The American sitcom, in a general sense, has a very time-tested and rigid structure. But, as skyscrapers are built to sway slightly to correct for strong winds, the sitcom shooting schedule is built to withstand actors forgetting their lines, shouting obscenities, and, as evidenced by the included video of Parks and Recreation bloopers, the occasional farting contest.
Because sitcoms happen in front of a camera, we are left with filmic evidence of these mistakes and bodily expulsions; lucky and thoroughly entertaining by-products that, before the internet, were mostly relegated to pirated VHS tapes or infrequent television specials hosted by Dick Clark and Ed McMahon. And since Parks and Rec boasted a cast of naturally hilarious people on and off-screen (RIP Harris Wittels), there is bound to be a wealth of this type of unintentional comedy gold left on the cutting room floor.
When Parks and Recreation began its run, it stood immediately on shaky ground. It was scheduled as a midseason replacement and debuted to mixed reception, most of the criticism being that it wasn’t funny its faux-documentary style was too derivative of The Office (indeed, it was originally meant to be an Office spinoff). Season 2 saw a lot of changes such as characters like Mark (Paul Schneider) being pushed into the background (and eventually off the show) and smaller characters like Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer being brought to the forefront and tailored to fit the show (Andy started out less a lovable dummy and more a lazy slacker musician).
The cast that remained either came to the show with a strong comedy background or quickly fell in step with the show’s suddenly unique and fresh voice – a voice facilitated not just by the cast, but by one of the strongest writer’s rooms in TV history (staffed by series co-creator Mike Shur, the previously mentioned Harris Wittels, Chelsea Peretti, Alan Yang, and Katie Dippold to name a few). It was a glowing collaboration of comedy minds that ensured the show’s successes would be brilliant and their failures would be at very least inherently watchable.
Hence we have this blooper reel, a document that spans the show’s seven seasons and gives a nice glimpse into what we can only speculate would have been a crazy fun working environment. And though it could have done with a little more footage of the writing staff (many of whom have gone on to even greater things behind and in front of the camera), this video gives us a peek into a show that must have been as fun to make as it was to watch.
The American sitcom as an art form is more often than not a wasteland of middling, base humor, with an easily followed structure that provides simple laughs to the widest audience possible. It cannot be faulted for this, as its prime directive is mass appeal. But every once in a while, a visionary with a mastery of that structure can bring it to a fresh new place that reinvigorates and re-legitimizes it. And these creative minds, from Norman Lear to James Burrows to Dan Harmon, remind us that the sitcom cannot ever really die.
Parks and Recreation ran for seven seasons, from April 2009 to February 2015, was co-created by Greg Daniels and Michael Shur and aired on NBC.