THE SHOW "Parks and Recreation," NBC / 4, 8:30 tonight
REASON TO WATCH Amy Poehler's coming-out party, after a long and glorious run on " Saturday Night Live."
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Leslie Knope (Poehler) is deputy director of the Parks & Rec department of a small Midwestern city named Pawnee, where not much happens, but enough to keep a midlevel bureaucrat with the intention of one day becoming president fully engaged and overenthusiastic. Her duties are minor - she organizes a sandbox-cleaning brigade after an invasion of cats - but her ego is healthily inflated: "It's a great time to be a woman in politics. Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Me, Nancy Pelosi." Her colleagues in P&R include an old lover who's a sort of Mr. Fix-It, Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider); her boss, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), whose politics tend toward the libertarian side of the scale; and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), a cynical slacker not above (or below) using his modest office for personal gain. Knope is ambitious, and when a woman named Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) enlists her help to fill in a huge hole dug by a developer (which her boyfriend fell into), Leslie charges ahead. She will build a park - a project, she says, that will be her own Hoover Dam. The whole series, by the way, is a mockumentary.
BOTTOM LINE Let's head back a decade or so to a simpler time in network TV land, and imagine that an executive for NBC offers us what he promises will be a knock-the-hide-off-the-ball idea: Another "Seinfeld"! Great cast; Larry David will write; it'll still be about nothing, but we'll set it in St. Louis so no one gets this one confused with the nothingness of the original. Your response (or certainly mine) would be: Been there and really, really done that. "P&R" is written and produced by two of the funniest guys working in network TV - Greg Daniels and Mike Schur, formerly of "The Office"; has a wonderful lead and terrific second lead in Ansari, who will one day be a bona fide TV star; and occupies the little universe of fictional Pawnee comfortably and amusingly. But, by osmosis or direction, Poehler's Knope has absorbed the mannerisms of Steve Carell's Michael Scott, while Pawnee's P&R department feels an awful lot like Scranton's Dunder Mifflin. Unfortunately, one show's a classic, the other a near knockoff. Nevertheless, Poehler's still got plenty of appeal here. In time, who knows?