In May of 2009, Parks and Recreation made its television debut to the world. NBC allotted the first season of Parks and Recreation to its prime time “Comedy Night Done Right” time slot. It premiered along other popular NBC comedies like “Community”, “30 Rock” and “The Office”. The first season of Parks and Recreation struggled in the ratings, with viewership declining by 2.5 Million between the seasons premiere and season finale.
A big reason this could be accounted for is because of the similarities between season one of Parks and Recreation and NBC’s other critically acclaimed mockumentary-styled sitcom “The Office”. The two shows were aired back to back in 2009. Ironically, season one of Parks and Recreation got low reviews, partly because of the similar traits shared with the filming style of the shows and similar characters. Leslie Knope, the lead character of Parks and Recreation shared many similar qualities to Michael Scott of The Office. After season one, Leslie’s character underwent many changes and transformed into an award-winning role.
Michael Scott and Leslie Knope. Two of the same? Not for long
Parks featured an interesting target audience. They were very good at reaching the 18-49 year old audience. They had the lowest median age viewer-41.7 years old- than any other primetime program on a major network. Even more interesting: their viewers held the second highest median income in all of television, second to Modern Family.
Although Parks and Recreation scored big with upscale viewers, the show featured character that anybody in the 18-49 demographic can relate to. In fact, there are a couple instances during season 4 that the majority of the characters disapprove of glorifying money and the lavish lifestyle that follows.
In the begging of season 4, we see the inspiring business mogul Tom Haverford leave his job at the Parks department to create a “premiere, high-end, all-media entertainment conglomerate” with his friend Jean-Ralfio called Entertainment 720. If you don’t know what a premiere, high-end, all-media entertainment conglomerate is then you’re in the same boat as the rest of the audience. There is no clear purpose or intention of the company. The only clear intentions are to spend as much money on clothes, technology and giant parties. While Tom and Jean-Ralfio are enjoying their lavish lifestyle, the rest of the cast is strongly against the business and lifestyle of Entertainment 720. There are many instances when the cast blatantly disproves their money spending tendencies because they are very happy with their current source of income.
Did someone say money?
Another case comes when we meet Leslie’s co-runner for the city council elections. Bobby Newport grew up in the richest family in Pawnee. Although he is childish and spoiled, he is the favorite in the election he expects handed to him, including the election. In classic mockumentary style, the town is in huge favor in electing Bobby Newport even though he has no idea what he is doing. The cast runs attack ads against him that call him out for being over-privileged and rich. The show makes you want to hate the character that comes from a similar financial background from its average audience viewer.
Politics at its finest
Many of the main characters share the same demographic groups with each other. The main character Leslie is portrayed in her late 30’s, early 40’s and is unmarried until later seasons. Although we don’t know her exact income, it can be implied as a single government employee she sits right in the middle class.
Ron Swanson is in charge of the Pawnee Park and Recreation department. He is portrayed in his late 50’s and unmarried. Like Leslie his income is never mentioned but is harder to truly understand where he stand financially. Ron is a simple man who would rather build something instead of purchasing it. There are instances that intend Ron has a very large amount of money saved. There is no way knowing how much though, because Ron buries his money underground instead of putting it in a bank. In one instance, he offers to pay for Andy Dwyer’s college classes. This intends he has a large amount of money saved away.
Speaking of Andy, he is an example of a character that comes from a lower class demographic. In the beginning seasons Andy had a very hard job finding a job until he found a home as the shoe-shiner working in the Pawnee town government building. Andy is ditzy and can be seen as someone with a below-average IQ. This could be directly related to his difficulty finding a job.
Andy at his finest
We see firsthand the demographic background of Jerry Gurgich. Jerry is in his 60’s and is married with 3 daughters. There are multiple instances were we see in Jerry’s house, which is quite nice. Contextually we can place Jerry in the upper-middle class financially.
From Season One, it is clear that this show hails Leslie Knope. Every season revolves around Leslie’s work goals and personal goals. When Leslie wants to turn a landfill into a public park, the cast rallies next to Leslie in support. In Season 4, the main storyline is Leslie’s campaign to become a member of the City Council. The rest of the cast all become supporting members of Leslie’s campaign, all with different jobs that best fit their personality. Another goal of Leslie’s that finds its way to the forefront of the plot is for her to find love. Throughout the quest, her best friend Ann Perkins supports her and helps guide her journey. She falls in love with Ben Wyatt, which pushes him further as one of the main characters in the show.
Leslie would be lost without Ann
All and all, Parks and Recreation represents reality, but in a different way than other sitcom styled shows. The mix of the genres mockumentary and political makes many situations more outrageous and over the top than reality. That’s the point of the two genres. But the relationship between the characters is so real that it makes you feel like your close friends with the Pawnee Parks and Recreation department.