Give 'Parks and Recreation' a chance - that's what I said

Amypoehler_parksandrecreation_240 Is "Parks and Recreation," the new comedy premiering Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on NBC, a lot like "The Office?" Yes it is. It's filmed in a mockumentary style with all the characters addressing the camera. The pace, the cutaways, the lingering shots and the mugging all seems fairly familiar.

But is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Personally I would rather have four versions of "The Office" than one version of "Do Not Disturb" or three versions of "CSI" for that matter. Amy Poehler stars as Leslie Knope, an optimistic employee of the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana. In Thursday's pilot, Leslie meets Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), a nurse who wants the abandoned construction site by her house filled in. And just as "The Office" mines the mundane world of cubicles for humor, "Parks" looks at the hilarity that comes from local government.

Given the fact that the show is from the same team that's behind "The Office" and is Poehler's first post-"Saturday Night Live" project, it's under an immense amount of scrutiny. So let's talk about what I liked:

1. Poehler effuses a naïve enthusiasm that is perfect for the role. Like Michael Scott, she's not totally self aware but, unlike Michael Scott, she does not make me as uncomfortable. During the pilot, at least, I didn't need to cover my eyes. Poehler is able to also avoid the trap many of her fellow "SNL" alums fall victim to -- you don't see any of Poehler's well-known "SNL" characters in her performance. She's toned down and it works.

2. I really liked the cast. We already kind of know that Poehler and Jones are great but so is everyone else. Aziz Ansari, who we recently saw as the lazy intern on "Scrubs," is hilarious as Leslie's lascivious colleague Tom. And it is so fantastic to see Chris Pratt, Bright on "Everwood," as Ann's ne'er do well boyfriend.

3. I can see the potential here. I think this show is already in a better place than for example "30 Rock" or "The Office" were when they premiered.

So for now I'm saying the show is at three and a half stars with a strong possibility to get a higher rating as the season progresses. Are you excited for "Parks and Recreation?" Talk about it below.

"Life on Mars" series finale

Okay I kind of put off talking about this because I didn't know what else to say besides, what the heck was that? I know I said I would be happy with whatever explanation the show came up with as long as it wasn't that Sam was crazy. But I was so blindsided by the final five minutes of the show. And I was disappointed that it turned out they were astronauts on a mission to Mars and that Sam had been put into a deep sleep for the trip to the planet. The fact that the entire show was a hallucination of a hallucination just didn't work for me. I could see that the producers might have been headed in this direction all along (after all we've been seeing those roving vehicles for awhile now) but the ending still seemed to come out of nowhere. And it posed even more questions -- if Gene was his father, than who was he dreaming was his father and why did he sleep with Gene's daughter? Who was his mother? And where did Maya fit in all of this? I'm still a fan of the show (of course), but when I think of it, I'll leave out the final five minutes. What did you think of the "Life on Mars" series finale? Talk about it below.

Highlights of the Week Ahead

All times listed are Eastern Standard Time for April 6- April 11

Meat Loaf is the guest star on tonight's "House" (Monday, FOX, 8 p.m.), but what has everyone stressed out is the previews for tonight's episode that shows something big happening. We will definitely be discussing/processing this episode on Wednesday.

So every season it seems we discuss the idea that Jack could be killed off of "24" (Monday, FOX, 9 p.m.). But this season the idea seems more plausible than ever -- he's been exposed to a toxin that has no cure and he had to sit by the sidelines why Larry stormed Starkwood headquarters. Of course, this is Jack we are talking about so odds are they'll find a cure and he'll return to fight another day but I'm curious to hear what you guys think. Could this be the season Jack dies? I've heard theories from some of you that Renee could take over next season. What do you think? Also just to get you prepared -- Kimberly returns next week (insert your own cougar joke here).

It's a big night for guest stars on NBC. Scott Bakula and Chevy Chase are on "Chuck" (Monday, NBC, 8 p.m.) and James Van Der Beek is on "Medium" (Monday, NBC, 10 p.m.).

Do you think Kris Allen is this season's David Cook? I'm beginning to think he could win "American Idol" (Tuesday, FOX, 8 p.m.). Also I cannot even talk about how stressful it is to be a fan of Anoop's.

Now that "American Idol" is down to eight finalists,"Fringe" returns to the schedule Tuesday at 9 p.m. on FOX. It's a very X-filesish episode but one that I really enjoyed. Olivia feels a connection with a boy that is found living underground. The boy is a great character and one I have a feeling we will be seeing again. The show has really tightened its story telling. I'm excited to see what happens next.

You can get a look at Simon Baker's wife, Rebecca Rigg, this week. She guest stars on "The Mentalist" (Tuesday, CBS, 9 p.m.) as the victim of the week's widow.

It seems crazy that we haven't seen a new episode of "Rescue Me" since September 2007 (not including the minisodes of course). The drama finally returns for its fifth season Tuesday at 10 p.m. on FX. And I'm so excited to tell you that I really loved the first three episodes. You may remember that when it premiered "Rescue Me" was one of my favorite shows but as the seasons progressed I think the show got off track. It became too much about the crazy women who loved Tommy (Denis Leary) and not enough about life in the firehouse which was always my favorite part. At the start of this season, the focus of the show is solidly back on the men in the department which means the best part of the show -- the camaraderie and hilarious conversations the gang has while waiting for their next emergency - is back. The genius of "Rescue Me" has always been the absolutely irreverent way they talk about all topics. (Most of their conversations are not family friendly enough to be included here). When that gets juxtaposed against the harsh realities of their work and their lives, the show shines and hums with perfection. Karina Lombard guest stars as a French reporter writing a commemorative book about September 11. The speech Franco (Daniel Sunjata) gives her when they first meet epitomizes everything the show does right. Michael J. Fox also guest stars as Janet's boyfriend who is confined to a wheelchair. It's always great to have Fox on TV and his scenes with Tommy are truly hilarious. Do I still have my complaints about the show? Sure. I wish Sheila (Callie Thorne) was more the Sheila we knew in season one. I think the show hasn't had a great female character since Diane Farr left (although I have high hopes for Maura Tierney who will guest star in the season's final five episodes). But I'm excited that we have 22 episodes of "Rescue Me" to enjoy. How about you?

I have to confess that I haven't kept up with "Life" (Wednesday, NBC, 9 p.m.) like I hoped to -- it really wasn't nice pitting the show against "Lost" and "American Idol," was it? "Life" has its second season finale this week with Crews going on a search for Reese (she's been missing, of course, because Sarah Shahi is on maternity leave).

I'll talk about these shows in Wednesday's column but for planning purposes I want you to know that "The Unusuals," premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on ABC, "Southland" premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC and "Harper's Island" premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on CBS.

That's all for today. I'm back on Wednesday with this week's familiar faces and to talk about the series premieres of "The Unusuals," "Southland," and "Harper's Island." Also coming Friday, we'll have to discuss the season finale of "Friday Night Lights." Have a question? Seen a familiar face? Want to nominate a quote of the week? Write me at amytvgal@zap2it.com. Talk to you on Wednesday.

Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal