Have you seen the latest television comedy — "Parks and Recreation" — from the folks who created the Emmy Award-winning show "The Office?" Instead of focusing on dysfunction in the corporate workplace, they're focusing on dysfunction in the public workplace.
In fact, "Public Service" was the original title for the "mockumentary" that explores the "mundane but necessary ways that people interact with their government, and ask why it's frequently so complicated - as everyone knows from standing in line at the DMV, applying for home construction permits, or trying to get the city to fix a pothole."
The main character works for the fictional city of Pawnee, Ind., along with a bored intern, a savvy but cynical city manager, and a boss who thinks all public services should be privatized. I spend half the time admiring the show's authenticity and the other half partially insulted on behalf of public servants. Folks must like the premise, though, because the show was just renewed for a second season.
After watching three episodes, a PUBLIC WORKS reader I met through the show's website and to whom I promised anonymity pointed out that, unlike the lead character, who wants to be the first female U.S. president, most government employees steer clear of local politics for fear of alienating a future boss. And where's the obsessive resident who presents kooky ideas at each and every public meeting? What about an episode, if not an entire story line, about a change in administration where a new mayor or city council member tries to shake up the department?
Now that's authentic.
I have my own bone to pick about the show.
Astute readers may remember my suggestion for a "Law & Order"-type drama about public works. Writers would never want for ideas: Mobs of citizens protesting proposed rate increases. Public works crews clearing away disaster debris as police and fire watch helplessly. Etc. Throw in some office romance and you've got the ultimate American story: proud, hard-working men and women laboring to improve their community's quality of life despite all obstacles.
Humor would be part of, not the reason for, such a show. But it would certainly be a different twist on life in the government sector beyond the police and fire departments.
If you've seen the show, what's your take on it? Is it generally on-target or does it miss the mark? Why? You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.