Despite its small-town government setting and subject matter, Parks and Recreation (2009-2015) doesn’t immediately strike the viewer as a politically charged show. Its tone is generally sunny and genial, and much of its humor is derived from the outsized importance characters place on minor municipal matters – the small scale and relatively low stakes of the show’s political tussling are a distinct deviation from the grandeur of shows like The West Wing (1999-2006) and the serious high-mindedness of shows like The Wire (2002-2008).
Parks and Recreation also seems to avoid a partisan ideological point of view by depicting characters with diametrically opposed political beliefs with equal affection and sympathy. For example, heroine Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is a Democrat with an unshakeable belief in the power of the government to enact change and improve citizens’ lives. Meanwhile, her co-worker and friend Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is an unabashed libertarian who openly attempts to stand in the way of government work. Though their beliefs could not be more different, the show celebrates both of them as thoughtful, kind people who are able to work together for the good of their friends and their community.
Despite the appearance of unbiased bipartisanship, showrunner Michael Schur has stated that Parks and Recreation is “certainly not apolitical” – after all, the lead character (and, by extension, the show) “believes that government can do good things, and that’s generally speaking, a Democratic idea.” Schur says that he and the writing staff made a conscious decision not to build the show around the same kind of cynical perspective that he felt was defining most television shows currently on the air. “I’ve never liked mean-spirited comedy. The characters on our show make fun of each other, but not in a biting, angry way. And there’s no shortage of conflict in the world of government.” While a show like Veep (2012-) may take the idea that politicians are all ruthless buffoons for granted, Parks and Recreation makes a clear, pointed ideological statement by insisting on the ultimate goodness of those working in government, the importance of idealism, and the possibility that the government can be a tool for good.