Both driven by the talented Michael Schur, The Office and Parks and Recreation (also known as Parks) are among the most bingeable TV comedies in recent memory. The former gave rise to the mockumentary-style of storytelling that made the latter possible. That said, in my opinion, Parks is just an all-around better TV show.
There are striking parallels between the two shows. They each centre on workplaces: The Office is set at a small-town paper company, and Parks in a municipal government office. They’re both driven by hilarious leads who are unconventional, to say the least. Finally, both protagonists find their stride in the development of workplace relationships that blossom into lasting friendships.
But something about Parks makes it so much more charming. With The Office, you have to learn to like main characters despite their flaws. But with Parks, you love characters from the start because their flaws are the by-products of their unmatched passion for their professional and personal goals.
For instance, Michael Scott, the protagonist of the first six seasons of The Office, is obnoxiously desperate to befriend his coworkers, often taking his insecurity to the point of humiliating and alienating those around him. Leslie Knope in Parks, on the other hand, is only obnoxious in how ridiculously hard she works to bring joy to the people and the town she loves.
Both are entertaining, but with Parks, you feel like you know the characters on a personal level. Over the course of the show’s run, they start to feel like your friends. They’re people you want in your life, even if they bring chaos with them.
It’s also relevant that Parks has much more genuine representation of women and minorities. While The Office touches on issues like sexual harassment, homophobia, and mental illness, it does so the same way mainstream television has for years. These topics are the butt-end of the joke, made to get a quick laugh out of the audiences and then never brought up again.
Since Parks’ onscreen diversity is matched by the makeup of its writers’ room, it manages to effectively touch on issues like sexism, corporate greed, and government corruption while remaining simultaneously lighthearted and impactful.
On The Office, a sexual harassment seminar in season 2, episode 2 becomes an excuse for men to laugh at how sensitive victims of such behaviour are. On Parks, the issue of workplace sexual harassment is a very real, if slightly exaggerated, barrier in Knope’s path from low-level employee to city councilwoman that’s woven throughout the series. It’s presented as something women everywhere can relate to.
It’s perfectly okay to laugh at some of the dark issues that colour the lives of marginalized people. However, in Parks, this laughter is for those people—in other words, what actual satire should look like—but with The Office, this laughter is for the powerful, for those who have been able to laugh at these problems for as long as they’ve been around.
In short, as we all prepare to spend more time at home than ever before due to the spread of Coronavirus, I’ll be bingeing both of these shows. But while The Office is only there for cheap background laughs as I heat up my canned spaghetti, Parks and Recreation will be there for me when I want to remember that the world is mostly good, and so are the people in it.
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