Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Amy Poehler Ruins Everything

After two episodes, I'm not sold on "Parks & Recreation" in spite of the fact that there are a million things about the show that I should like. Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, both Office guys (plus, in Schur's case, also a FireJoeMorgan.com guy and the portrayer of Mose Schrute). Lots of actors I like, a clever premise, it's on Thursday nights....so what's the problem?

In a word, Poehler. I'm not a fan. I haven't enjoyed Amy Poehler since roughly halfway through her first season on Saturday Night Live. Her first ten shows or so she was fantastic, and I was excited about his new addition to the cast. Then she started to phone it in like the Verizon guy. Her characters became increasingly irritating, she couldn't impersonate anybody and just to top things off, she stunk up Weekend Update for four years straight. I can think of only a few instances where I've enjoyed her work --- in Arrested Development and Blades Of Glory, where I presume Will Arnett's awesomeness rubbed off on her (or was sexually transmitted), in Mean Girls as Rachel McAdams' mother and as Andy Richter's sister on Conan O'Brien years ago.

You'll notice that Parks & Recreation isn't on that list. The basic problem is that after 60 minutes with her character Leslie Knope, there isn't much difference between she and Michael Scott. I realize that it's perhaps unfair to rank a brand-new show against one of the great sitcoms, but given the creative team, the documentary presentation and the entire look and feel of P&R, it's a fair comparison to make. Look at the U.S. version of the Office compared to the U.K. original --- though Michael Scott and David Brent are cut from the same cloth, Steve Carell has made Michael into a fully separate character from David. This is in part obviously because Carell has had four more seasons to evolve his character than Ricky Gervais did, but still, there is a clear gap between Michael's grown-up kid-looking-for-attention persona and David's wannabe-entertainer persona. I wouldn't call Leslie Knope a grown-up kid, per se, but she is definitely similarly clueless about the amount of respect she gets from her co-workers and she's certainly looking for attention (either from her mother, as seen in the last episode, or in her overall plan to rise up the political ladder to the White House). The other problem is that Poehler isn't a good enough actor to generate a character funny enough to carry a weekly sitcom. She's that particular kind of bad where she doesn't have a niche to go to in times of trouble. To cite another SNL alumnus who I don't like, Molly Shannon can at least be funny in small doses as a crazy lush. Poehler doesn't have a similar fall-back position. Look at those roles I noted earlier; there isn't any real commonality among them, and each role could've easily been played by a hundred other actresses just as well or better. It's like a pitcher who doesn't have a bread-and-butter pitch to use when his other stuff isn't working, and just tries to get by on throwing a bunch of shit at the plate to see what sticks. Am I calling Amy Poehler the Scott Richmond of comedy? Yes.

Aziz Ansari was okay, and I actually enjoyed Nick Offerman's government-hating government official quite a bit. I think I might've liked a show centered around a Libertarian city official more than the current version of P&R. But the fact remains that after two episodes, to quote Barbie when she was trying to give Ken a handjob, I'm not feeling it. I'll watch until the end of its initial run to give it a fair shake, but I'm not exactly fired up about the prospect of a second season. Rashida Jones probably isn't either, since her potentially lucrative career as the love interest in numerous Apatow Comedy Tree films may be threatened by her schedule being filled by this average show. She may try to fake her own death to get out of her contract, while a 'Rashida Smith' suddenly shows up playing, say, Leslie Mann's sister-in-law.

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