Vantage point

Friday, May 08, 2009

Parks and Recreation - A Review

Ever since I saw the promo's I was looking forward to a new NBC series from the creators of (US) The Office - Parks and Recreation. Philosophically, it has the same DNA as The Office, except that it is set in a government parks department. I have enjoyed the first few episodes. The plots are irony-filled, with a subtle understated humor that is still rare in US sitcoms, and the best compliment for it is that it is potentially a worthy sibling for The Office.

The problem, at least for me, is the casting of Amy Pohler. She just does not seem to fit the lead role as well as one would hope. I loved Pohler's work on SNL, but the show demonstrates that making the switch from a sketch comedy show to actual acting is not always easy. Pohler's character, Leslie Knope, has been written as a government-office equivalent of The Office's Michael Scott played by Steve Carell. The problem is, she plays it a little too much like Scott. While watching the show, it is difficult not to compare Pohler to Carell, and then mentally list down her shortfalls.

I wasn't instantly smitten by The Office either. Having been a hardcore fan of the original British version of Ricky Gervais, I found myself comparing the two, consciously and subconsciously, and finding the US version falling short. Especially because in the first season, they used a couple of the same story plots, making an absolute apples-to-apples comparison possible.

But Carell's triumph, aided by the writers, was to portray a character that is completely different from Gervais' David Brent. Different mannerisms, different personality, different motivations, and even different skills. By the second season, it became possible or even necessary, to think of the US version as a completely different series on its own. It very rapidly and successfully moved out of the British version's shadow.

The problem with Parks and Recreation is that it is still under The Office's shadow. Or more specifically, still under Michael Scott's shadow. The plot, story arcs, situations and even the other characters are good enough for it to carve out an identity of its own. But Pohler's Knope is just too Scott-ish.

Part of the problem might be that Pohler is just not as good an actor as Carell is. Although Carell became famous for his correspondent role in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and later due to the surprise hit The 40 Year Old Virgin, we know that he can act and act well, as we saw from his gay Proust scholar role in Little Miss Sunshine. Pohler, sadly, has not provided evidence of her acting range. She seems to be consciously or subconsciously copying Carell. And that could be the show's downfall, given that it airs right before The Office.

Maybe it was a mistake casting her. Off the top of my head, I can think of one actress from their "gang" that would have fit the role perfectly - Angela Kinsey, who plays Angela Martin on The Office. Or even Rashida Jones (who played Karen on The Office) who has a supporting role in Parks and Recreation.

If the show gets canceled because of poor ratings, and research shows it was because of Pohler's inability to aptly portray Leslie Knope, it will be a real shame. It is, like I said, a very well-written, well-conceived and intelligent show and certainly deserves a longer run on TV.

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