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Why Aren’t People Watching Parks and Recreation?

Parks and Recreation- Season 6

Alex Russell

Remember when Liz Lemon was everywhere?

For a few years it seemed like you couldn’t load Tumblr or Facebook without seeing at least five Liz Lemon memes. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; 30 Rock was a tremendous show. It was a lot of things, but above all else it was the critically-acclaimed anchor to NBC’s very weird (but very great) Thursday night that included The OfficeCommunity, and Parks and Recreation.

The Office faltered late, as everyone knows. 30 Rock managed to do OK just because it was consistently being hailed as the best show on television. Community‘s story is still unfolding, but the fanbase is rabid enough that it will probably end up fine. But what of Leslie Knope and the Liz-Lemon-meme-worthy Ron Swanson?

Let’s tell it straight: People are not watching Parks and Recreation anymore. Numbers-wise, the show has done a little bit worse every season, especially after losing The Office as a lead-in. Everyone who loves Parks and Rec will tell you that it doesn’t really find its footing until the end of the first season, but America really disagrees. The first season held a huge percentage of Office fans, even though it debuted after one of the dumbest storylines in Office history (“Michael Scott Paper Company” was the lead-in episode for the pilot).

Season two of Parks and Rec is some of the greatest sitcom TV of the last fifteen years, but it did a little bit worse (between four and six million people per episode) than the weird first season. Second three — which followed the final Michael Scott episodes of The Office and was the first season with Rob Lowe and Adam Scott as regulars — did even worse, sometimes dropping below four million. The three seasons since have done worse in the ratings, and sometimes far worse.

A lot of this is on NBC. 30 Rock did even worse than Parks and Rec during its decline and even The Office, the one your mom liked sometimes, barely managed four million viewers a night by the end. Community seemed unstoppable, but it’s tanking this year in the ratings. Parenthood, once one of NBC’s most reliable shows, is doing the same.

Thursday night on the other networks? Fox has Hell’s Kitchen and American Idol. CBS has The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. ABC has Scandal. NBC’s support for its sitcoms is Hollywood Game Night.

It’s impossible to convince someone to definitely watch something unless they already might, but you really should be DVRing Parks and Rec. The show stumbled a little with an ambitious plot for main character Leslie Knope, but it’s still one of the only consistently funny, consistently great sitcoms on network TV. NBC renewed it for next year, but based on the competition and the current trend, Parks and Rec is dead in the water. Come stay awhile with it every week, like you would an elderly relative. Ron Swanson is still there Ron-Swansoning around, and that really should be enough to earn your 22 minutes a week.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Image: NBC

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Why We Watch Community

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Jonathan May

Community is one of those shows you inhabit in your dreams. I’ve gone to bed a night or two, only to end up being a part of the wacky, lovable study group’s japes. What I think brings me, and others, to this place most often is the show’s use of linguistic repetitions. The reinforcement of each character’s linguistic neuroses and their collective verbal neuroses add to the believability of the show (one of the grandest attempts of television). Think of the many utterances of “Doi!” or the Dean’s multitudinous and eponymous puns. Think of the many insults belted back at Leonard, the group’s old-ass, background naysayer. Troy and Abed’s many shared phrases. Abed, for whom everything is meta, even subtly acknowledges the level and power of repetition in the show every time he says, “Cool. Cool cool cool.”

To state and restate is the show’s power, like a sonnet unfolding over 25 minutes. The core of the show resembles that of a sonnet as well; the lines build on each other, according to the “rhyme scheme” (thematic topic) of the episode. Everything ends in a final couplet: lines of moral epiphany normally delivered by Jeff, our not-always-so-humble protagonist. Sonnets, among other strict metrical forms, work out of repetition of sounds; so too does a show like Community. Using individual phrases as units of expression (read: “feet”), the show leads to a moral ending, accreting from the different lines of our seven main characters a Gestalt. For a show built around an inherent timetable (community college degree completion) and structure (“#sixseasonsandamovie”), there’s a whole lot of circling, repetition, and discursiveness. What does this say about us, about students, about the modern college experience? That we too, in our headlong course for straightforwardness and completion, fail miserably? That we cannot escape the velocity of our own repetitions?

Maybe that’s not a bad thing. We, like the show, refine ourselves through repeating stories from our lives that define us; with each utterance, we either fall further into parody or resolve ourselves further in unity of character. The show does a great job of taking this chance each episode, using familiar phrases and tropes in an attempt to always be further resolved, rather than further caricatured. As the show moves into its fifth season, with Dan Harmon again at the helm, we’ll see, with the loss of Pierce and Troy, if the show can sustain itself with its remaining familiars. We’ll see if it can circle back around to a further incarnation.

Image source: CNN