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Things You Never Noticed In Parks And Recreation's First Episode

NBC's collection of early 2010s comedies ranks among the finest in broadcast TV history, with multiple acclaimed and innovative single-camera comedies including "The Office," "30 Rock," "Community," and "Parks and Recreation." Created by veteran "The Office" writers Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, "Parks and Recreation," set in the fictional Pawnee, Indiana, found the hilarity in people being nice and helping each other achieve big things, while also satirizing the ins-and-outs of municipal government, office work, and small-town life. "Saturday Night Live" star and improv comedy legend Amy Poehler starred as the extremely driven Parks Department assistant director Leslie Knope, leading a cast that included comic heavyweights like Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones, Aubrey Plaza, and Nick Offerman.

"Pilot," the appropriately named first episode of "Parks and Recreation," debuted on NBC on April 9, 2009, per IMDb. The show still had some evolving to do and would work out the kinks over its first couple of seasons. That makes for a pilot that doesn't look or feel much like later episodes, resulting in a lot of overlooked stuff. Here are some things even huge "Parks and Recreation" fans may have forgotten or not realized happened in episode number one.

A drunk guy gets stuck in a slide

The very first scene of the very first episode of "Parks and Recreation" is built around a bit of comic nonsense that doesn't fully pay off until the final episode of the series aired in 2015. The pilot opens with Leslie Knope polling children on a playground about their satisfaction with the local park services, then proudly waxing poetic for a documentary film crew about her job as assistant director of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department. Juxtaposed with her speaking nobly of community service and the privilege it is to help her community is another entirely thankless and uncomfortable part of the job: A kid summons Leslie to a tube slide where a drunk man (portrayed by comedian Jon Daly) adamantly refuses to budge. This results in Leslie attempting to dislodge him while desperately trying to cling to her dignity in front of the cameras.

The intoxicated individual would return to the "Parks and Recreation" series finale as a demonstration of how the Parks Department really does change people's lives for the better — he introduces himself as a changed and sober man, having hit rock bottom on that day years earlier when he became wedged in the playground slide.

Chris Pratt is a guest star

"Parks and Recreation" wasn't Chris Pratt's first big role — he co-starred on the WB teen soap "Everwood" for four years — but it did mark his breakthrough as a comic performer. On the long-running NBC sitcom, he played Andy Dwyer, a fairly dim but utterly sweet wannabe-musician and shoeshine guy who eventually marries former Parks Department intern April Ludgate. But before all that, producers had to find a way to get Pratt onto the show full-time, because it's evident in the pilot episode that he was originally supposed to be a temporary character (per Showbiz Cheat Sheet). Pratt is listed in the credits as a "guest star," but Andy drives what would become the main storyline of the show's early seasons and is the indirect impetus for setting up the show's most prominent love story: the friendship between Leslie Knope and nurse Ann Perkins (per POPSUGAR).

At the outset of the series, Andy is Ann's ne'er-do-well boyfriend, a sloppy frat-guy-type hanging out on the couch eating junk food and nursing two broken legs. He digs into his casts with an "itching stick" and does other gross things, while viewers learn that he endured those injuries after falling into the open pit near his house — the pit that Leslie Knope wants to replace with a park.

Donna and Jerry are onscreen for eight seconds

Sometimes what isn't there is as undeniably noticeable as what's actually there. Case in point: The first episode of "Parks and Recreation" only hints at the crackling, passionate workplace comedy it would become, and perhaps that's because this debut installment prominently features so few members of what would become its most definitive cast. The supporting characters of Pawnee Parks Department office workers Donna Meagle (Retta) and Jerry Gergich, also known as Larry, Terry, and Garry (Jim O'Heir), show up for a grand total of about eight seconds of screen time, seated around a table during a staff meeting. Neither character speaks, so viewers could assume these two are one-appearance-only individuals, or glorified extras.

Eventual major characters Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger, state auditors respectively played by Adam Scott and Rob Lowe, are also nowhere to be seen. Ben and Chris would serve as love interests to Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins, as well as driving many plot lines, and their non-presence in early "Parks and Recreation" is slightly jarring.

Mark Brendanawicz is a central character

While four major characters on later seasons of "Parks and Recreation" don't factor into the show whatsoever in its first episode, there's another guy who is so prominent and seemingly important that viewers take notice, particularly because he'd later disappear without a trace. Prolific indie movie actor Paul Schneider appeared in this and other early "Parks and Recreation" episodes as Pawnee city planner Mark Brendanawicz. He works in City Hall in an office visible from the Parks Department where most of the action takes place, so he's kind of the workplace-comedy version of the family sitcom's wacky neighbor character.

However, Mark Brendanawicz is far from wacky — he's soft-spoken, straightforward, and bland. He's also casually mean and a little off-putting. In a talking head segment, Mark shares that he lost his faith in government and became jaded almost immediately after taking his job, meanwhile Leslie has never swayed from her idealistic nature. And speaking of Leslie, she tells the camera that she had a fling with Mark some years earlier. She's clearly still hung up on the guy, but Mark completely and dismissively denies that there was ever a relationship at all ... until he suddenly recalls that yes, he and Leslie did have a brief dalliance. He'd just forgotten about it.

Leslie Knope is different from later seasons

As "Parks and Recreation" developed and found its unique voice and approach to comedy, Amy Poehler's main character of Leslie Knope changed, too. She'd evolve into a passionate, dedicated, loyal, hard-working, and unfailing champion of public service and friendship who was unabashed about what and who she loved — and all to a comically high degree. Leslie is exceedingly professional and well-prepared, and yet in the first episode of "Parks and Recreation," she's a lot different. Her big task in the pilot is to run a community outreach meeting, and she gets stymied because the doors to the booked venue are locked, making Leslie look sheepish and incompetent. When the meeting finally does convene in an elementary school classroom, Leslie seems relatively ill-prepared, bringing along a thin notebook she never touches, a curious contrast from latter Leslie, who has at least a few giant spiral binders in hand for any possible contingency. Early Leslie is even nervous about running the meeting rather than unjustifiably excited.

The only thing that Leslie loves more than doing her job is waffles, a running joke on "Parks and Recreation." But in the first episode, she gets excited when she thinks Ann Perkins is making pancakes. That is not on brand for Leslie Knope.

Cameos from notable comedians

Leslie is nervous and a little scared about running a community outreach meeting in her duties as a high-ranking employee of the Parks and Recreation Department, but she pulls it off, hosting a wide array of local oddballs in a school classroom. Public meetings would become a running bit on "Parks and Recreation," as would be the town eccentrics who step up and voice their wild and weird concerns, and this recurring source of comedy is thus established in the first episode of the series. Two of the Pawnee cranks who share their troubles with Leslie are played by comedians — well-known among comedy fans — that travel in the same circles as the show's regular cast members.

Musician Loudon Wainwright III, who showed off his comic chops in the college comedy "Undeclared" (in which Amy Poehler had a recurring role), plays a man who unloads his anti-Masonic conspiracy theories and passionate feelings about actor Laura Linney onto the Parks Department panel before he's cut off. Recognizable character actor Ian Roberts plays a guy concerned about the welfare of his children who also, ironically and for comedic effect, curses profusely. Roberts and Poehler got their big TV break at the same time, co-starring on Comedy Central's "Upright Citizens Brigade," an outgrowth of the comedy theater they founded together (per The Atlantic).

Ann Perkins is an unhappy citizen

Pulling off a pilot episode involves a tricky balance of being entertaining while also establishing the tone of a show, without all of the necessary exposition and character introductions feeling too clunky or awkward. "Parks and Recreation" has a lot to get through, and it sets up the plot and unveils a major character with one story beat. Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) is introduced at a community outreach meeting presided over by Leslie Knope and a couple of Parks Department associates. Viewers' first experience with Ann: She's a mildly irate citizen of Pawnee, upset that the city allows an empty, dangerous eyesore of an open pit to sit on her residential block. She vents her frustrations to the Parks Department, and Leslie Knope decides to do something about it.

This is where viewers learn the origin story of the "Sullivan Street Pit" or "Lot 48" as it's more formally known. That unused, dug out chunk of land was zoned and approved to host a condominium complex. The builders dug out the basements, then went bankrupt and left everything — equipment, debris, and all — behind. That pit has since sat unused, just waiting for somebody to get hurt, for about a year. Namely, Ann's boyfriend Andy.

Leslie spontaneously decides to build a park

It's at the classroom meeting where Leslie Knope springs into action, setting into motion the plot for the first seasons of "Parks and Recreation." Leslie, who would eventually be depicted as a master and careful planner, blurts out to Ann a steadfast promise to turn that pit into a park. That's something she almost certainly can't guarantee because, as "Parks and Recreation" will demonstrate to viewers over and over again, it's difficult to get anything done in Pawnee, Indiana, what with oppressive bureaucracy, financial concerns, paperwork, internal resistance in the city government, and routinely vocal and vicious public opposition.

Still, Leslie right away aggressively pursues the project, debuting a couple comic bits that would become hallmarks of the series. First, Leslie's ambition far exceeds what she can actually accomplish — she promises to fill the park with a playground, multiple sports courts, and a regulation football field, despite the lot being way too small for all of that. Then she has to get Parks Department director Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) on board, and viewers see her trying out every possible angle on the boss who says "no" as a matter of course, making for a classic "Parks and Recreation" rapid-fire comedy montage.

Tom Haverford acts like a creep

"Parks and Recreation" would take great pains to establish that Tom Haverford's image of himself doesn't match up with how the world at large sees him. Tom (Aziz Ansari) thinks he's a ladies' man while the majority of Pawnee thinks he's a nerd. He does date many women over the course of the show, including Ann Perkins very briefly. The fate of that ill-advised dalliance is suggested in the very first episode of "Parks and Recreation." Tom accompanies Leslie to her community outreach meeting, where Ann brings the Sullivan Street Pit to the city government's attention. Before Leslie can promise to fill in the pit and put a park on its site, Tom aggressively hits on Ann. It's uncomfortable and strange, as Tom is using this publicly-funded meeting of record to essentially sexually harass a private citizen (per Screen Rant). Even weirder is how the staunchly feminist Leslie nods approvingly next to Tom as he awkwardly makes his pass at Ann.

Later in the episode, viewers witness even more creepy and gross behavior on Tom's part that probably would have gotten him fired in the real world. When Leslie falls into the pit, Tom takes a furtive photo of his boss with her underwear exposed, which he then shares with their coworkers.

Leslie Knope falls into the pit

Andy Dwyer is depicted as something of a dummy for injuring himself in the Sullivan Street Pit — after all, who but someone of less-than-average intelligence could manage to break both of their legs in a massive hole that could easily be avoided. But later in the episode, Leslie Knope falls into the pit, too. In a marvelous and painful-looking piece of physical comedy, a businesswear-clad Leslie spectacularly tumbles, head over feet and again and again, from a high perch into the dirt 20 or so feet below.

Because this is a live-action sitcom and not a cartoon, Leslie is worse for wear and is moderately hurt in the accident. Fortunately, Ann Perkins is a registered working nurse, and she's able to treat Leslie's wounds and injuries, providing a quiet and intimate moment that kindles what would turn into an epic, worshipful friendship. Nevertheless, Leslie nearly breaks her hand as well as her clavicle and bonks her head on an old piece of rebar menacingly sticking up out of the ground.

Leslie gets drunk and weird

Foreshadowing the booze-and-bad-behavior-riddled Season 3 "Parks and Recreation" episode "The Fight," one of the series' most acclaimed episodes according to IMDb, the very first episode of the comedy establishes that alcohol removes from Leslie Knope any and all sense, propriety, and logic. After receiving tentative approval from Ron Swanson to head the planning committee that will attempt to build a park on Lot 48, Leslie celebrates her first ever leadership role with some champagne. Tom Haverford informs viewers that Leslie gets drunk every now and then, but when she does, she's likely to do some very silly things.

Leslie apparently once tried to send a Fruit Roll-Up through a fax machine (making good on a dare), made out with a water delivery guy on another drunken occasion, and while intoxicated during a staff Halloween party dressed as Batman, she headed out into the city to attempt to stop crimes from happening. In a talking head segment alongside Ann Perkins, Leslie sings an impromptu version of the old '70s funk hit "Lady Marmalade," but with slurred new lyrics about parks and parks-related business.