When “Parks and Recreation” debuted four years ago, it received faint praise. Created and produced by the people behind “The Office,” the show had a very similar style. The only difference between Steve Carell’s Michael and Amy Poehler’s Leslie was gender, but the television world only allows one Michael Scott. At some point between the first and second seasons though, Greg Daniels heard the world’s complaints and made some changes.
When the show came back for its second season, instead of representing the lousy twin, it became the overachieving younger sibling. Daniels and Co. took all of the problems with “The Office” and fixed them. Michael, a hilarious and unique character, has an inability to see beyond himself. Jim’s pranks on Dwight while hilarious, seem reminiscent of a high school jock bullying the unpopular nerdy student. However, Dwight’s personality makes him difficult to sympathize with. Dwight, and the rest of the cast of “The Office” is a genuinely sour bunch. While hilarious to watch, the entire cast contains tragic and depressing attributes – Meredith is addicted to alcohol, Stanley cheats on his wife, Angela remains in a loveless marriage with a gay man, and Toby is chronically depressed. The characters themselves, hardly even like each other. The romantic relationships between them, while cute, are also the least interesting parts of the show. This makes the show limited in its appeal.
Conversely, “Parks and Recreation” created a world of characters stuck in a more depressing governmental job, but somehow made each of them uniquely relatable. For starters, Leslie Knope (Poehler) leads her team with some understanding of social interactions. While there are awkward moments, they rarely induce cringing, but rather endearment. Her biggest flaw is she has too much talent for the job that she performs. As for the other characters, Ron Swanson is a selfish libertarian on the surface, but cares more for his job than any other character on the show. His paternal relationship with Leslie and some of the other characters contains a level of compassion hardly ever seen on “The Office.” Tom Haverford, while he assists Leslie annoyingly, still manages to find redeemable qualities about himself. He dreams bigger than the small town of Pawnee, but he refuses to let that drag him down. Donna’s sauciness never oversteps the boundaries to become frustrating or irritating. Instead, the writers use her sparingly to great effect. Then there are Andy and April, whose television relationship creates a serious competition for one of best on air. Andy’s stupidity and April’s hipster background create an event filled path to their adulthood lines without drama and full of interest.
Relationships in “The Office” failed to do this with Jim and Pam, who got together and then became TV’s most boring couple. In “Parks and Recreation,” Jerry is the only character made fun of, but he lives a life with his beautiful and successful daughter and only works so he can retire with a little extra cash. The jokes come from jealousy, not disdain. Finally, there is Anne, who entered the show as the sane outsider and followed a path similar to that of the audience. She was initially judgmental of Leslie and the gang at first, but has since fallen in love.
“The Office,” while good for the first three, maybe four seasons, lost viewership when people became less interested in the characters. Because the characters do not relate to viewers so well, the show will hold a very limited appeal. “Parks and Recreation” succeeded exponentially on this level. The writers created a cast that reveals genuine, believable, uplifting, and ultimately funnier characters than “The Office.” When audiences connect with characters, they actually laugh with them. While lacking in the ratings that “The Office” did in its prime, “The Office” loses viewers as Parks and Recreation gains them. The explanation for the sudden rise in popularity credits the character development for “Parks and Recreation.”