TV Editor Niamh Brennan discusses why Michael Schur’s genius creations are an important addition to comedy television
What do all your favourite sitcoms have in common? Answer: Michael Schur. He is the mastermind genius responsible for co-creating Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place, and was also a producer and frequent writer for The Office amongst many other directing, producing and writing credits. You may also visually recognise him as Mose Schrute from The Office, a role he once referred to as a ‘waking nightmare’.
Although not the only individual responsible for the success of each respective show, Schur is the key tie between them all. Every comedy show that he has created or contributed towards has helped to craft a world of comedy magic. They are a form of escapism, a safe space for many viewers who need a quick respite from their own lives. But what is it about Schur’s shows that continually make them a universal success?
Friendships lie at the centre of each show. From Leslie’s incredible love for her best friend Ann Perkins, the power bromance of Jake Peralta and Charles Boyle, to the ever-evolving alliance between Eleanor and Chidi (plus many, many more), the friendships know no boundaries or limits. They are overt and all-encompassing. No character shies away from or avoids emotion towards their friends. What we see are healthy relationships between co-workers and strangers placed in unusual situations that bloom fantastically. Even when relationships develop from these friendships, the former relationship lies at its centre. Couples are devoted to each other and respect each other. They are strong relationships and perfect examples for people to aspire to in real life, a premise that other shows could definitely learn a lesson or two from.
Schur’s shows are also amazing examples of diversity and representation in television. Each show is pushing further than what came before it, making sure anyone who watches them will have someone to look to and see themselves reflected back. This is specifically notable in Schur’s use of people in positions of power. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Captain Holt is a black gay man in charge of a New York police precinct whilst Parks and Recreation depicts Leslie Knope’s progress through the government system from Deputy of the Parks and Recreation department of her town, to eventual (implied) President of the United States. Each presentation shows that no job or position is off-limits to anyone regardless of race, sexuality or gender.
In fact, Schur’s depiction of women in general goes against stereotypes, and presents women with a variety of personalities and bodies having success in their respective lives. Significantly, he stated in an interview with Vanity Fair that he ‘Personally hates, more than anything, stories in which women fight over men’. Women in Schur’s world are no longer defined by their male counterparts, but as characters in their own right. And it is wonderful.
Wide representation and diversity is so important for the success of each of Schur’s respective shows – the comedy is for everyone. It doesn’t get laughs by exploiting a stereotype, it rises above and is humorous on its own terms, not at the expense of anyone else.
To round it all off, Schur places two of his shows in everyday workplace environments. Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine depict average working life in an idealistic manner without being too far removed from reality. And although The Good Place does not represent a familiar environment for anyone, it focuses in on individuals who have come from ordinary, flawed lives. Jason Mendoza is an incredibly foolish failed DJ, whilst Tahani Al-Jamil (although incredibly rich) is increasingly revealed to be astoundingly insecure. Schur’s shows see the best in ‘average’ lives and show that no matter what kind of job or life path you find yourself on, there is always good to be found. No one is perfect, and everyone has their flaws, but this is the very thing that makes each person special and unique.
Schur’s comedies are exactly what we need in the world right now. They are wholesome and lovable sitcoms. When the future is uncertain, and life is often terrifying, there are few places you can find such a welcome release.