When Parks and Recreation debuted on NBC in April 2009, it was met with indifference (do we really need another Office-style mockumentary?) and head-scratching (an entire show about turning a pit into a park?). However, after sharpening the comedy and making a few adjustments in season 2 (goodbye, Paul Schneider; hello, Rob Lowe and Adam Scott), Parks which follows Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope and other government staffers in the Indiana burg of Pawnee won over critics and viewers with its blend of off-kilter yet sweetly optimistic humor. And then NBC left the series off its fall schedule. While fans were infuriated, the benching may have proved a blessing in disguise: When Parks returned on Jan. 20, it nabbed the prime Thursday-at-9:30 p.m. slot after The Office. (''It was frustrating to be shooting good shows and not have them be on,'' notes Poehler, ''but I'm excited to have them be on in the space we've always wanted.'') So far, season 3 is drawing an average audience of 5.6 million, but the drive to win hearts and minds is just beginning. Sums up Chris Pratt, who plays the dim shoe shiner Andy Dwyer: ''We feel exactly like the Bad News Bears. We're a ragtag squad of misfits who, in order to maintain the life of our show, must pull off some sort of trick play that involves Rob Lowe. Don't count us out. We'll bite an ankle. We'll eye-gouge. You're going to have to kill us dead!'' It's that fighting spirit that makes us love Parks and Rec. Here are 101 other things.
REASONS WE LOVE...
AMY POEHLER AS
1. The parks department deputy director might be prime time's most idealistic and, yes, committed character. ''What's so fun about playing Leslie is she gets to be really sharply focused on things,'' notes Poehler. ''And like a terrier, she won't let them go.''
2. Leslie's drab wardrobe feels just right for a small-town civil servant. Says Poehler: ''As a rule, if I put something on and I'm like, 'That's cute!' then I would take it off.''
3. Those quick-cut sequences where Leslie veers into Crazyville, whether she's reeling off her absurd excuses for shooting Ron in the head or running through a list of Pawnee's slogans.
4. She's so bad on first dates that when Ann takes her on a practice dinner, she relies on conversation cards that are labeled with subjects like ''whales,'' ''parades,'' and ''electricity.''
5. Leslie keeps her friends close and her icons closer, as evidenced by the framed photos of women in politics, like Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.
6. Sample credit-card charges include a ''bucket of cake,'' Jessica Simpson clip-in hair extensions, a man pillow, and tuition to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
7. When Ron says, ''Okay, here's the situation...,'' she cuts him off by rapping ''Parents Just Don't Understand.''
8. The Knope-as-Obama-''Hope'' poster.
9. Her last name flies absurdly in the face of the spirit of the character. ''After a while, you forget that it's a joke,'' says exec producer Greg Daniels. ''But it seemed very funny that such an optimistic person would have such a negative name.''
10. This quote: ''He's got three crutches, and one of them is you. And the other two are crutches.''
REASONS WE LOVE...
NICK OFFERMAN AS
11. The director of Pawnee's parks and recreation department is a staunch libertarian who doesn't believe in government. ''The irony is that Leslie has all these dreams, and her boss says, 'I don't want the parks department to exist,''' says Daniels.
12. The mustache. Thick. Proud. Authoritarian.
13. A stoic man, Ron has a smooth side, in the form of his alter ego, jazz saxophonist Duke Silver.
14. Ron's mother and two horrific ex-wives share the name Tammy. (Offerman's real-life spouse, Megan Mullally, plays one of his exes, who wields a frightening sexual power over him.)
15. His insatiable hunger for artery-clogging food, particularly anything in the meat family. ''I am blessed with a mighty constitution which allows me to perform stunts as well as consume dangerously large quantities of cholesterol,'' boasts Offerman.
16. His passion for woodworking (which writers based on Offerman's own hobby). ''The writers made a visit to my shop,'' says Offerman. ''They were bewitched as all who visit must be.''
17. The Swanson Pyramid of Greatness, a graph of the principles that Ron lives by. (CRYING: ''Acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon.'')
18. He can't ''hear hippies.''
19. His moaning, near-orgasmic response to receiving a shoe shine from Andy. ''We did it a lot of times, and every time the sound that he made was completely different,'' recalls Pratt. ''It went from guttural barking to high-pitched orgasmic squealing and everything in between. It was really amazing and really uncomfortable for both of us.''
20. This quote: ''I got my first job when I was 9. Worked at a sheet-metal factory. In two weeks, I was running the floor. Child-labor laws are ruining this country.''
REASONS WE LOVE...
ROB LOWE AS
21. As a state auditor brought in to take control of Pawnee's government, he nonetheless boasts a positivity that makes Leslie Knope look like a Negative Nancy.
22. He points at the person he's talking to while stating his/her first and last name. Says Lowe, ''You instantly know Chris has read a lot of self-help books and spent a lot of money on weekend seminars and his takeaway was: Repeat name. Direct eye contact. And point.''
23. He was born with a blood disorder and given just weeks to live; ergo, every week is a gift.
24. Only one thing can undo him: the flu. (To self, staring into the mirror: ''Stop. Pooping.'')