“Office” and “Parks” Politics

As "The Office" begins its final-season victory lap, "Parks and Recreation" is poised to emerge as TV's top workplace mockumentary.

Leslie Knope, the TV character who somehow made earnest wonkism endearing, cool and funny, begins the key fifth season of "Parks and Recreation" Thursday as a newly minted councilwoman in her beloved hometown of Pawnee, IN.

But Amy Poehler's creation, fueled more by hopes and dreams (and waffles) than ambition and a thirst for power, never takes a break. She's set to descend on Washington for comic encounters with Sens. Barbara Boxer, John McCain and Olympia Snow.

The sunny, yet restless optimism we'll call the Audacity of Knope isn't limited to fueling political aspirations. As "The Office" begins its final season victory lap, the Knope spirit is poised to lift "Parks and Recreation" to the position of TV's top workplace mockumentary.

Which, admittedly, isn't a very crowded list ("Veep," which enjoyed a very promising short first season on HBO, is the other major player). But like Leslie, who takes joy in the seemingly smallest of victories, we’re thrilled “Parks” has come this far.

"Parks" slowly built a following with meme-friendly oddities, most notably government-hating bureaucrat Ron Swanson’s retro meat-and-mustache-centric charm. But Leslie’s run for office last season added crucial substance and stakes as the show hit its stride.
Leslie’s quest to save the world one park at a time and her sweet-but-not-sappy relationship with rehabilitated political whiz kid Ben (Adam Scott) have given “Parks” an emotional underpinning that's taken the show beyond quirky laughs – and, at least temporarily, to Washington, where Ben is working.
Like “The Office,” the comedy boasts an ensemble crew of eccentrics worth caring about, thanks to sharp writing and performances by Rob Lowe, Aubrey Plaza, Nick Offerman and Aziz Ansari, among others. "Parks" also is showing signs of growth and resilience amid change – as with "The Office," which eventually came up strong last season in its first full post-Steve Carell outing. The manning up of once-spineless Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) provided action-fueling character development and set the stage for his power struggle with New Age corporate double-speaker Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate) this ninth and final season.

While "The Office" is losing some more major characters – Robert California, Toby Flenderson and Kelly Kapoor – it's regaining producer Greg Daniels, who helped develop the U.S. version of the show. Daniels also is co-creator of "Parks and Recreation," which hopefully will keep that brand of comic sensibility going and growing long after "The Office" closes its doors.

In the meantime, check out previews of both comedies, which air back-to-back Thursday on NBC:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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