I'm somebody who walked into The Office dangerously late. Seriously: my first episode was the last of the second season, "Casino Night," which (spoilers!) is the first time Jim kisses Pam. I didn't even know who these two people were, and that moment still had an impact. I quickly caught up, but made a vow not to make the same rookie mistake with what would appear to be the show's de facto “sequel.”
While not a true in-universe sequel, Parks and Recreation initially centered around the availability of The Office veteran Rashida Jones, but not as her Office character Karen Filippelli, and not as the lead. In an interview with Uproxx, co-creators Greg Daniels and Michael Schur said they pitched their idea to Amy Poehler first, who liked the idea of a politically-based sitcom. Even though Daniels and Schur were known for adapting The Office into a version that Americans could easily digest, they wanted their second show to have its fair share of differences.
But, that's not really what America was pitched, at least not at first. They were sold on the idea of "Office 2.0," and immediately after Parks and Recreation premiered on April 9, 2009, most fans were pretty disappointed. Yes, the best sitcoms have had bumpy starts — I'm looking at you, Seinfeld. But the problem was that Poehler's character of Leslie Knope seemed more obnoxious than the smart female leader the show needed to stand out.
It was good news for everybody that her characterization soon changed. Even to this day, people who haven’t yet seen the show are told to skip over season one. I'm a little different there; the final episode of their shortened first season, "Rock Show," was harmless enough. But I admit that it's season two where you need to pay attention. In particular, an eoisode titled "Greg Pikitis."
The episode is after Pawnee's neighborhood troll, Greg Pikitis, who was everything Leslie Knope hated. Every year, he pulled a massive Halloween prank, and every year, he was successful. He's morphed into somewhat of an obsession for Leslie, which plenty of people around her have tried to tone down.
The episode starts out with Leslie in a school hallway. In a pink sweater and khakis, she looks angry. Then, she spots him — as if she didn't expect to see him at his own school — and her eyes widen with hatred. "Greg Pikitis," she says. "I'm the Parks lady, Leslie Knope. And I'm here to tell you that this year, it ends."
Cut to, Leslie sharing a police-inspired board tying Pikitis to the crime. She's pretty sure it's him. But, there's never been any proof. Not even two minutes in, and it's literally a story type that no other sitcom has covered before.
While that first episode of Parks and Recreation penned Leslie Knope as a nag, this episode showed two things. One, she's not afraid to go the extra mile. And two, she's incredibly smart — even though she doesn't end up figuring out Pikitis's big scheme, the audience is equally unaware until the closing credits. It's almost like we're all in on this big mystery together.
There are a few scenes in which the audience simply couldn't see it coming. Greg, at one point, hires a fake mom to get him out of trouble — a job description that's both bizarre but completely in character for the episode's villain. Upon that reveal, we as the audience realized how much depth this rivalry actually has. Leslie's hatred becomes real.
Aside from telling the story of Pawnee's teen villain, "Greg Pikitis" also had a decent B-plot focusing around Jones's character of Ann Perkins. As someone who loves Halloween, she's extremely excited to throw a party and invites the staff of the Parks and Recreation department. That is, except for Tom (Aziz Ansari). But word spreads quickly, and Tom shows up with his wife, turning the entire party upside down for the better. There's not a single person who hasn't attended a not-too-exciting party before, so showing Tom in a new light only helped him become a full character, and not just a caricature, on Parks and Recreation.
And, yes, to address the elephant in the room: this episode heavily featured Louis C.K. in his recurring role as Leslie’s early-seasons love interest. Which might make rewatching a little difficult. But ultimately, it's not about him. Despite the fact that he's Leslie's boyfriend, "Greg Pikitis" is mostly about Leslie's determination to be proven correct. She's got support, but it's painfully obvious that nobody believes in her mission half as much as she does.
There were a couple episodes before this one that also stood out — "Pawnee Zoo" featured Leslie marrying two gay penguins and unknowingly morphing into Pawnee's "Queen of the Gays" by accident. "Beauty Pageant" was one of the first that offered multiple, genuine laugh-out-loud moments. But "Greg Pikitis" showed that Leslie Knope wasn't just a watered-down Michael Scott. She was a character that women should aspire to.
Not only did she stick by her guns, but she did it in a way that's wasn't unrealistic. Sure, most of us wouldn't threaten a teenager on government property, but it all just showed the audience how protective Leslie is over the Parks Department. It's her home away from home, and she'd risk anything for it. And that type of heart is why this show became one of the smartest sitcoms of our time.
Karen Belz has contributed to sites such as Bustle, HelloGiggles, and So Yummy. Follow her on Twitter at @KarenEBelz.
TOPICS: Parks and Recreation, Amy Poehler, Michael Schur, Rashida Jones