In a frustrating piece of New York Times television criticism (redundant?), Jon Caramanica backhandedly describes Parks and Recreation as representative of “the meme-ification of the sitcom,” featuring digestible and reducible humor to encourage fans to meme, hashtag, and gif their approval. In a typically insightful response, Alyssa Rosenberg tackles Caramanica's implied notion that what’s on both TV and computer screens is simplistic and fragmented, at best displaying “semi-intelligence.” In contrast, Rosenberg praises the show’s humor as coming from a place of “deep character development and great writing,” encouraging similar creativity from fans: “make your audience wish they were that smart — and then go out the next day to prove it.”
I would add another catalyst for extensive Parks and Recreation fan production: the show’s optimistic tone. It’s simply really fun being a fan of the show, and I propose that it fosters inspired fan responses partly as a result of mixing character depth with an uplifting spirit. The clip offered here is an example. Hip-hop artist and TV fan Adam WarRock created an EP of songs devoted to Parks & Rec, and this one is my favorite. American politics have become insufferable, and both Leslie Knope and this song’s lyrics provide an inspirational (albeit imaginary) antidote to the toxicity that surrounds us.
A very short list of other fan-created works that relate to this idea include Infinite Drunk Ron Swanson, who will remain delightfully drunk and dancing for as long as the web itself exists; a resolution declaring the official name of the Parks & Rec fanbase as “Weirdos who care," including such statements as, “Whereas: The cast, crew, writers, and showrunners are full of sunshine and happiness and inspire the fandom;” crossover credits and images with Doctor Who, a show from a much different genre but with similar spiritual DNA of wanting to please; and Swan Ronson, just because. There is also bountiful fan fiction, including a very NSFW but fascinating piece of April/Andy podfic, in which “Andy learns about different ways of interpreting feminist ideas. Through sex.” I doubt that's what the writers meant to inspire with the show’s favorable depictions of women’s studies, but the bold idea at the heart of the podfic story wouldn’t exist without the generous richness of their work.
Lovely post, Chris! You make
Lovely post, Chris!
You make a great point here about the overall tone of P & R: a lot of comedies have an underlying cruelty to them that forms the basis of their humor. But P & R, like MY NAME IS EARL and RAISING HOPE, manages to mine humor from empathy and good will, which is tough to do. (Of course, as I will be discussing later this week, the empathy and uplifiting spirit of the P & R universe does not extend to poor Jerry Gergich).
My favorite fan video is this one, which inserts the TWIN PEAKS characters into the P & R credits. Seeing two of my all-time favorite TV shows together is really satisfying -- like introducing two of your favorite friends and seeing that they like each other as much as you like them.
I love that description of crossovers. As fans, these shows all co-exist in our heads, like friends at a dinner party, so it's only natural to want to see them interact. And I really look forward to seeing your take on Jerry. I've also wanted to see more discussion of Bobby Newport. He was posed at the start as a total tool (a Scott Walker, if you will), but ended up really just being a sweet doofus. His excitement over Leslie's debate response was adorable. This was another way in which I really loved Parks & Rec's presentation of politics and its escapism.
P&R is good for your health
It is a really interesting concept to ponder--how many shows do you watch that make you feel ... good. I wonder if this show's simplicity and its honesty is part of why it flies under the radar. Has our culture of schadenfreude limited the appeal of a show like P&R? Let's review--Tosh.0, The Office (Dwight, anyone?), all reality TV (including talk shows)...that's a lot of cynical mockery. I'm glad Amanda is going to discuss Jerry, because I think he is a glaring exception, and I'll be interested to discuss how to fit him into this world of politics...and optimism? Maybe P&R is the most radical show on TV.
While it's not quite as "feel-good-y" (huh?) as Parks and Recreation, where do you think The Middle fits into this discussion? I would definitely place it next to My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope since it also "manages to mine humor from empathy and good will." Dontcha think?
(Enjoyed this post, btw!) :)
Placing The Middle
Sue Heck does seem like a budding Leslie Knope -- in Indiana, no less. In fact, each show cited is set in rural/suburban places and puts working or lower middle class life at the forefront (though Parks & Rec in a different way than The Middle). Perhaps the positive spirit is a necessary tone from a commercial TV standpoint; being cynical about struggles in a time of very real ones for those groups might not make advertisers happy.
I have wondered why a lot of the more recent "nice" comedies are situated in the midwest or rural locations and feature blue collar characters. This wasn't always the case: MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE and ROSEANNE could both get pretty nasty (in a good way, of course). Maybe Chris is right: in the current economic climate perhaps only the "East Coast liberal elites" can be nasty and funny simultaneously.
I was thinking about this while watching this week's VEEP. It has a similar structure to P & R: an office of misfit government workers trying (and often failing) to get any real work done. Except everyone on VEEP is so mean! It's the anti-PARKS & RECREATION.
What a great post!
What a great post! I think there is also something about the love the those involved with Parks & Recreation show towards fan creations that further underscores the optimism inherent in the show itself. For example, Aziz Anarsi is an active tweeter who often links to fan works. His position in the show adds a semi-official endorsement, and his enthusiasm for things like this bridges the nice-ness onscreen in Pawnee with off-screen communities.
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