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We never got to see much of Amy Poehler on Saturday Night Live, where she was featured for some seven seasons. But there's plenty of her to go around in the new mockumentary Parks and Recreation, which debuted recently on HOT's Channel 3.
Poehler plays Leslie Knope, whose boss describes her as "insatiable - she's like a little dog with a chewy toy." And in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana, Leslie, who's described by one local as "a little doofy," is determined to ride her job as "a mid-level bureaucrat" with the drive of a semi-trailer to get to the presidency, which is perfect since Poehler regularly played Hillary Clinton on SNL. "My ride's going to be a big one," she says early on, "and if you get motion sickness, put your head between your knees, because Leslie Knope's stopping for no one."
That local government and Knope's struggling through its red-tape, kiss-ass convolutions is the soul of the series, co-created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, part of the creative team at The Office. There are quite a few similarities, with Knope spending a lot of time talking to the camera, as do other members of the rather ineffective Pawnee town government.
Heading into a school auditorium for the monthly committee outreach forum, with her assistant, Tom, at her side, she latches on to an issue. She doesn't mind the people screaming at her at the meeting - which has to be moved to a school room when the lights go out in the auditorium - considering the abuse "being yelled at by people caring loudly at me." And when she hears about an open pit deserted by a contractor, Leslie's determined to turn into a park, making Ann, a nurse who brought it up because her boyfriend Andy fell into the pit, "a pinky promise" to do so. "The chance to build a whole new park from scratch - this could be my Hoover Dam," she tells us.
So Leslie, who's always on hyperdrive, simply won't be denied, no matter how much of a boob she is. So she goes to town planner and the guy she's got the hots for, Mark, for help. "When you have a similar world view, things can happen - We slept together," admits Leslie to the camera, before heading off to inspect the hole for herself, along with Tom and April, the summer intern.
Determinedly, Leslie heads for the pit, believing you have to "get right into the battle zone - just like George Bush did when he flew over New Orleans." And of course she goes tumbling into the pit. "April's gonna get some photos for the Web site," yells Tom. "Could you just keep still?" begs April.
That's pretty much the direction the show takes - Leslie going for the gold, then making a fool of herself. While the Bush comment and other good lines sneak through from time to time, and Poehler is fine as the ditzy low-level politician who'll do anything to succeed, there wasn't quite enough in the pilot episode to make it truly outstanding.
While we admire her patriotism, this Office-like look at local government left a little to be desired outside of several moments of inspired cynicism. Hillary didn't make it to the presidency, but Poehler and the show earned a second season from NBC, which also screens Saturday Night Live.
We're going to give these parks department folk a chance to grow on us, if only for lines like Leslie's when she hears that the subcommittee's been approved; "This is huge. I'm barely 34 and I've already landed a Parks Department subcommittee. I'm a rocket ship!" Let's just hope she doesn't burn out too quickly.
Parks and Recreation airs Wednesday nights on Channel 3 at 10:30 p.m
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