‘Parks and Recreation’s’ Hidden Political Commentary

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Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

You may think that NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” is just a goofy workplace comedy starring Amy Poehler. But it actually has some subtle subtext to America’s political struggles.

The show is set around the parks and recreation department in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. While Poehler’s Leslie Knope is extremely dedicated to her job, not everyone — especially not her boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) — shares her enthusiasm. At the Patton Oswalt-hosted PaleyFest panel on March 18 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, show co-creator Michael Schur explained the development of these two characters.

“In very broad strokes, Republicans and Democrats in this country simply don’t talk to each other and they don’t try to fix problems,” said Schur. “The sort of cynicism of government, I think in my opinion, is worse than it’s ever been. And we just wanted to say one guy could have a set of extremely fervent beliefs that run completely counter to the beliefs of his coworker and they can still just get along and respect each other and admire each other and find things in common and they can sit down and have a glass of whiskey together at the end of a long night.”

Schur also liked the idea of having a mom-and-dad dynamic to the show, while Poehler said she sees Leslie and Ron’s relationship more like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s” Mary Richards and Lou Grant.

There were never any plans to link the these characters romantically, although Poehler said she and Offerman will do one take a year where “Leslie and Ron make out.” It’s intended for the gag reel, but Schur says “we never put it on the gag reel because it’s super disturbing.”

Instead, her marriage to Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt is one of the cutest, funniest relationships on television.

“It’s a real testament to the writing that once we got together and they got married … the relationship is still so alive and continually throwing obstacles at each other’s paths and overcoming other obstacles together,” said Scott.

“Parks and Rec” is famous for its “jump cut” edits of a character having multiple reactions to one scenario. Schur said this started with the second episode of the series when editor Dean Holland spliced together Poehler’s improvised reactions to previously written jokes.

“I feel like our episodes are all about frequency,” said Chris Pratt, who plays lovable doofus Andy Dwyer. “Twenty one and a half minutes for a comedy is not a lot of time, especially when we have not only an A story, not only a B story, but sometimes a C story. We have a lot of story to be told, which means you have to get in and out with your jokes.”

The show is also known for its stunt and guest casting — Christie Brinkley is married to Jim O’Heir’s clumsy buffoon Larry Gengurch, Offerman’s real-life wife Megan Mullally plays his character’s troublesome ex, and Ben Schwartz, who plays spoiled tool Jean-Ralphio, said people ask him if he’s really related to comedian Jenny Slate, who plays his sister. But the night ended with a shout out to moderator Oswalt, whose appearance on the show last year included an epic, improvised filibuster about what he (or his “character”) thinks should happen with the next “Star Wars” film. (Re)watch it for yourself here:

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  1. heartbreakbeat says:

    It’s Garry “Jerry” Gergich. Get it right.

  2. Dan says:

    Is this headline and lede meant as a joke? Serious question. Because you’d have to have never read a political story in your life to not get that Parks and Rec is about politics. Its political commentary is about as well-hidden as that of the Daily Show. Next, you’re going to tell us that Lord of War isn’t just a quirky film about brotherhood, it has a subtle message about the global arms trade!

    • Zach says:

      When I saw the title for this link I thought it was for The Onion. Nothing about the political commentary of Parks and Rec is hidden or subtle, and it pains me to think that somebody might be under the impression that the show is just a “wacky workplace comedy.”

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