her past characters were exemplars of over-the-top wackiness, Leslie is comparatively restrained.

Leslie is a tad overly idealistic, and some of the things she says are foolish, but Poehler never allows her to become a caricature.

She is driven, but she’s also smart and (slightly) self-aware.

The rest of the cast, however, is a bit thin in comparison, however.

Former “Office” regular Rashida Jones is bland as concerned citizen Ann Perkins, who petitions Leslie to fill in a vacant lot where her boyfriend broke both of his legs.

Jones is supposed to be the straight man, the everyday citizen who can only step back and be amused by Leslie’s antics. But, even with a light role, Jones is overshadowed by Poehler in every scene they share.

Paul Schneider is a nonpresence as veteran governmental worker Mark Brendanawicz.

The only bright spot in the supporting cast is Ansari, who deftly manages to toe the line between arrogant sleazebag and repressed underling who deals with his boss’s ridiculousness by poking fun at her. He’s like Jim from Dunder-Mifflin, if Jim was a little meaner.

The writing in “Parks” is consistently sharp and witty, but it is rarely hilarious.

The writers show a sophisticated understanding of the nuances and pressures of public service, and it is definitely a sympathetic portrayal of those in government.

It’ll make you chuckle for sure, but you won’t keel over in laughter. It is a steady, slow-moving show, and it is hard to see how the first subplot – Leslie attempting to build a park on the vacant lot – can maintain interest for more than a few episodes.

It is more than an “Office” clone and certainly worth checking out once or twice. Nevertheless, its dry subject matter and weak supporting cast ensure that it will suffer in comparison to its more famous sister show.