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Parks and Recreation

Park and recreation managers relate to "Parks and Recreation," new NBC comedy starring Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler, center, stars as Leslie Knope in NBC's new comedy, Parks and Recreation.

NBC

Amy Poehler, center, stars as Leslie Knope in NBC's new comedy, Parks and Recreation.

It raised an eyebrow months ago.

Thursday was the series premiere of NBC's new comedy, Parks and Recreation, a show, with the "mockumentary" style of a fictional camera crew following the lives of workers in the parks and recreation department from the fictional town of Pawnee, Ind.

For me, as someone who deals daily with people from parks and recreation departments, I thought the show had an interesting concept, albeit one already perfected by its sister show, The Office.

The two local, well established parks and rec departments, both for Hernando and Pasco counties, could easy substitute for the one in show. Both are smaller communities with plenty of parks and youth leagues.

So when I first saw the show's preview during Super Bowl XLIII, I was curious whether anyone from the two local departments would watch it.

Would they think its funny? Would they relate to scenes and characters? Would they even think its even insulting?

I was able to nab Brian Taylor, a recreation manager for Pasco County Parks and Recreation, and Harry Johnson, who holds the same job in Hernando, and get them to watch the premiere.

First off, Johnson hadn't heard of the show, but Taylor had, being a fan of The Office, which shares the same producers with the new show. Once they heard the premise, they were both intrigued.

"I thought it was a cute show," Johnson said just 20 minutes after the premiere. "It was funny and there were a scene or two I could relate to."

Both Taylor and Johnson thought the opening scene of the show, in which Amy Poehler's character, Leslie Knope, and her wise-cracking, jaded assistant, are headed to a town hall meeting — the kind both of our parks and recreation guys have attended, hosted and left feeling drained.

As Knope puts it with one of her funnier lines, speaking to the off-camera producers directly, people weren't there to complain, they were there "caring loudly."

"I thought that scene had it down perfectly," Taylor said. "For anyone who has worked in local government, I think they can relate to that forum where there are many issues raised that important, and a few that aren't. We listen to them all, just like they did in the scene."

In the premiere, a local woman complains about a pit next to her home where condos were being built, but when funding ran out, the developer left a huge hole where the basement would've been. She wants something done about it.

Knope wants to replace that hole with a park. She even "guarantees" it will happen.

"Something like getting a park there in that spot would take at least four to five years," Johnson said. "I mean, that would be a mind-boggling process, what she wants to do."

Knope is so bubbly, so happy, that it can hurt your teeth. She is so optimistic about her job that nearly no one takes her seriously.

Her supervisor, a man whose lifelong goal is to get corporations to run parks and recreation to make more money, is the exact opposite of Knope. He doesn't want the job and is so disenchanted that it makes sense when you see a photo of former Indiana coach Bob Knight hanging above his desk.

As both Taylor and Johnson pointed out, not only are the characters over the top, the show is a little, too. They say there's just no professionalism in the way anyone — even Knope — goes about business.

If this was anybody's first day on the job, they probably would be fired.

"We have a lot of characters in our department, a lot of different personalities," Johnson said. "But nobody is going to be like that. There's guys who don't care about the jobs, but we do."

Eccentric humor on TV shows seems to be the norm nowadays, and this show has its share of laughs and catchy one-liners worth repeating. But is it enough to entertain these workers, or does it just demean their jobs?

They didn't think so, and neither did I.

Their jobs are dealing with the public at large, because as government employees, they work to help the people, to better the towns they live in.

Which makes the fate of Knope's "guarantee" to create a park something our guys want to follow.

"It does seem like she's the only one who does care," Taylor said of Poehler's character. "She might have been trying too hard, but her heart is in the right place. I like to think that that's what I do, but I plan on watching the show to see what happens."

Community sports editor Mike Camunas can be reached at mcamunas@sptimes.com or (352) 544-1771.

Fast facts

Parks and Recreation review from Eric Deggans

Brian Taylor, Pasco County Parks and Recreation Department recreation manager, is excited to tune in next week, when the main character deals with graffiti in the community.

Harry Johnson, Hernando County Parks and Recreation Department recreation manager, will definitely tune in to see where the show goes.

What we say

Times television critic Eric Deggans:

"After a spin through the debut episode of Saturday Night Live alum Amy Poehler's new NBC comedy, Parks and Recreation, one question stuck in my brain like a glass splinter: If NBC was going to make a carbon copy of The Office, why didn't they just stick with their original plan to create an actual spin-off series?"

To learn more go to blogs.tampabay.com/media/ and scroll down to April 8.

What they say

Brian Taylor, Pasco County Parks and Recreation Department recreation manager, is excited to tune in next week, when the main character deals with graffiti in the community.

Harry Johnson, Hernando County Parks and Recreation Department recreation manager, will definitely tune in to see where the show goes.

Park and recreation managers relate to "Parks and Recreation," new NBC comedy starring Amy Poehler 04/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 12:49pm]
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