Parks and Recreation Season 4: Why the Kindest and Funniest Show on TV Still Got Emmy Snubbed
The 2012 Emmy nominations came out Thursday. Some of the choices were pleasantly surprising (Schmidt from New Girl! Lady Mary from Downton Abbey! Girls up the wazoo!), but the near-complete lack of appreciation for Parks and Recreation made me want to put on my snow pants and bury my face in waffles. The show received a nod for Amy Poehler’s big-hearted performance as protagonist Leslie Knope, along with two writing nominations, but not much else. Unlike last year, Emmy voters didn’t nominate it for Best Comedy. Like last year, and all the years before, Emmy voters failed to recognize any of its supporting actors.
Parks and Rec is among the best shows on television today. It’s one of the funniest and, perhaps unexpectedly, one of the kindest. This season only continued to emphasize all of the things that make the show so delightful. In a time when comedies like Girls are centered around self-involvement and pushing the boundaries of acceptable human behavior, Parks and Rec proves that you can make a hilarious show where all the characters are deeply good people who care about each other even when they have absolutely no reason to do so.
“So what?” you might scoff. “The characters on Modern Family all care about each other!” I know the Emmys voters think Modern Family poops rainbows and consequently like to nominate it for every award ever invented. But the characters on Modern Family are forced to care about each other. They’re related. The same insubstantial work ties that bind the Parks and Rec characters, meanwhile, tether the characters on The Office, and the two shows are often compared. Yet the workers on The Office often demonstrate their disdain for each other. They make friendships or alliances because they have to, and in extreme circumstances they support the people they don’t like because it would be immoral or inhumane not to do so. But The Office’s characters would never volunteer their time, hearts, and minds to help one of their compatriots fulfill her ambitions, as the Parks and Rec team did when they offered to serve as Leslie’s campaign team this past season. While shows like The Office make you laugh, Parks and Rec makes you laugh AND leaves you feeling better about the world.
That’s not to say that the Parks and Rec characters are all boring, happy, perfect people. They’re flawed in ways that are hysterical to watch, and sometimes they can’t stand each other. But here’s how Leslie describes her co-worker Tom, played by Aziz Ansari, in a season 4 episode where he ruins a campaign event: “Tom Haverford is a selfish, sleazy, self-promoting, good-hearted, secretly kind and wonderful tiny little person.” That feeling pervades the show even when the people on it are acting at their worst. The show can’t bring itself to create characters you full-on hate. Whenever it tries, it ends up finding the soft center in them, and often becomes better for it. Andy (Chris Pratt), for example, clearly started the show as a typical self-centered boyfriend, meant to stick around for a few episodes until the more-mature Ann (Rashida Jones) rightly dumped him. But Andy’s now a main character, and one of the show’s most loveable. It wasn’t that he was self-centered, the passage of time revealed, but just that he was kind of a dumb puppy at heart, needing a lady who complemented him better.
Part of me thinks that the Emmys should nominate everyone who has ever appeared on the show. But in particular, I can’t believe that Nick Offerman has never been nominated for his performance as the bacon-obsessed, government-detesting boss Ron Swanson. We’re talking about a man here who launched a thousand gifs. There’s even an entire website devoted to finding cats who resemble him. And what about supporting players like Aubrey Plaza as the apathetic April, or Retta as the luxury-loving Donna? Where’s the best guest star nomination for Paul Rudd as Leslie’s (ultimately good!) election opponent, or for Ben Schwartz, whose tiniest appearance as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein makes my world a better place for hours afterward?
Hopefully next year the Emmys will recognize Parks and Recreation properly. But in the meantime, if you’re feeling sad like I am, there’s only one thing to do. Treat yo self.