It took me a quite a while to finally surrender to the charms of Parks and Recreation (2009-2014), Greg Daniels and Michael Schur's follow-up to their popular American adaptation of The Office. It's filmed in a similar mockumentary style with a like-minded comedic sensibility, pulling awkward and occasionally gut-busting humor out of everyday situations. The main difference, of course, is the subject matter: The Office explored the life of a dying regional paper company headed by a manager who got promoted one step too high. In contrast, Parks and Recreation focused on local government and a team led by someone who was exactly where she ought to be.
Of course, Parks and Recreation didn't start out that way. During the show's early episodes (especially its six-episode premiere season), deputy director Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) felt like a second-generation copy of Steve Carrell's Michael Scott. The Office was actually in the middle of its fifth season when Parks and Recreation premiered...and a few episodes in, I pretty much threw in the towel. Of course, that's what almost killed The Office right out of the gate, too: it was a remake of an established classic, so all but the most open-minded individuals dismissed it out of hand. I certainly did, clinging the The Office as it gradually slid downhill and self-imploded somewhere around its eighth year before running on fumes during a long, unremarkable farewell season. In the meantime, I could have been enjoying Parks and Recreation instead: unlike its more popular older brother (which, during almost every season, pulled in double the ratings), it actually stayed consistent during the bulk of its seven-season run.
But enough about The Office, because Parks and Recreation also began to carve out its own identity as the show's second season progressed. The series had already featured a number of standout episodes and showed no signs of slowing down, smartly bringing in new characters like Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) while giving former bit players like Jerry Gergich (Jim O'Heir) and Donna Meagle (Retta) more to chew on than just the occasional off-handed remark. It also wasn't afraid to jettison the occasional main character, as Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider, George Washington) left the cast that same year. But, for the most part, Parks and Recreation's biggest strength was in the heart of its leader: Leslie Knope turned from an optimistic but awkward waffle enthusiast into someone who actually felt like a suitable character to build an entire show around.
Fortunately, the show had a deep roster that gave us more than one reason to tune in. Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) provided the outsider's perspective; a local nurse who got acquainted with Leslie during the very first episode, Ann dished out level-headed support for Leslie during and after work hours. Cult favorite Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), man's man and a bitter enemy of his own career choice as Leslie's boss, served up an ungodly number of one-liners and bitterly sarcastic observations. The same goes for Tom Haverford, (Aziz Ansari), he of the golden tongue and entrepreneurial spirit, whose scene-stealing comebacks were always good for a laugh. April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) played her largely thankless role fairly well; as Ron's disinterested young assistant, she was the perfect match for his way of (not) doing things. Last but not least was Andy Dwyer (current golden boy Chris Pratt), another wellspring of comedy as the doughy, harmless boyfriend of Ann and eventual match for April.
As the series progressed, Parks and Recreation wasn't afraid to take chances and often felt stronger because of them. No TV series, comedy or otherwise, isn't without a string of romantic sub-plots (mostly of the will-they-or-won't-they variety), and this one was no exception: aside from a medium-sized misstep during the show's fifth season, Leslie and Ben's relationship felt perfectly organic and paid dividends later on. But even without the occasional bits of mushy stuff and realistic drama, Parks and Recreation unquestionably brought the laughs week after week. And I know I said "enough about The Office", but one more: Parks and Recreation had a smaller audience, fewer episodes, and its high points weren't quite as high as you-know-who...but it's probably the better series, pound for pound.
Each year since 2009, Universal has released annual sets of all seven seasons on DVD...and along with the final volume comes this intimidating 20-disc collection with all the Parks and Recreation you'll ever need. The bad news, if you can really call it that, is the lack of exclusive extras like a bonus disc, fancy packaging (aside from a nice slipcover), or space-hogging trinkets. The good news is that nothing's missing, and this affordably-priced collection won't dominate your shelf. It will, however, take a while to dig through, and it's almost guaranteed that Parks and Recreation will hold up to repeat viewings. As a whole, this is a rich and rewarding comedy series that never quite got the respect it deserved during its original run, so here's hoping that its fan base continues to grow for years to come. For now, let's take a look at what's included on this DVD collection, starting with the episodes:
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratios, these episodes look uniformly good from start to finish. The series' warm color palette has been preserved nicely, image detail is solid and black levels are consistent. Digital eyesores such as edge enhancement, compression artifacts, and pixellation are absent or minimal, rounding out the presentation nicely. A Blu-ray option would've obviously yielded even better results: unlike The Office (available on Blu-ray from Season 5 onward), Parks and Recreation never got a bump to 1080p despite also being broadcast in high definition from the start....although it's available for HD streaming via Amazon Prime. Either way, there's very little to complain about here, since these crisp 480p transfers have no trouble keeping up with the show's modest visual demands. Don't expect perfection, but these episodes look a few notches better than the broadcast versions.
DISCLAIMER: These resized screen captures and promotional images are decorative and do not represent the DVD under review.
As expected, the audio treatment is equally satisfying. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Parks and Recreation's natural sound stage comes through clean and clear. Surround activity is generally reserved for background noise and rare music cues, while most of the action---for lack of a better word---is anchored squarely up front. Dialogue is extremely clear and never fights for attention, whether it's a "talking head" segment or otherwise. Optional English SDH captions and Spanish subtitles have been included during the episodes and all applicable bonus features.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The static interfaces for each season are smooth and simple to navigate. Each episode is divided into multiple chapter breaks, though selection sub-menus are not present. Obvious layer changes were not detected during the actual episodes. Each of the seasons is housed in a standard-width keepcase with colorful artwork, and the whole set comes inside a handsome slipcover with character portraits and other nods to the series' small-town atmosphere.
There's a lot to dig through...but if you've purchased even one
of these seasons before---or any seasons of The Office
, to be honest---you can expect that each season follows a similar template. Taking into account fellow DVD Talk writer Francis Rizzo III's excellent breakdown of the supplements in his complete series review
(not to mention separate individual write-ups in earlier reviews of the show's first six seasons
), it'd be kind of pointless to just recycle the same old stuff. Instead, a basic list of the included bonus features is provided below, just for brevity's sake.
Season One: Deleted Scenes and Audio Commentaries for all six episodes, a Producer's Cut of the season finale "Rock Show", a Cold Open, and two Music Videos from Andy's band, Mouse Rat (or whatever the name is that week).
Season Two: Deleted Scenes (almost three hours' worth!), Audio Commentaries during "Sister City", "Ron and Tammy", "Hunting Trip", "Woman of the Year", and the producer's cuts of ""The Master Plan" and ""Freddy Spaghetti", plus a third Producer's Cut" of "The Set-Up", a Gag Reel, and a handful of music-themed Featurettes hosted by Chris Pratt, ?uestlove, and theme song co-creator Gabby Moreno. Closing things out are a few TV Spots and Promos.
Season Three: A smaller (but still substantial) collection of Deleted Scenes, Audio Commentaries during "Flu Season", "Ron & Tammy 2", "Camping", "Harvest Festival", "The Fight", and "Li'l Sebastian", plus Producer's Cuts of "Harvest Festival", "The Fight", and "Li'l Sebastian", another terrific Gag Reel, a Li'l Sebastian Tribute, and more TV Spots.
Season Four: About an hour and a half of Deleted Scenes, four Producer's or Director's Cuts of "End of the World", "Bus Tour", "Win, Lose or Draw", and "The Debate", another Gag Reel, four Webisodes starring Andy, three segments of "The Swanson Zone", plus a handful of Odds and Ends including awards show clips, TV promos, and more.
Season Five: Nearly two hours' worth of Deleted Scenes, Producer's or Extended Cuts of "Halloween Surprise" and "Emergency Response", another Gag Reel, more Webisodes with Andy, an enjoyable Music Video from Mouse Rat, a handful of TV Promos, Ron Swanson's Bacon PSA, and the Patton Oswalt Speech as seen in "Article Two".
Season Six: Roughly an hour of Deleted Scenes, three Producer's or Extended Cuts for "Second Chance", "Flu Season 2", and "Moving Up", another Gag Reel with a few surprises, five Webisodes (including one shot on location in Europe), three 2014 Winter Olympics Promos, full versions of the Chip McCapp Music Video and Tom's T-Dazzle Commercial, a "100th Episode Celebration" featurette, and a nice Goodbye Tribute for Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe.
Season Seven: A lengthy Behind-the-Scenes Featurette for the series finale, nearly an hour of Deleted Scenes, three Producer's or Extended Cuts of "Ron & Tammy", "Pie-Mary", and "One Last Ride", a series-spanning Gag Reel with some new moments, a tongue-in-check look at "The Story of Mouse Rat", "The Wisdom of Mayor Gunderson", and a handful of TV Promos and Commercials. It's a pretty solid send-off to a great run of extras and, aside from the lack of audio commentaries during the last four seasons, I doubt fans will find much to complain about.
Though it'll forever be linked with its more popular big brother The Office, Greg Daniels and Michael Schur's Parks and Recreation quickly carved out its own identity and, despite its somewhat premature end, it went out on a high note (unlike its big brother, which crashed and burned during the last two seasons). The pitch-perfect ensemble cast, sharp writing, interesting dynamics, and small-town charm will make Parks and Recreation an enduring favorite for years to come, even if it never truly got the audience it deserved during its original run. Luckily, Universal's complete series package---not to mention its 100+ episode run, which makes the show eligible for syndication---will help to further the noble cause; its content is identical to the individual season sets, but the packaging is slimmed down and it's more affordable too. Add in a terrific A/V presentation and a mountain of series-spanning extras and you've got a no-brainer for fans of great comedy who never committed to the series on DVD. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.