Watching Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock last night, I was struck anew by the ways these once-and-future SNL stars, Tiny Fey and Amy Poehler, have crafted sitcoms that could not be more different in tone and philosophy from each other.
30 Rock is, like its title, very “New York,” granite-tough. Even when Fey isn’t onscreen, her comic tone — cutting; ruthlessness wearing the mask of whimsy — slices through most scenes, particularly anything involving Alec Baldwin’s Jack and his business dealings. It’s kind of amazing to me that Fey gets away with making such fierce fun of NBC corporate masters like GE and now Comcast/Xfinity, aka, Kabletown. Last night’s brutal assertion that Com… er, Kabletown is a cynical purveyor of on-demand porn incapable of (to Jack’s old-capitalist way of thinking) creating anything new was, well, magnificent. (It also helps explain why, when I just went to my home “Kabletown” DVR to record the 1971 Paddy Chayefsky-written movie The Hospital, the screen menu was offering stuff like Hot Nasty Girls just a few listings down the screen.)
By contrast, Parks and Recreation is frequently as sunny as Leslie Knope’s smile, and, increasingly in its sterling second season, the majority of the laughs are not at the expense of Leslie’s boundless optimism. On another show, a character like Leslie would be ridiculed as uncool, and made the object of TV’s fallback attitude — pseudo-hip cynicism. Instead, Leslie has managed to warm up characters that were initially cold fish, such as the increasingly lovable Ron Swanson (man, what a great job Nick Offerman is doing this season) and the surprisingly vulnerable Tom Haverford (for someone known primarily as a comic, Aziz Ansari is a terrific actor). And I could watch a whole spin-off that’s just about Andy’s shoeshine stand, that’s how much I enjoy Chris Pratt.
Where 30 Rock is deeply skeptical about any kind of organized power-structure, whether it’s private industry or public policy, Parks and Recreation‘s fundamental message is that pride, hard work, and engagement in civic affairs can be effective and humane.
What’s great is that Poehler and Fey have made these wildly different approaches to comedy work. If they were scheduled back-to-back (not that I’m advocating that; I still enjoy The Office right where it is), they’d be a sweet-and-sour, salt-and-pepper treat.
Do you agree that Rock and Parks are very much opposites, yet completely successful in their very different ways? Or do you prefer one to the other?