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How Parks and Recreation Gave Chris Pratt the Platform to be a Star

There’s a version of this article that tries to argue that Chris Pratt is the secret MVP of the Parks and Recreations universe, combing through all the previous hours of the series to show just how Pratt’s performance as Andy Dwyer provided it energy and jokes that flushed out the show’s comic tone better than almost any other character. The article would then end with an impassioned plea for Hollywood to take notice and not waste this clearly singular comic talent. That article doesn’t exist because Chris Pratt did the unthinkable and went and made himself a big ol’ movie star.

The notion that a relatively low-performing sitcom airing on broadcast television could have within its stable of stars two MCU superheroes (Ant-Man, coming this summer) is relatively ridiculous, even given that one of those stars is Paul Rudd. But Chris Pratt has spent seven seasons on Parks and Rec showing time and again why he has the charisma to help turn a no-name team-up of comic book weirdos into one of the highest grossing movies of 2014.

Hell, before he even donned the burgundy leather jacket of Star-Lord, Chris Pratt starred in Zero Dark Thirty, in what Aziz Ansari called a Parks spin-off movie about Andy’s alter ego “Bert Macklin hunting down Osama Bin Laden.” While not empirically true, Pratt’s Macklin-esque line reading of “Osama Bin Laden” would be featured promptly in that film’s promos.

The talent of Pratt’s most readily on display in Parks, and which made him the obvious choice to star in every single movie, is his commitment. Pratt commits to a character and a world with the same crazed tenacity of a classically trained Shakespearean lifer or a deranged genius of a performance artist. Pratt wholly believes in the incomparable innocence, unearned confidence, and wide-eyed optimism of Andy Dwyer. He never winks in his performance because he knows the stronger choice is to just bleed genuine goofiness. Watch the way Pratt sings to a possum about the gruesome way the possum is going to die:

A lesser actor than Pratt would intone their lines with more irony when telling the caged possum that it is “gonna fry.” Pratt, instead, plays the song relatively straight, ending his little ode to capital possum punishment with the kind of puppy dog open-mouth grin that shows that Andy realizes he’s going to be a hero. He even uses the word bitch with the same passion Star-Lord gives does during the climax of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Pratt also has an incredible gift for physical comedy, pulling off one of the greatest pratfalls in the history of television and making his surname a delightful coincidence:

The camera reacts to Andy’s mishap half a second too late to catch the whole fall, implying that it happened spontaneously within the moment and that the camera operator was unaware of what was about to transpire. Even if this were a pre-planned stunt, Pratt has the maturity to not telegraph the fall, keeping the moment as pure as possible. It is not hard, then, to make the leap from the kind of control over one’s body necessary to pull off these rollerskating shenanigans to being able to perform the highly precise fight choreography of a blockbuster motion picture.

Some of Pratt’s performance on the show can be chalked up to the genial, well-meaning world that creators Michael Schur and Greg Daniels place Parks and Rec within, but largely what they found with Pratt is an artist capable of rending the more outré qualities of a given textual universe into something relatable, whether that be talking to a giant tree-person or performing with a holographic miniature horse. Chris Pratt may go on to have one of the most lucrative runs of box office successes of the early 21st century, but that will be due, in no small part, to the fact that he is the man capable making Andy Dwyer a believable human being.


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