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Parks and Recreation Premiered 12 Years Ago Today

  • On April 9, 2009, NBC premiered Parks and Recreation, an Amy Poehler vehicle patterned after the success of show creators Greg Daniels and Michael Schur's previous project, The Office, complete with the same documentary-style reactions to the camera, but set in a municipal government office of the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. 

    In that first episode, Leslie Knope was not the hyper-positive type-A go-getter that audiences came to adore by the end of its seven-season run in 2015. In fact, she was much more like Steve Carell's Michael Scott, the cluelessly misguided head of Dunder Mifflin. This is evident in this clip from the pilot, where hustler Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) treats her like a moron and she is none the wiser. This episode did feature the first meeting between Leslie and her future best friend Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), a nurse who came to a public meeting to complain about the dangerous pit that injured her obnoxiously goofball boyfriend Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt). Visiting the pit site, Knope falls into it herself, which invites mockery from Tom and viciously bored intern April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza, who got the role because the casting director thought she was "the weirdest girl I've ever met in my life"). This experience inspires Leslie to appeal to her love interest, city planner Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider) for help, and although he initially rebuffs the idea due to the red tape involved, he eventually convinces her boss, the libertarian Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) who only works for the government to sabotage its efforts, to give her the project.

    The characters had a lot more antipathy toward each other in that six-episode first season, prompting mixed reviews and a revamp, which shifted the show's tone into something more congenial and earnest, changing Leslie into a competent public servant with a remarkably unshakable optimism and determination to do good work. Her friendship with Ron, despite being polar opposites, flourished to the point where she could unironically refer to herself as his "self-appointed emotional guardian" when she pried into his guarded personal life.

    The additions of state auditors Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) in Season 2 led to the phase-out of Schneider's "Mark Brendana-quits" (a nickname Leslie gives him when he leaves the department for a private sector job), and the elevation of Donna Meagle (Retta) and Jerry Gergich (Jim O'Heir) from background players to fleshed-out characters helped the entire Parks Department to start firing on all cyliders, making the show a critical darling with a devoted fan following. 

    Trivia note: Big Mouth star and Upright Citizens Brigade stalwart Jon Daly, who appeared in the pilot episode as the drunk who falls asleep in the curvy slide on the playground, did not appear again until the series finale, having cleaned up his act and become, well, an upright citizen, thus illustrating the positive impact that Knope & company had on the Pawnee community. 

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    Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.

    TOPICS: Parks and Recreation, NBC, Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari