Over the past few weeks, if you've watched anything on NBC you knew Amy Poehler was getting her own sitcom, Parks and Recreation. But the former Saturday Night Live star's new showcase wasn't helped by repetitive ads that gave away many of the pilot's punchlines. As a result, Parks arrived both well promoted and a bit of a letdown. Trumpeted as ''from the creators of The Office'' and shot in the same no-laugh-track, faux-documentary style, Parks doesn't yet have the snap or clear character delineation of Steve Carell's sitcom.
But people forget: The Office seemed a little flat when it premiered in 2005. In both cases, the notion of playing the comedy quietly, poker-faced, is the stealth hallmark of Office co-producer Greg Daniels also creator of the understated cartoon gem King of the Hill.
Poehler brings her brightest, most near-demented smile to the role of Leslie Knope, a midlevel bureaucrat in Pawnee, Ind. She's surrounded by people who are jaded, hostile, and/or wacky. (Kudos to great singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, as Barry, a nutso community-forum attendee: ''Now, I have a few things I want to say about Laura Linney...'') The Office's Rashida Jones ends up warily joining forces with Leslie in attempting to turn an ugly dirt pit into a park. While I laughed out loud only a few times during Parks' pilot, I dug the performances, the attitude, and the atmosphere that's being created. One would be foolish to underestimate the series this early on. B