When Parks and Recreation debuted on NBC in April 2009, it was met with indifference (do we really need another Office-style mockumentary?) and head-scratching (an entire show about turning a pit into a park?). However, after sharpening the comedy and making a few adjustments in season 2 (goodbye, Paul Schneider; hello, Rob Lowe and Adam Scott), Parks — which follows Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope and other government staffers in the Indiana burg of Pawnee — won over critics and viewers with its blend of off-kilter yet sweetly optimistic humor. And then NBC left the series off its fall schedule. While fans were infuriated, the benching may have proved a blessing in disguise: When Parks returned on Jan. 20, it nabbed the prime Thursday-at-9:30 p.m. slot after The Office. (”It was frustrating to be shooting good shows and not have them be on,” notes Poehler, ”but I’m excited to have them be on in the space we’ve always wanted.”) So far, season 3 is drawing an average audience of 5.6 million, but the drive to win hearts and minds is just beginning. Sums up Chris Pratt, who plays the dim shoe shiner Andy Dwyer: ”We feel exactly like the Bad News Bears. We’re a ragtag squad of misfits who, in order to maintain the life of our show, must pull off some sort of trick play that involves Rob Lowe. Don’t count us out. We’ll bite an ankle. We’ll eye-gouge. You’re going to have to kill us dead!” It’s that fighting spirit that makes us love Parks and Rec. Here are 101 other things.
REASONS WE LOVE…
AMY POEHLER as LESLIE KNOPE
1. The parks department deputy director might be prime time’s most idealistic and, yes, committed character. ”What’s so fun about playing Leslie is she gets to be really sharply focused on things,” notes Poehler. ”And like a terrier, she won’t let them go.”
2. Leslie’s drab wardrobe feels just right for a small-town civil servant. Says Poehler: ”As a rule, if I put something on and I’m like, ‘That’s cute!’ then I would take it off.”
3. Those quick-cut sequences where Leslie veers into Crazyville, whether she’s reeling off her absurd excuses for shooting Ron in the head or running through a list of Pawnee’s slogans.
4. She’s so bad on first dates that when Ann takes her on a practice dinner, she relies on conversation cards that are labeled with subjects like ”whales,” ”parades,” and ”electricity.”
5. Leslie keeps her friends close and her icons closer, as evidenced by the framed photos of women in politics, like Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.
6. Sample credit-card charges include a ”bucket of cake,” Jessica Simpson clip-in hair extensions, a man pillow, and tuition to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
7. When Ron says, ”Okay, here’s the situation…,” she cuts him off by rapping ”Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
8. The Knope-as-Obama-”Hope” poster.
9. Her last name flies absurdly in the face of the spirit of the character. ”After a while, you forget that it’s a joke,” says exec producer Greg Daniels. ”But it seemed very funny that such an optimistic person would have such a negative name.”
10. This quote: ”He’s got three crutches, and one of them is you. And the other two are crutches.”
REASONS WE LOVE…
NICK OFFERMAN as RON SWANSON
11. The director of Pawnee’s parks and recreation department is a staunch libertarian who doesn’t believe in government. ”The irony is that Leslie has all these dreams, and her boss says, ‘I don’t want the parks department to exist,”’ says Daniels.
12. The mustache. Thick. Proud. Authoritarian.
13. A stoic man, Ron has a smooth side, in the form of his alter ego, jazz saxophonist Duke Silver.
14. Ron’s mother and two horrific ex-wives share the name Tammy. (Offerman’s real-life spouse, Megan Mullally, plays one of his exes, who wields a frightening sexual power over him.)
15. His insatiable hunger for artery-clogging food, particularly anything in the meat family. ”I am blessed with a mighty constitution which allows me to perform stunts as well as consume dangerously large quantities of cholesterol,” boasts Offerman.
16. His passion for woodworking (which writers based on Offerman’s own hobby). ”The writers made a visit to my shop,” says Offerman. ”They were bewitched as all who visit must be.”
17. The Swanson Pyramid of Greatness, a graph of the principles that Ron lives by. (CRYING: ”Acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon.”)
18. He can’t ”hear hippies.”
19. His moaning, near-orgasmic response to receiving a shoe shine from Andy. ”We did it a lot of times, and every time the sound that he made was completely different,” recalls Pratt. ”It went from guttural barking to high-pitched orgasmic squealing and everything in between. It was really amazing and really uncomfortable for both of us.”
20. This quote: ”I got my first job when I was 9. Worked at a sheet-metal factory. In two weeks, I was running the floor. Child-labor laws are ruining this country.”
REASONS WE LOVE…
ROB LOWE as CHRIS TRAEGER
21. As a state auditor brought in to take control of Pawnee’s government, he nonetheless boasts a positivity that makes Leslie Knope look like a Negative Nancy.
22. He points at the person he’s talking to while stating his/her first and last name. Says Lowe, ”You instantly know Chris has read a lot of self-help books and spent a lot of money on weekend seminars and his takeaway was: Repeat name. Direct eye contact. And point.”
23. He was born with a blood disorder and given just weeks to live; ergo, every week is a gift.
24. Only one thing can undo him: the flu. (To self, staring into the mirror: ”Stop. Pooping.”)
25. Chris’ zest for life leads him to jog out of the hospital for a “light 15K” after his flu fiasco, and knock out pull-ups during a meeting.
26. He’s so nice that when a dude in a gay bar tries to buy him a drink, he cheerfully explains that he’s on a date with Ann, and then buys the man—and all of his friends—a round for being so welcoming.
27. He’s so nice that you can hardly tell when he’s delivering bad news. Sums up Lowe: “Chris is the kind of guy who calls you into his office, you have a fantastic meeting, you leave the meeting, you get in the elevator, you get in your car, you drive home, you turn on your television, and then you realize you’ve been fired.”
28. Rob Lowe is willing to sacrifice street cred for his art. “Chris pop-locking to ‘Jump Around’ is probably going to end my career,” says Lowe of a future antic. “Every Thursday night at 9:30, you can watch me burn my cool-guy credentials. It’s all for a good cause.”
29. This quote: “My body is finely tuned like a microchip, and the flu is like a grain of sand. It could literally shut down the entire system.”
REASONS WE LOVE…
AZIZ ANSARI as TOM HAVERFORD
30. A wannabe Diddy, the parks administrator is brimming with ideas for side businesses, like the scent Tommy Fresh, which he debuts in the Feb. 24 episode. “He’s always hustling,” says Ansari, “but it doesn’t always add up.”
31. That openmouthed expression of dis-belief. “Early on I was trying to figure out ways to address the camera that wouldn’t feel similar to the ways you’ve seen in other shows like The Office,” says Ansari. “And one of the things was that goofy grin.”
32. His bold sartorial choices, which have included a raccoon cap, a ladies’ orange hat, and Brooks Brothers boys’ suits.
33. The man fused an iPod to a robotic vacuum cleaner to create DJ Roomba.
34. He can lace a hip-hop/R&B reference into anything, including identifying plants (“Bone Thugs-N-Harmoniums”).
35. His insincere laughter. Reports Poehler: “Aziz can just go from stone-faced to fake-laughing back to stone-faced in seconds.”
36. No one works the ladies quite like Tom, such as when he finagles his way onto the Miss Pawnee judges’ panel and impressively guesses contestants’ bra sizes.
37. And no one strikes out more with the ladies, like when he passes out house keys to prospects, only to wind up robbed twice.
38. A sensitive heart beats underneath that slick protective layer. “The green-card marriage backstory was perfect for him,” says exec producer Michael Schur. “You thought he was married and cheating on his wife all the time, and then you realize, ‘He’s not married at all. And he’s actually in love with his fake wife.'”
39. This quote: “There isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t love diamonds. Even the super-left-wing chicks that saw Blood Diamond and cried. When they get a diamond, they like, ‘Yeah, bitch, get me more of them blood diamonds! Make ’em extra bloody.'”
REASONS WE LOVE…
RASHIDA JONES as ANN PERKINS
40. She’s hot. And a nurse. But not a “hot nurse.”
41. She’s so charming, sometimes we even forget that a nurse has no business hanging out at city hall all the time. “Luckily, city halls and hospitals in small towns are close to each other, which makes it justifiable,” reasons Jones.
42. But sometimes her occupation comes in handy. She nursed not one but two love interests back to health after they fell into the same pit next to her house.
43. Her sisterly friendship with Leslie. “It doesn’t happen that often on TV,” says Jones. “You see enemies or foils. And we really wanted a real relationship between girls where you support each other… Even if that means your friend’s making a mistake.”
44. She loves Halloween, yet has no clue how to throw a Halloween party.
45. The fact that we get to look forward to this: “I have a little bit of an empowered-slut story line,” says Jones. “There are some times where I really just go for it.”
46. Watching Ann, who was firmly in control of her previous relationships, get swept off her feet by Chris. “One of our goals this year was to really show off Rashida’s comedy chops,” says Schur. “Rashida is a very intelligent and attractive woman, and it’s hard to knock someone like that off balance. And the way to knock that person off balance is to get Rob Lowe in a relationship with you.”
47. How her endearing insecurities surface during her camera chats. “That’s just Rashida awkwardness,” admits Jones. “I end up second-guessing if what I just said was funny and try to bury it really quickly afterward.”
48. This quote: “The problem is he is like a perfect human man. I can’t find one flaw. There was one time I thought he farted, but it was me.”
REASONS WE LOVE…
CHRIS PRATT as ANDY DWYER
49. The city hall’s resident shoe shiner is hopelessly, blissfully trapped in adolescence. “I think he’s a big child, mentally, but also in spirit and naïveté,” says Pratt. “That quality allows you to excuse him for some of his other behavior.”
50. He’s a master of physical comedy with his Pratt-falls.
51. He’s a young dude in an old-timey profession. “We had this idea that he is like a Horatio Alger character: He’s going to literally pull himself up from his bootstraps,” explains Schur. “And that if the show lasts into the 10th season, he’ll be elected mayor of Pawnee. He just will, because everyone who meets him loves him.”
52. Superstraw! (Just a bunch of straws fastened together, really.)
53. He loves to help people. (Tom: “Andy, I have a very interesting business proposal for you. I’m moving a lot of heavy stuff out of my place this weekend—” Andy: “Can I help you move? I’m really good at it!”)
54. He especially loves to help people while getting free food. Andy notes that the Red Cross has “amazing cookies,” while the suicide hotline offers a “surprisingly lame spread.”
55. Andy gives piggyback rides, something you just don’t see enough of in prime time.
56. His unlikely relationship with April. Says Pratt: “I really like that somehow this big doofus shoe shiner is the only person who can make April smile.”
57. Andy’s band, Mouse Rat, has a storied history of bizarre names, including A.D. and the D-Bags, Department of Homeland Obscurity, and Nothing Rhymes with Blorange.
58. This quote: “Got a really good deal on my lease. Paying, like, 12 percent interest. That’s, like, one of the highest you can get.”
REASONS WE LOVE…
AUBREY PLAZA as APRIL LUDGATE
59. As the scowly, bizarre, and intelligent intern who became Ron’s assistant, April is no wacky sidekick. “The go-to thing would be to have an assistant that’s a bimbo or a fool, but I suggested to Greg and Mike, ‘What if she’s really smart but just doesn’t want to be there and hates everything?'” recalls Plaza.
60. Her ugh-this-is-so-lame look. “I feel like April has a running inside-joke with the camera,” says Plaza, “where she’s just like, ‘Can you believe this?'”
61. Her boyfriend had a boyfriend. Best. Threesome. Ever.
62. She once drove a lawn mower through a Nordstrom.
63. She’s the perfect gatekeeper, because Ron likes his gate closed: She reschedules a citizen’s meeting with Ron for Marchtember Oneteenth.
64. She’s half Puerto Rican (like Plaza), which, as April deadpans to the camera, is why she’s “so lively and colorful.”
65. She imported a Venezuelan boyfriend just to make Andy jealous.
66. Instead of working, April is usually flipping through magazines. “They have a fake Pawnee Magazine cover and I just put whatever I want inside of it,” she says. “I read ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. I read Dwell. I read a whole Stephen King book during season 2.”
67. Her suggestion for a city hall mural contest involves a TV playing knee surgeries and a human-size hamster wheel.
68. This quote: “I passed up a gay Halloween party to be here. Do you know how much fun gay Halloween parties are? Last year I saw three Jonas Brothers make out with three Robert Pattinsons. It was amazing.”
REASONS WE LOVE…
ADAM SCOTT as BEN WYATT
69. As Chris’ seemingly normal state-auditor colleague, Ben is the closest thing Parks has to a straight man. “Because all of the other actors are so amazing, I just try not to laugh and react,” says Scott. “But then [the writers] also throw me the bone of Ben having a couple of quirks himself. So it’s a double Happy Meal in that sense.”
70. His Doogie Howser past—he was elected mayor at age 18 and impeached for bankrupting his hometown. “At one point that was the backstory for Leslie,” shares Schur. “I always had that in my head as a great backstory for someone who’s stuck in a midlevel job in a local government.”
71. His submissive relationship with boss Chris, in which he plays the understated role of grim reaper. “They had a system that worked: Chris makes everyone feel great, and then I go in and stab them in the heart,” says Scott.
72. His slow-burn relationship with Leslie: They began as adversaries, respect each other as colleagues, and are headed straight toward nerd love.
73. This quote: “Don’t get me wrong—these people are weirdos. But they’re weirdos who care.”
AND DON’T FORGET…
74. The jaunty, patriotic theme song.
75. The show built its whole first season around a pit. “Even our line producer just stared at us,” chuckles Daniels. “He didn’t believe we were serious.”
76. The smaller the plots, the bigger our grins. (Leslie accidentally marries two male penguins at the zoo!)
77. Fun with puns. Who doesn’t want to eat at Jurassic Fork?
78. Those disturbing city hall murals depicting Pawnee’s history. “I went to a wedding in Oklahoma, and we toured some public buildings, and I thought that some of the murals were a little racist,” recalls Daniels. “So we just exaggerated that.”
79. The enigma that is Donna (Retta), a low-level government employee who drives a Mercedes SUV and donated money to David Duke based on his pledge to lower taxes.
80. Rotund staffer Jerry (Jim O’Heir) is the perfect punching bag. “We were being super mean to him,” admits Schur. “So we [dialed] it back a bit by explaining that he was totally fine with it because he had this attitude of ‘I just want my pension.'”
81. Pawnee’s surprisingly active nightlife: (a) The Snakehole Lounge, a skanky club of which Tom owns 2/5 of 1 share. “It’s a fun place to just see all of our characters get hammered,” says Ansari. “I feel like out of any sitcom, the Parks and Rec characters have the biggest drinking problem.”
(b) The Bulge, one of two local gay bars.
(c) The Glitter Factory, the strip club the office frequents.
82. The show finds comic riches in small-town media, including a cutthroat morning-show host, a deft newspaper reporter, and a TV personality named Perd Hapley.
83. Town meetings, where crazed residents sound off on irrelevant topics.
84. The Leslie Knope–Ron Swanson friendship, which represents the quintessential liberal-libertarian compromise. “Ron was intended to be more antagonistic,” says Daniels. “But Nick brought so much fun that we ended up making some episodes about their friendship.”
85. Leslie’s archnemesis: teenage vandal Greg Pikitis.
86. The show also managed to create a diabolical enemy out of…the public library.
87. As Tom declares, “Damn! How does Sewage always get the hottest interns?”
88. The tentative season 2 romance between Leslie and Louis C.K.’s bumbling cop.
89. Pawnee councilman Bill Dexhart’s admission: “It was wrong of me to say I was building houses for the underprivileged when I was actually having four-way sex in a cave in Brazil.”
90. You never know when an SNL favorite will pop up: Will Forte is a Twi-hard! Andy Samberg is a shouting park ranger! Fred Armisen is Raul Alejandro Bastilla Pedro de Veloso de Maldonado!
91. Detlef Schrempf.
92. The show found Tom a friend even douchier than he is: Jean- Ralphio, who dreams big but works at Lady Foot Locker.
93. The playground-building charity KaBOOM! in season 2 is a real organization. Yes, you laughed for/at a good cause.
94. The clever and viral ways that the cast has pimped the show (see: Ansari’s theme-song remix, the out-of-control Rob Lowe promo, the singing battle against Late Night host Jimmy Fallon).
95. Leslie and Ann finally have a blowout. “I wouldn’t call it a dance-off necessarily, but I will say there’s a lot of side-by-side dancing filled with venom,” reveals Jones.
96. April and Andy throw a fancy dinner party—and serve only Bagel Bites.
97. Tom unveils his new drink, Snake Juice.
98. Ron visits his holy shrine, a steak house in Indianapolis. He brings his own utensils.
99. Leslie battles her Eagleton counterpart (Parker Posey), who installs a fence to keep out Pawnee residents. “It’s basically the story of the Berlin Wall,” says Schur. “But with higher stakes.”
100. Ben + microphone x interviews = unnatural disaster.
101. Get ready to meet Pawnee’s biggest celebrity: a tiny horse. “Think about the first time you saw the Grand Canyon or your child being born,” says Poehler. “Now double it. Now make it tiny. That’s Li’l Sebastian.”