How Much of “Parks and Recreation” Actually Addresses Real Life Politics?

When shows deal with politics, creators are faced with a major question: just how extensively should the series address real-world politics? In the cases of some contemporary shows, the series’ identity is inextricably tied up with the way the fictional world intersects with contemporary events and recent history, as in the way The Newsroom (2012-2014) weaves news stories from recent years into its plot, with the creators using the benefit of hindsight to offer perspective on recent events. While the use of real-world politics is less overt in Parks and Recreation (2009-2015), the show is still informed by political reality on both national and local scales.

Throughout the series, real-life contemporary news stories frequently inspire the stories lines of any given episode. Further, season-length story arcs are often inspired by larger news stories and the pressing political concerns haunting the U.S. at a particular moment in time, like the government shutdown and the financial meltdown. Individual scenes in the series are also often inspired by specific news stories, like the controversial arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.

On an even more fundamental level, the show draws heavily from the creators’ research into the workings of real local governments, with the setting and characters based on real models. For example, the dynamics of the comically exasperating town hall scenes are heavily shaped by actual community hearings attended by the writers. Real government officials have also frequently served as consultants for the series, most notably California city planner Mark Scott Albright who supervised the development of the character Mark Brendanawicz. Even Ron Swanson, one of the show’s most seemingly-exaggerated and idiosyncratic characters, reportedly came out of a chance meeting with a Libertarian who was serving in a local office.

While Parks and Recreation may not draw from political news in as obvious a way as other series, political reality – from specific events to government figures and the structure of political systems – informs every aspect of the show, from plot points to the cast of characters.