In NBC's "Parks and Recreation," from the producers of "The Office," Amy Poehler ("Saturday Night Live") stars as Leslie Knope, the distaff Michael Scott (Steve Carell on "The Office").
Like Michael Scott, she's a cringe-inducing, socially awkward character with some redeeming qualities. In this case, it's her idealism and sincere belief that as deputy director of the Pawnee, Ind., department of parks and recreation, she can make a difference in the civic life of her community.
Shot mockumentary style, like "The Office," "Parks" (8:30 tonight, WPXI) has its funny moments but the comedy's first episode also has a distant and chilly feel to it. Watching Poehler's pathetic character have her dreams stomped on by apathetic bureaucrats is off-putting, more so than Michael Scott's obliviousness. At least he's in charge of his destiny; Leslie is beholden to others.
In tonight's premiere, Leslie is eager to lead a community forum populated by assorted oddballs and disgruntled elderly citizens.
"These people care about their community," ever-optimistic Leslie says, "and what I hear when I'm being yelled at is people caring at me."
- When: 8:30 tonight, NBC
"Parks" gets moments like this just right as it depicts civic rabble-rousers, but the series doesn't jell out of the gate.
The show's funniest character may be Tom (Aziz Ansari, "Scrubs"), who exploits his position for personal gain. He's a jovial schemer who may not be altogether likable but he manages to make his obvious sliminess amusing. Other characters, including Leslie's boss (Nick Offerman), are just discouraging in their cynicism.
Poehler's prominence last fall playing Hillary Clinton on "Saturday Night Live" set the stage for her to play a political role, such as this is. Her Leslie is reminiscent of a less capable Tracy Flick, the character Reese Witherspoon played in the 1999 movie "Election." The Witherspoon character also was seen as an analogue for Poehler's Hillary Clinton.
But in "Parks," the early impression Leslie leaves viewers with is that of a loser, not a lovable loser, which may not be an easy sell in prime time.