Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How Does Parks and Recreation Compare Historically?

Last night, Kerry and I watched the Season 6 finale of Parks and Recreation, and we laughed through much of the hour-long episode. After it was over, though, I realized how many of the jokes had been variations of ones I'd heard before. But that's not a bad thing -- Parks and Rec just has so many hysterical running gags.

Baseball writers and fans love to write about historical comparisons. TV writers and fans may do the same, but not as religiously as baseball lovers. Baseball-Reference.com even lists each player's comps through specific points in his career. For instance, as a hitter, Robinson Cano is now most similar to Nomar Garciaparra, Chase Utley, and David Wright.

Let's apply the same concept of historical comparison to some of Parks and Rec's best running jokes. For each one, I'll provide a brief synopsis of the jokes and come up with a well-known historical comp for each. Let's see how this one goes.

Parks and Recreation Running Joke: Li'l Sebastian
Joke Synopsis: Everyone in Pawnee, Indiana is obsessed with Li'l Sebastian, a miniature horse that serves as a town mascot throughout the series. The citizenry's adoration for Li'l Sebastian is so inexplicable that it becomes more and more hilarious each time he's mentioned.
Historical Comp: Terrance and Phillip (South Park)
As with Li'l Sebastian on Parks and Rec, it's unclear why the South Park kids love the "Terrance and Phillip" cartoons so much.

Parks and Recreation Running Joke: Leslie's Obsession with Ann
Joke Synopsis: Leslie is infatuated with Ann Perkins almost as soon as she meets her. It's funny because Leslie is such an awkward person, capable of the types of comments that make even her friends uncomfortable. Complex has compiled a nice chronology of the Leslie-Ann relationship.
Historical Comp: Michael's Obsession with Ryan (The Office)
Here's another same-sex platonic crush that features one over-the-top character. The hilarity of the Michael-Ryan relationship peaks during "The Deposition," when they read Michael's diary and find multiple references to "this other woman, Ryan."

Parks and Recreation Running Joke: Donna's and Tom's Materialism
Joke Synopsis: Donna and Tom love pop culture so much that they want to dress like their favorite celebrities. They've even invented a pseudo-holiday -- called "Treat Yo' Self" -- on which they buy an assortment of exorbitantly-priced items every year.

Via sherrydaniel.wordpress.com
Historical Comp: Hilary Banks' Materialism (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
Hilary was a spoiled brat who wanted tons of stuff without actually working for it. ("I'm making a New Year's Resolution to find a job ... right after Easter.") That's very similar to Tom and Donna, two government employees who try to live like royalty.

Parks and Recreation Running Joke: Ron Swanson's Hatred of the Government
Joke Synopsis: Even though he's the director of the Parks Department, Ron frequently professes his enmity toward all government agencies.
Historical Comp: Quagmire's Horniness (Family Guy)
Quagmire's perversion is much more disturbing than Ron's contempt for the government. With each character trait, even though the viewer knows it's coming, it still always makes you laugh.

Parks and Recreation Running Joke: Jerry Gergich's Name
Joke Synopsis: The man who we originally meet as Jerry Gergich is the office pinata, a guy who everyone else abuses constantly. Partly because he is so lowly-regarded, his co-workers frequently call him different names or spell them incorrectly. Jerry's passive personality encourages this phenomenon, and he has been called "Jerry," "Gerry," "Larry," and "GJLGG" ("Gerry Jerry Larry Gergich Gengurch). The Season 6 finale even reveals that Jerry will be called "Terry" three years from now.
Historical Comp: "Did I do that?" (Family Matters)
Like Steve Urkel, Jerry is everyone's favorite doormat. Jerry also takes everything in stride, just like Steve.

Parks and Recreation Running Joke: Andy's Stupidity
Joke Synopsis: Andy Dwyer is like an overgrown 8-year-old. He's constantly proving his own ignorance, including famously asking "Where are the faces ... of the presidents?" at the Grand Canyon.
Historical Comp: Eric's Stupidity (Boy Meets World)
Eric starts out as a ladies' man and gets progressively dumber as the years pass. But hey, Andy and Eric prove that our favorite characters need not be Mensa members. If anything, the opposite is true; TV audiences love a good dolt, probably to make themselves feel smarter.

Parks and Recreation Running Joke: Appearances by Jean-Ralphio
Joke Synopsis: Jean-Ralphio is an egotistical, loud, selfish moron who appears every few episodes. He's got one friend -- Tom Haverford.
Historical Comp: Newman (Seinfeld)
Jean-Ralphio and Newman are both pretty universally hated, and for good reasons. However, one major character (Tom for Jean-Ralphio; Kramer for Newman) sees each guy as a great friend. Moreover, both Jean-Ralphio and Newman participate in half-baked money-making schemes. Entertainment 720 has tons of parallels to the plan hatched by Kramer and Newman to cash all those can deposits in Michigan.

Parks and Recreation Running Joke: The Pawnee-Eagleton Feud
Joke Synopsis: Pawnee and Eagleton are neighboring Indiana towns that have never gotten along. The conflict is 200 years in the making, and Eagleton has erected a huge fence to separate the towns.
Historical Comp: The Springfield-Shelbyville Feud (The Simpsons)
In "Lemon of Troy," one of my favorite episodes, Sprinfieldians display a love of their town that would make Leslie Knope proud. The Springfield-Shelbyville beef is also ancient, having begun over an argument about the legality of marrying one's cousins. Both feuds are about as absurd as the shows themselves. As with the other historical comps, Parks and Rec is in good company here.

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