Where Parks and Recreation started was a lot different than where it ended. The first season of the fan-favorite series played like a shoddy knock-off of the US version of The Office, which shared many of the same creative minds behind the scenes. But one episode partway through Season 2 absolutely changed the game, sending Parks and Recreation in the right direction. And all it took was shooting Ron Swanson in the back of the head.
Parks and Recreation debuted on NBC in April 2009 with a six-episode first season, much like the first season of the US version of The Office. By the point Parks and Recreation got underway, The Office was in the middle of Season 5 and was a verifiable success. As such, another sitcom from some of the people behind the Americanized version of Ricky Gervais' British series was more than welcome.
That first season of Parks and Recreation was not a direct spinoff of The Office in the sense that it had any crossover characters or shared stories. That being said, it was designed to be a spiritual successor to an extent. That included a love triangle between Ann Perkins, Andy Dwyer, and Mark Brendanawicz that initially mirrored the more successful one between Pam Beesly, Jim Halpert, and Roy Anderson.
The comparable tone in the comedy, the characters, and even the stories fell flat, though. What worked on The Office simply didn't work on Parks and Recreation. Season 2 started to make changes early on to differentiate the two shows. That included alterations to the character archetypes as well as leaning into the absurdity of the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana, and all of the idiosyncrasies of its ineffective municipal bureaucracy.
But there was one episode that showed that Parks and Recreation had truly become its own series. Season 2, Episode 10 saw Ron, Mark, and Jerry embark on their annual hunting trip under the guise of actual government business. Leslie, Ann, Tom, and Donna joined in for that trip, which Ron was not so happy about. He was a lot less happy about Tom accidentally shooting him in the back of the head, then trying to cover it up.
The whole adventure was an exercise in nearly perfect ridiculousness. It was a superb look at these characters in an environment outside of their usual setting. Donna's obsession with her Mercedes really came into focus, as did the dynamic between Leslie and Ron that was key to Parks and Recreation for the rest of its run. Plus, a wounded, rage-filled Ron Swanson filled with pain killers and liquor will always be funny.
This was the episode when Parks and Recreation turned a corner, finding its voice and its sense of humor. It was also the beginning of the series becoming something special, which was cemented by the arrival of Chris Trager and Ben Wyatt in Season 2, Episode 23. Mark's departure in Season 2, Episode 24 certainly didn't hurt the situation, either. It's just unfortunate that Ron had to take a shotgun blast to the back of the head to kickstart the series.
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