For the last few weeks, I’d been bracing myself to write an open letter to the executives at NBC – either the likely-outgoing members of Jeff Zucker’s team or the new people like Bob Greenblatt who are reportedly taking over when the Comcast deal goes through – asking them to do right by the best show on their air that for some silly reason wasn’t airing: “Parks and Recreation.”
I was going to write that the show had been developed as a companion, and maybe even successor, to “The Office,” yet had never gotten to air in the Thursday at 9:30 timeslot which recent history has proven is the only place where a young NBC comedy can do okay for itself. I was going to write that the one time the show aired after “The Office” at all was on its debut night, when NBC ran an extra “Office” at 8, and back when “Parks and Rec” was a shadow of the show it’s become. (Rarely have I seen a show with this dramatic an improvement from year one to year two, thanks in large part to a slight reconception of Amy Poehler’s character and beefing up the role of Nick Offerman as mustachioed, meat-loving paragon of masculinity Ron Effing Swanson.)
I was going to write that much as I enjoy a number of other comedies on NBC’s schedule like “Community” and the creatively resurgent “30 Rock,” none of those shows seem as spiritually compatible with “The Office,” nor as capable of inheriting that show’s audience (which is still strong) should the post-Steve Carell experiment fail. And I was going to write that I had seen the third season’s first few episodes a while back when I visited the show’s production office to conduct an interview, that they were in many ways even better than the show’s marvelous second season – funny and warm and silly and human and full of all kinds of happiness-inducing things – and that it deserved some kind of run at 9:30.
I was going to write all of that. Now I don’t have to, because the mid-season schedule NBC announced today has an expanded three-hour Thursday comedy lineup, and there’s “Parks and Recreation” airing right at the midway point, at 9:30 after “The Office,” starting January 20.
Every now and then, good things happen to good shows.
“We couldn’t be happier,” “Parks” co-creator Mike Schur told me today. “Really excited to have the largest possible audience see these episodes, which we’re really proud of.”
The “Parks and Rec” team expected to be on in the fall, and actually stayed in production after season 2 wrapped last spring so they could film six episodes of season 3 to accomodate Amy Poehler’s maternity leave. Instead, NBC decided to try “Outsourced” after the gang at Dunder-Mifflin, and while “Outsourced” has done fine there (and better than “Community” did there briefly last fall), it’s actually been lower than what “30 Rock” used to do in the timeslot.
NBC has a lot of mid-season comedies on the bench – only one of which, “Perfect Couples” will also be part of this expanded Thursday lineup – and my fear was that the current NBC team would push one of those ahead of “Parks and Rec” because they could take credit for it in success, whereas “Parks and Rec” is the last relic of the brief-but-weird Ben Silverman Era. But either because they assume they’re gone in the Comcast regime change, or because they think those other shows (including “Friends with Benefits” and Paul Reiser’s new comedy) aren’t as likely to click post-“Office,” nor is “Outsourced.”
Whatever the reason, I’m thrilled. Again, I got to see some episodes from that batch of six a while ago, and they are fantastic. Adam Scott and Rob Lowe, who joined the cast late last season, are really well-integrated, and Lowe in particular is going to surprise you. With this role, he goes from “surprisingly funny for someone so handsome” to just really funny, and the new episodes find a way to maintain his character’s unrelentingly positive attitude while humanizing him. The storyline about the town’s financial struggles, and about Leslie’s attempt to get the parks department its budget back, gives the show a sense of purpose to go along with those great characters and jokes. And there is a whole lot of Ron Effing Swanson, including him serving as a mentor to local youth and him bonding with Chris Pratt’s endearingly goofy Andy.
Great comedy, great news. January 20 will be a very good night, I think.