Biden Time on “Parks and Recreation”

An appearance Thursday by the vice president is poised to solidify Amy Poehler's maturing sitcom as TV's most political wonk friendly comedy.

Vice President Biden, unlike his boss, largely skipped the late night comedy circuit during the presidential campaign – though he delivered a “Good Things about Voting Early” Top 10 list Nov. 1 on "Late Show With David Letterman.” Reason No. 5: "Single and looking to mingle? Find that special someone in the early voting line.”
Months before riffing on early voting, Biden secretly engaged in some early comedy: taping a guest spot on "Parks and Recreation" that would run after the election, win or lose.

The episode, set for Thursday, comes with Biden guaranteed four more years of job security, giving his cameo the de facto air of a last-laugh victory lap. But for fans of "Parks and Recreation," his appearance takes on the added significance of solidifying Amy Poehler's maturing sitcom as TV's most political wonk friendly comedy.

"Parks and Recreation" debuted in 2009, less than three months into the Obama presidency, as an "Office"-style mockumentary about a spunky bureaucrat named Leslie Knope (rhymes with "hope") determined to turn a hole in the ground into a park.

Now, with “Parks and Recreation” in its fifth season, Leslie is battle worn, but smarter and no less enthusiastic – just like the quirky show, which has grown on us while growing up. The comedy is hitting its stride as other long-running NBC Thursday night stalwarts “30 Rock” and “The Office” are readying to close shop.

“Parks and Recreation” added new emotional and substantive stakes last season when Leslie won a bruising campaign to become a councilwoman in her beloved hometown of Pawnee, Ind. This season, her can-do attitude has slammed smack into Washington-like gridlock on even seemingly the most mundane of small town issues. She’s learned the gritty reality of political horse-trading – even giving up her private bathroom to a fellow lawmaker so a kids’ swim team can get more hours at the local pool.

Her new fiancé and soulmate in wonkiness, Ben, is in the deep end of a far bigger political pool in Washington – laying the groundwork for appearances this season from Senators Barbara Boxer, Olympia Snowe and John McCain, who stole a hilarious coatroom scene from Poehler.
The Washington bits take the girl out of Pawnee, but can’t take the Pawnee out of the girl: Leslie alternately gushes and overreaches when in the presence of power, a charm and spirit we call the Audacity of Knope. The show dares to be optimistic about politics and public service at a time of partisanship – unlike, say HBO's “The Newsroom” and “Veep,” in which comic moments tend to reinforce cynicism, rather than soften it.
We’re betting that Biden, who has shown a good sense of humor about parodies of him in The Onion, is more of a kindred spirit to Leslie than to Julia Louis Dreyfus’ Selina Meyer, the beleaguered title character from “Veep.” Like Leslie, who has declared her dream man has "the brains of George Clooney in the body of Joe Biden," the vice president is known for saying what he thinks.

Check out promotional clips for Thursday’s episode below:

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Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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