We’re on lockdown, so we might as well debate some shit. First up, it’s a battle between two of the most beloved sitcoms of the 21st century, The Office and Parks and Recreation.
These two iconic shows are often compared to each other and it is not hard to see why. They have many things in common including the mockumentary style in which they were both shot, the producing team of Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, the same network (NBC), and even a few of the same actors. The Office ran for nine seasons and ended in 2013, while Parks and Rec ran for seven seasons and ended in 2015. Each show has been able to remain culturally relevant years after their respective finales though. Their popularity on streaming services, such as Netflix, has allowed both of them to hold a continued role within the zeitgeist. The interesting thing about this debate is that most fans of The Office are also fans of Parks and Rec, and vice versa. However, at the end of the day everyone has their preference, which is why I’m going to take an in depth look at both of these shows in an attempt to declare a winner in this debate.
I’ve decided to create seven categories that I will use to compare these two shows. I will award a winner in each category, and use those results to decide on an overall winner at the end. The show that wins the most categories will not necessarily win the ultimate debate though because not all categories are weighted equally, since I believe some are more substantial than others. The seven categories are: Main Characters, Side/Secondary Characters, Cast, Relevance in 2020, Sustained Quality Throughout Entire Run of the Show, Higher Peak, and Rewatchability.
Let’s get started.
Which Show Had The Better Main Characters?
In order to decide a winner in this category, I must first declare who I am considering to be the “main characters” in each of these shows. This is tougher than it sounds because the main characters in both of these shows changed in some ways over the course of the series. The Office had 17 characters appear in over 100 episodes, while Parks and Rec—which ran for two fewer seasons—had ten characters appear in over 70 episodes. I will be taking all of these characters into consideration, but I will be placing a majority of my focus on the “core characters” from each show, such as Michael, Jim, Pam, Dwight, Ryan, and Andy from The Office, and Leslie, Ron, Ben, April, Ann, Chris, Tom, and Andy from Parks and Rec.
This is an extremely tough category to decide a winner for, because the greatness of each of these shows is in large part due to the memorable characters they posses. The popularity of The Office grew during its early seasons because of its eclectic group of characters that could theoretically exist in a real-world office. Parks and Rec, on the other hand, truly possessed one of the most fun-to-watch groups of characters that ever existed on television. I would argue that, as a whole, the Parks and Rec characters are more likable than the Dunder Mifflin employees collectively. But, this speaks more to the different styles of humor in each show, rather than the quality of the characters. For example, a character like Tom Haverford may be more liked by the audience than someone like Angela Martin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one is more effective than the other in terms of their role on their respective show.
A strong argument can be made that the Parks and Rec core is funnier overall than The Office core. However, I believe we, as an audience, care more about the lives of the core characters on The Office, than we do about the characters on Parks and Rec. This is especially true in the earlier seasons of The Office, and with Jim and Pam specifically. Take Jim and Pam’s wedding episode for example. That episode felt like much more of a landmark moment in the history of The Office, than Andy and April’s wedding or even Ben and Leslie’s wedding episode did for Parks and Rec. This is because of how invested the audience became in the relationship of Jim and Pam throughout the course of the five seasons before their wedding. Also, if I were to choose which lead character I prefer—Leslie Knope or Michael Scott—I would have to go with Michael Scott, even though I love the character of Leslie Knope, there is just something special about Michael.
So, the Parks and Rec core was more likable and perhaps funnier than The Office core. But, we were more invested in the lives of The Office characters, and they have the superior lead character, in Michael Scott. This is a tough decision to make, but I believe the fact that we were more invested in The Office characters is what ultimately pushes it to the top here. This is especially true because, which group is funnier is up for debate and if it is in fact the Parks and Rec group, its certainly not by much.
Winner- The Office
The Office: 1. Parks and Rec: 0.
Which Show Had The Better Side/Secondary Characters?
For this category, I’m going to be focusing on the secondary characters and the characters who had short-lived runs on each show. Unlike the Main Character category that I just awarded to The Office, I actually feel like this category is relatively easy to decide a winner for. This is because the world-building of Parks and Rec was far superior to that of The Office.
The writers, producers, and creators of Parks and Rec really made building out the world of Pawnee a priority, much more so than those in charge of The Office did for Scranton. Because of this, characters like Perd Hapley, Jean-Ralphio, Joan Callamezzo, Councilman Jamm, Kyle, Shauna Malwae-Tweep, Li’l Sebastian, and many others now feel like they were essential to the success of Parks and Rec. The Office certainly has its fair share of memorable secondary and short-lived characters such as Jan, David Wallace, Karen, Mose, Todd Packer, Holly, Bob Vance, and Roy. But, these characters do not feel as important to the show, as the characters I mentioned from Parks and Rec. Also, I would argue The Office secondary characters are just not as funny. Moreover, The Office had much more divisive of ineffective characters that could be included in this category such as Robert California, Pete, Clark, and Nellie.
Although both of these shows really knew how to create memorable and hilarious side characters, it is really the world of Pawnee that defeats the world of Scranton in this category, giving the win to Parks and Rec.
Winner- Parks and Rec
The Office: 1. Parks and Rec: 1.
Which Show Had The Better Cast?
Both of these shows were blessed with incredible casts, and many of the members of those casts went on to become some of the most important names in comedy TV and films in the 2010s. While many of these actors are attached for life with the characters they played on either The Office or Parks and Rec, several of them have gone on to do some incredible work outside of these two shows. I will be taking into consideration how well each cast performed in these two series’, but I’m going to be placing a large amount of my focus on their success outside The Office and Parks and Rec. I believe this speaks more to the overall talent and success the members of these cast’s posses.
The Office cast is of course highlighted by Steve Carell, who is now one of the most likable and successful movie stars of the last fifteen years or so. That cast also includes names like Ed Helms, John Krasinski, Mindy Kaling, Craig Robinson, and Ellie Kemper, all people whose profiles have only grown since first appearing in The Office. Helms, regardless of how you feel about him or his films, has undoubtably become one of the biggest comedic film actors in the world. Krasinski transitioned surprisingly well into action roles, and received a great deal of acclaim for his 2018 directorial debut, A Quiet Place. Kaling’s The Mindy Project made her a far bigger name in Hollywood from an acting, producing, and writing standpoint. Robinson has remained relevant by earning several supporting roles throughout the 2010s, in films such as Hot Tub Time Machine, This is the End, Get On Up, Sausage Party, and Dolemite is My Name. And, Kemper really launched herself to another level of fame with the success of her Netflix series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
With all that being said though, this is another category that I feel easily goes to Parks and Rec. The cast of The Office is certainly great, but the Parks and Rec cast may just go down in history as one of the greatest television casts of all time. Amy Poehler is a legitimate star and has been for nearly two decades now. Nick Offerman was perfectly cast as Ron Swanson, and used the fame he earned on Parks and Rec to go on to do a lot of great work in comedy throughout the last decade, while exploring some other genres as well. Chris Pratt is currently one of the biggest movie stars in the world, with starring roles in two of the most successful film franchises of all time, the MCU and Jurassic Park/World. Aubrey Plaza is another example of perfect casting, and has proven to be a wildly talented comedic actress through a string of starring roles throughout this past decade. Aziz Ansari’s career certainly got disrupted after the MeToo allegations that were made against him, but he was at one point one of the biggest names in stand-up comedy, and his Netflix series, Master of None, was met with great praise at the time of its release. Rob Lowe has of course been one of the biggest stars in all of Hollywood since the 1980s. Adam Scott hasn’t done a ton in recent years besides some supporting roles in two highly acclaimed television series’, Big Little Lies and The Good Place, but I would argue his past successes have solidified his place as one of the bigger male names in comedy of the past fifteen years or so. And, Rashida Jones is another talented Parks and Rec cast member who has consistently worked and remained relevant since the end of the series.
Parks and Rec has far more cast members who either have been, or potentially could be, the star of their own movie. Many members of The Office‘s cast have gone on to great success but if we’re comparing the two casts a whole, I think the cast of Parks and Rec is the clear winer.
Winner- Parks and Rec
The Office: 1. Parks and Rec: 2.
Which Show Is More Relevant in 2020?
Like I hinted at in the opening, perhaps the biggest success of both of these shows is not how beloved they were while they were airing, but how relevant and beloved they continue to be years after they finished. Parks and Rec and The Office are both amongst the rare group of shows that have been able to appeal to multiple generations, which has helped them remain extremely relevant in 2020.
The effect that Netflix and binge-watching had on both of these shows cannot be understated. They simply wouldn’t be where they are today without that extreme shift that took place in how we consume content. In my opinion though, The Office is clearly the more relevant show in 2020. Parks and Rec has tons of fans and is admired by many, but The Office is THE show of the internet generation.
Perhaps the fact that The Office came first helped it a little bit, but to me it will always be ahead of Parks and Rec in terms of relevance. I’ll put it this way, when you’re comparing the cultural relevance of two shows and one of those show’s episodes was used as a sample in Billie Eilish’s album, that’s the show that wins.
Let’s take quality out of the equation for the moment, The Office is just simply a part of our culture in a way that Parks and Rec isn’t, and I don’t really see any way to argue against that.
Winner- The Office
The Office: 2. Parks and Rec: 2.
Which Show Sustained a Higher Level of Quality Throughout the Entire Series?
It’s no secret that a lot of beloved shows, especially sitcoms, will dip in quality throughout the course of their run. Whether this is due to writers running out of ideas, important storylines coming to an end, or actors becoming less interested in the material, it is often times inevitable. When I ranked every season of The Office, I wrote about the stark contrast in quality that exists between the later seasons and the show’s prime.
One thing that’s important to note for this category is that each of these shows gained and lost important characters throughout their run. Obviously, the addition of Ben and Chris at the end of season two launched Parks and Rec into its prime. On the flip side, the loss of Michael Scott in season seven of The Office really hurt the show in a way in which it could never fully recover. Other notable additions and subtractions that these shows had to deal with are the subtraction of Ann and Chris near the end of Parks and Rec, the addition of Andy and Karen in season three of The Office, and the addition of Erin in season five. Each of these shifts within the cast had an effect on the overall quality of the show in one way or another.
The reason Parks and Rec will be the winner in this category is because when I look at Parks and Rec, I really only see one season that stands out as especially underwhelming— season one—which consisted of only six episodes. There is no doubt that Parks and Rec running for only seven seasons, compared to The Office‘s nine, helped it in this category. This is especially true when you consider the fact that The Office‘s eighth and ninth seasons are, without a doubt, its worst. But to be fair, I would argue that even season seven of Parks and Rec is better that the seventh season of The Office, so it is not all about length here.
Parks and Rec was blessed with one of the most talented groups of writers ever assembled, and I think that really helped it maintain its quality in a way that The Office just couldn’t. There isn’t that much of a quality gap between seasons six and seven of Parks and Rec, and seasons three and four. Also, I think the fact that Parks and Rec had a more established and significant world, as well as more likable characters, helped it as well. The Office was really an examination of the dynamics and relationships that existed within confined one work space. After five or six full seasons of that, it is hard to come up with storylines that continue to be as effective. Parks and Rec was able to rely on the fact that it had the extended of world of Pawnee to explore, and it took full advantage of that. Furthermore, I say Parks and Rec having more likable characters helped because during later seasons of The Office, I think the audience got a little bit tired of some of the less-liked characters. Parks and Rec had an advantage in that, even if the storylines or the jokes weren’t as great towards the end, those characters were still people we enjoyed seeing on screen.
At the end of the day, The Office just had a much larger dip in quality towards the end of its run than Parks and Recreation ever did, and because of that, it wins this category.
Winner- Parks and Rec
The Office: 2. Parks and Rec: 3.
Which Show Had a Higher Peak?
Parks and Rec may have been able to sustain its quality for a larger portion of its run, but which show was better at its absolute best is another question entirely. I suppose to figure out the answer to that question I need to first establish what the peak of each show was.
I’ve already gone on record in my Every Season of The Office – Ranked blog, stating that I consider seasons two and three of The Office to be its peak. For Parks and Rec, I’d have to go with seasons three and four as its peak.
All four of those seasons are among some of my favorite seasons in the history of television, so this choice is not an easy one to make, which is why I’m going to cheat a little bit. The argument of which pair of seasons is better is incredibly subjective, but the idea that Parks and Rec may not even exist without seasons two and three of The Office is just a fact, and I’m going to use that fact to declare The Office the winner here. The success and popularity The Office garnered as a result of those peak seasons led to shows like Parks and Rec even being given a chance. They are two of the most influential seasons in modern television history.
I would still argue that quality-wise, The Office‘s peak is in fact better than Parks and Rec at its best. But, it really is the importance of those seasons, and the fact that they came first, that gives The Office the win here. Plus, it’s season two and three of The Office, it’s some of the funniest and best sitcom television that has ever existed.
Winner- The Office
The Office: 3. Parks and Rec: 3.
Which Show is More Rewatchable?
And just like that, it’s all tied up at 3-3 going into the final category, which is of course rewatchability. Several times already I have discussed the extreme popularity both of these shows possess on Netflix, so I’m not going to go into that again. (Even though it is important to at least mention when talking about rewatchability.)
Personally, I have rewatched both of these shows countless times. They both fall into the “sleep show” category for me. Sleep Shows are the shows that you know so well, you can put them on in the background when you’re falling asleep. But, they are both also great shows to put on when you just need something comforting or easy-to-watch. I have probably rewatched more episodes of The Office, than Parks and Rec, but that is only because I was a fan of The Office first so I’ve had a longer relationship with that show.
It’s hard to talk about what makes both of these shows so rewatchable in great detail, because it really just consists of everything I’ve been discussing over the past six categories. The characters, the storylines, the jokes, the casts, the worlds, and the iconic moments make fans want to come back over and over again.
In a strange way, I can compare both The Office and Parks and Rec to something like Breaking Bad. All three of those shows debuted before the binge-watching era really took off, but were helped by it in a major way. Fans realized they could run through entire seasons of The Office or Parks and Rec in just one day because of how consume-able the episodes were, and we’ve been doing it ever since.
I’m aware that this is a cop-out, but I really do not think I can choose a winner for this category. The rewatchability factor of both of these shows is what makes them so important and so enjoyed by fans today. I don’t see this changing any time soon, and I think these shows will continue to be watched and rewatched by new and old fans alike for years to come. I’m sorry, but it’s a tie.
Tie- The Office & Parks and Rec
The Office: 3. Parks and Rec: 3.
Just because the categories ended in a tie doesn’t mean a winner will not be crowned. This is the first quarantine debate, there has to be a winner.
I legitimately was unsure who I was going to choose as the winner while I was writing this blog. When I was writing about the reasons why I love Parks and Rec, I thought I’d go with that as the winner. Then, when I was writing about the reasons why I love The Office, I thought I’d actually go with that as the winner instead. Ultimately, two things stuck out to me when it came time to make this final decision, influence and investment.
I couldn’t help but to think about the influence of The Office when deciding on a winner. Before The Office aired in 2005, the most popular sitcoms on the air were shows like Friends. It was these multi-camera shows with laugh tracks that dominated the sitcom landscape, but things really started to change with The Office. The single-cam style, the lack of a laugh track, and the addition of real, grounded characters gave The Office a sense of intimacy that a lot of shows from the 90’s just didn’t have. It led to shows like Parks and Rec and Modern Family which went to their own success, but without The Office, I’m not sure those shows ever even exist.
The other thing that separated The Office from Parks and Rec for me was the investment the audience has in the characters. I talked a lot about this in the Main Character category, but I’ll touch on it again here. Both of these shows are incredibly funny, and if you prefer the humor of Parks and Rec to the humor of The Office, I can’t blame you. However, during those first five or six seasons of The Office, we really cared an immense amount about the lives of its main characters, and related so greatly to the struggle of working in a dull office environment everyday. No relationship in Parks and Rec feels as significant, or important to the history of television, as the Pam and Jim relationship does in The Office. Parks and Rec is hysterical, and its characters are some of the most memorable characters on television in recent years, but The Office just is, and always will be, a notch above it.
Winner- The Office