How Big Government Ruined Parks and Recreation


It’s official: Parks and Recreation’s love affair with big government has ruined the show. Over its six seasons (which I admit I binge-watched like a strung-out coke fiend), Parks and Rec has devolved from incisive comedy into aggressively unfunny propaganda.

When we first met her, the show’s central character, Leslie Knope, was a masterpiece of observational humor, a lonely career bureaucrat with delusions of grandeur and a fetish for protocol. She was over-the-top, but at the same time anyone who had ever navigated the infuriating upper echelons of the DMV or city hall had met someone exactly like her — chipper, litigious, and maddeningly disconnected from reality.

The fun they made of her was genius. The pilot’s opening scenes showed her shoving a sleeping drunk out of a playground slide while declaring, “It’s a great time to be a woman in politics.” Her bright-eyed interviews were expertly undermined by intercut depictions of the meaningless drudge work that defines a job in small-town government. Poehler’s humorless smile, her expressions of officious solemnity, were masterfully executed — mockumentary at its finest.

Then slowly, slowly, the creative team let their inchoate political theories eclipse their comedic sense of truth. The creators had started out with fly-on-the wall research at real-life city council meetings, insightfully mocking the morass of self-importance and illogic that results when people get together to plan other people’s lives for them. But as that experience faded from memory, the writers replaced it with a dogmatic fantasy world based on the unexamined conviction that everyone needs a hyper-attentive government mommy. That’s when Leslie Knope became a hero, and Parks and Rec became about as entertaining as a health code referendum.