This week Parks and Recreation finally debuts on BBC4, after long talk of negotiations and promises and anticipation and all manner of teasing with ‘the deals done!’ ‘no its not yet!’ gossip on twitter. Its a rare US sitcom import for the digital channel (we still miss you Mad Men, *sniff*) and it couldn’t be a more perfect home for it.
In brief, Parks & Rec is a warm-hearted (and in my view, hilarious) NBC sitcom set in the parks and recreation department of fictional Indiana city Pawnee. The department is headed up by the indominable Ron Swanson, played in a piece of deadpan mastery by Nick Offerman. He enjoys woodwork, brunettes and breakfast food. He does not enjoy government. As an avowed libertarian, he hates it and the department he runs. He also possesses a fine moustache. Ron Swanson is awesome, he created a pyramid which explains it all.
As Ron does not care much for government work, he leaves his deputy, Leslie Knope, to run the whole shebang. And Leslie LOVES government work and LOVES Pawnee. And I and many others LOVE Leslie Knope – I talk about her here as part of In Media Res‘s great week on Parks & Rec. Alongside 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon, Leslie is a masterpiece of televisual comedy womanhood. Leslie is one of the two key reasons for the perfect fit of this show and BBC4. I’ll get back to that.
The other reason is that Parks & Rec sits within BBC4’s fine lineage of workplace comedies like Getting On and The Thick of It. Whilst it shares a back-stage political theme with The Thick of It, in tone and setting it hones closer to the small town politics of the mundane found in the recently concluded Brian Cox sitcom Bob Servant Independent, whose slot it inherits. The peculiarities of local government and the quirky world of Pawnee – and Leslie’s enthusiasm for them both – are what makes Parks & Rec tick. Britain likes its comedy a touch skewed with a particular worldview and whilst Parks & Rec is set in the American heartland it resonates with our off-centre-but-loving sitcom communities a la Gavin and Stacey or Miranda. Incidentally, Parks & Rec has its own master of physical comedy to rival Miranda Hart in the form of Andy Dwyer (played by Chris Pratt), displayed in this Vulture supercut.
However Leslie Knope – brought to life by the wonder that is Amy Poehler – is my main argument for the perfect fit of Parks & Rec and BBC4, as she sits comfortably alongside the channel’s parade of awesome ladies. Leslie’s energy, tenacity and single-mindedness aligns her with BBC4’s cast of Scandi-drama ladies: The Killing‘s Sarah Lund and Borgen‘s Birgitte Nyborg (though I remain unconvinced by the male-writer-fantasy of The Bridge‘s Saga Noren). Particularly Birgitte, a fellow driven, lady politician with a sense of fun.
I’d also suggest that Leslie’s giddy, geeky, passion for her job and her quirky smarts in turn aligns her with the BBC’s lady historian titans such as Mary Beard, Amanda Vickery and BBC4’s own Lucy Worsley. I can’t help but imagine that Leslie would love the tales of Georgian women’s rum lot in life and small victories of power spun by Worsley – a fellow petite yet indomitable blonde.
Now, I give you fair warning that Parks & Rec does take a few episodes to find its feet, 5 of the 6 episodes of season one are almost a wash. But from ‘Rock Show’ the show works out who Leslie is and how the people in her department (I haven’t even talked about wannabe-player Tom Haverford! Or the morosely tortured April Ludgate, or Jerry – damn you Jerry) operate around her. As season two swings into gear, the show starts a multi-season long hot-streak unmatched in recent decades of the US sitcom (just my humble opinion). Luckily, BBC4 is showing it in double bills, so we get through the rough stuff quickly.
So, BBC4, Wednesdays at 1opm. Parks and Recreation. Stick with it. You’ll be rewarded.