Now more than ever, NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” begs the question: Why isn’t everyone watching this show?

Parks and Recreation

Season Five Midseason
Thursdays at 9:30 p.m.
NBC


A show that started with the basic format of “The Office” in hopes of tapping into the latter’s viewer base, “Parks” is now exemplary television comedy far superior to most of its contemporaries. After breaking out of the “Office” prototype, creators Greg Daniels and Michael Schur have cultivated a show populated with engaging characters and charm so irresistible that watching an episode feels like spending half an hour with your funniest friends.

In its fifth season, “Parks” falls effortlessly back into the rhythm established in season three with the pivotal arrival of Chris (Rob Lowe) and Ben (Adam Scott) to Pawnee, Ind. Every single character is likable, from lovably dumb Andy (Chris Pratt) to sassy powerhouse Donna (Retta), to guests who have become Pawnee staples, like Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz) and Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson).

This season extends the brilliance of these characters beyond meticulously crafted individuals to truly believable people with chemistry in any combination. Chris, Andy and Tom (Aziz Ansari) seem an unlikely group, but they band together as naturally as any group of friends really would. Better yet, they learn from each other; Andy becomes motivated to be a police officer and Chris realizes he wants more in his life than perfect health and physique.

And who could forget the Washington, D.C. shenanigans of apathetic April (Aubrey Plaza) and nerdtastic Ben? The two are almost polar opposites, yet they find balance in the workplace and become actual friends outside it during their failed road trip to Pawnee.

The D.C. plotline itself has proved to be a smart gamble by the writers. When it was first introduced last season, it seemed like a sort of negative deux ex machina — another way of keeping Ben and Leslie (Amy Poehler) from happiness after the numerous hurdles they jumped to be together. But Leslie and Ben are as flawless as ever, encumbered by distance but still very much in love. Even more impressive is the fact that having ongoing stories in two locations isn’t holding “Parks” back from plot development. Characters grow, people change and all to the tune of the kind of silliness one can only expect from the Pawnee Parks Department.

One of “Parks” ’s greatest strengths the past few seasons has been the ability of the its writers to blend marvelous comedy and quality drama — nothing as dark as “How I Met Your Mother” ’s explorations of death and infertility, but those everyday moments like Ben and April making fun of their congressman or Leslie standing up for her beliefs even if they defy city laws. It is not uncommon among fans to get a little teary-eyed during the season four finale or freak out every time Ben and Leslie kiss for the first time. That kind of resonance is what differentiates an average comedy from a superb one, and “Parks” is the latter, without a doubt.

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