Not far into the pilot for Parks and Recreations, NBC's latest attempt to kick start a winning sitcom idea, right after "mid-level bureaucrat" Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler – typically oblivious) has accosted a child in a sandpit with a pointlessly vague questionnaire and she turns to address the camera you get the odd realization you've seen this show somewhere before. About five minutes before most likely, seeing as NBC premiered the show right after a new episode of The Office, and right before a second new episode of The Office, to all but guarantee a captive audience.

Yes, by the end of the first self-pat on the back it's clear that the only thing separating Leslie Knope and Michael Scott is a different set of genitalia. Beyond that they are the exact same character and this is the exact same show, right down to it's deliberately Podunk setting (Pawnee, Iowa in for Scranton, Pennsylvania). So instead of selling paper we’re pushing it and the mock documentary camera crew (whose presence is never explained) is trailing the department’s every move. Knope’s first order of business is to mine the tragedy of a local woman’s lay-about husband falling into a pit and breaking both his legs into the spearhead of a works project that will catapult her to the halls of power.

That’s really about as imaginative as it gets and the show lacks sufficient energy to be seriously engaging as a comedy. It also suffers from having no really likable character to center on and ground the antics of Knope and her gang. Aziz Ansari has a role as a fast-talking, most certainly dodgy wheeler-dealer, but he is more strange than funny. What we’re missing is a “Jim” character, for, as we all know, people came to The Office for the car crash moments that were the talk of the water cooler, but they stayed for the likes of Jim and Pam. Without a hook the show is nothing but a directionless cascade of increasingly inappropriate behavior with little or nothing to contrast itself against.

Also there is something about the setting. Parks and Recreation? Okay, it’s perhaps just sufficiently important to give us some incredibly petty power play laughs and it affords ample opportunity for Knope to unleash herself on the unsuspecting public in venues like the town hall meeting of the pilot. But it’s just so safe and conveniently contained and out of the way enough that they’ll never once have to address any of the more prickly aspects of government that are such hot button issues right now.

Given the runaway success of both the UK version of The Office and its US counterpart, it's only natural to want to capitalize on it, but did Daniels and Schur have to be so obvious and derivative? This isn't even a retooling. It's a carbon copy and the frankly ridiculous list of producers (we counted eight!) smacks of a way to occupy those queuing up for a development deal a'la Tina Fey and 30 Rock that NBC has neither the money nor the patience to deal with right now.

Starring: Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Aubrey Plaza, Paul Schneider, Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt

Created By: Greg Daniels & Michael Schur

Network: NBC

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