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Parks and Rec vs. The Office

Pawnee forever

Opinion by Taylor Kirby

Parks and Recreation and The Office have become sworn enemies of sitcom. Though their similarities begin and end with their premise—both are mockumentaries about American workplaces—fans have insisted on pitting these comedies against each other for the better part of a decade. Thankfully for Parks and Recs fans, this faux competition leaves The Office looking as appealing as a glass of milk left out in the heat of a Florida sun.

Parks and Rec is a show defined by its positive relationships. Though not everyone is as motivated as Leslie Knope to improve the community of Pawnee, all the department’s employees care deeply for each other and choose to be a part of each other’s lives even outside of work. They inspire each other to find joy in a career that might otherwise leave them unfulfilled. This is a show that celebrates the best of people even while it embraces its characters’ flaws.

Meanwhile, The Office tries to satirize the worst of work culture with a host of demoralizing and detestable characters. The thrust of the show is how unbearable most of the employees are, and the only two characters who are meant to be consistently empathized with—Pam and Jim—can only be judged for not jumping the ship of the most dysfunctional and depressing office in all of Pennsylvania. No one loves their job. Hardly anyone even enjoys the company of their coworkers. Escapism isn’t a necessary fixture of entertainment, but there’s no reason a comedy needs to be this grim.

Viewers who have been conned by The Office’s stunning ability to tell the same joke for eight straight years might forget what a textured comedic voice looks like, but Parks and Rec serves as a worthy model.

While The Office asks viewers to sympathize with Michael Scott’s “wacky” antics—which include outting a gay character against his will and regularly sexually harassing Pam and other women—Parks and Rec can craft jokes without degrading its audience. Its surrealist and caricatured approach reinvents the mundane; when libraries become the source of all evil and the offscreen death of a miniature horse is a more emotionally resonant storyline than the sitcom genre had ever seen before (RIP Li’l Sebastian), this is  a comedy that will stand the test of time.

Scranton for life

Opinion by Tessa Blair

Sitcoms thrive off of silly situations and endearing characters. Great storytelling involves deep characters, complex relationships, and emotional development. While both The Office and Parks and Recreation succeed in being funny sitcoms, only The Office hits the mark on great storytelling—making it a superior show in every way.

Yes, Parks and Rec has likeable characters with positive relationships—making them both easy to understand and emotionally boring. Leslie Knope starts the show as a quirky, optimistic leader and ends the show as—surprise—a quirky, optimistic leader.

The Office, on the other hand, creates dynamic characters with intricate relationships. Instead of just making a cast of loveable friends, the show is able to create characters with flaws, downfalls, and emotional depth—making their connection to each other and the audience more meaningful and real. While viewers may not necessarily like all the characters as people, they are able to connect with them emotionally and care about them on a deeper level.

For example, Michael Scott starts the show as a detestable person that seemingly no one could like. As the show goes on, audiences continue to cringe at his actions but begin to learn that he isn’t just an unlikeable person, but has actions that are driven by his intense longing for human compassion and interaction.

By the time Michael leaves Dunder Mifflin, he has somehow made such an emotional impact on his coworkers and the audience that instead of being happy to see a “dislikeable” person go, audiences are sad for Dunder Mifflin and the friends Michael has made.

Not only does this emotional depth of characters make The Office’s storytelling better, it makes the jokes funnier, too. Since viewers are more invested in the characters and relationships, they are more attentive and the situations are set up in a deeper way. Viewers of The Office are able to see the beauty and comedy in real-life conflict and multi-layered relationships. As Pam says in the finale, “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”

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