Idiot Box: Politics: Only okay if it’s on TV

October 18, 2012

For the past few months, I have been systematically hiding the posts of certain Facebook friends from my newsfeed for one reason—it’s an election year, and slews of college students from all sides of the political spectrum with access to HuffPo or Fox News think they’re top political analysts. I can’t stand it. So, when I was scrolling through my feed the other day and saw that a libertarian acquaintance of mine had posted a picture of a campaign poster, I almost hit the “hide” button immediately. But I chuckled audibly once I read the actual text on the blue-and-red picture: Ron Swanson 2012.

If you don’t recognize that name, follow these instructions very carefully: Put down this newspaper (or, more likely, close this window on your computer), go to the Internet, and start watching Parks and Recreation from Season 1. Thanks to the deluges of politicking, propaganda, and public relations that we’re currently drowning in, the show’s humor will be magnified.

Although it’s often lumped with the rest of NBC’s comedy lineup alongside Community, 30 Rock, and The Office (when it was still funny), Parks and Rec is unique in that, beneath its mockumentary sitcom veneer, it is at its core a satire of American life and politics. Pawnee, Ind., the tiny town whose Parks and Recreation department serves as the setting for the show’s action, is a hilarious microcosm of modern America—its obesity rate is absurdly high; its environment is polluted; its history involves the violent slaughter of native peoples,;and its people are ill-informed, hot-tempered numbskulls.

Trying to placate those people are our good friends at the Pawnee Parks and Rec Department, with a focus on now-City Councilwoman Leslie Knope, played impeccably by Amy Poehler, whose hysterical love for her town (and for sugar) and belief in her ability to become the first female president are the heart of the show. The writers keep her endeavors to protect Pawnee or further her career relevant and reflective of those facing the American people today.

Example: one episode in the show’s fifth and current season finds Knope attempting to pass a bill limiting the sale of large sugary drinks, à la Mike Bloomberg’s New York soda ban. A session with a woman from a local fast-food restaurant involves Poehler hilariously wielding soda containers big enough to bathe a small child—if blended—and criticizing the woman for selling “water zero,” which neither contains water nor has zero calories. Americans of every political affiliation can chuckle at this scene and relate it to the massive sodas they encounter in their everyday lives.

But with content like this, Parks and Rec could easily polarize audiences and turn off people like me who don’t want their sitcoms to taste like The Daily Show. As for weekly comedies that provide social and political commentary, it’s going to take a hell of a lot for any show to surpass South Park in its timeliness and willingness to tackle any and every subject, and a network office comedy should not and cannot assume that role—think about what would happen if Mr. Slave’s slut-off with Paris Hilton were aired on NBC.

And that’s where Parks and Rec succeeds best; its satirical elements come with a heavy dose of good old-fashioned funny. Nick Offerman, who plays Parks Department Director and übermensch Ron Swanson so well that I’m convinced they’re the same person, is genius as a government employee who hates government, and the ever-delightful Aziz Ansari steals almost every episode with his get-rich-quick schemes and romantic strikeouts. Poehler, as good as she is, couldn’t carry the show on her own, and the ensemble cast—complete with a rotating series of celebrity guests, including Megan Mullally and, in an upcoming episode, Christy Brinkley—provides the real impetus behind the show’s humor.

When the presidential election is over and the leader for the next four years has been chosen, certain factions of people, most of whom I’ve hidden from my newsfeed, will undoubtedly post the standard “I’m moving to [insert country that really isn’t all that perfect here]” statuses. If I had the choice, I’d escape this whole climate and move to Pawnee—the politics may be just as bad, but at least they have some fun in spite of it.

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