The rise of Chris Pratt as a movie star and the rise of Parks and Recreation (2009 – 2020) as a cult show are intrinsically linked. Up until the dawn of the mockumentary style comedy series set within the world of local government, Pratt was best known as the guy who got his face smashed in with a keyboard in Wanted (2009) and as a bit player in The O.C. (2003–07). And initially, he started as a bit player in Parks And Recreation too, tapping into the dudebro persona he so often occupies in the pop cultural space. Yet the character evolved, not much to be fair, but the shift from dudebro to lovable buffoon was significant as audiences fell in love with Andy at the same time they were falling in love with Chris Pratt. The reason is for moments like this, the direct-to-camera reaction shots that were sometimes scripted, sometimes not, exploiting a personality that didn’t seem too far from Pratt’s real-life one.
Parks and Recreation’s creator Michael Shur helped popularise the mockumentary format for use in traditional sitcom spaces with the colossal success of the American remake of The Office (2005–13). Although the cast and crew worked from pre-written scripts, a key part of the comedic X-factor for both shows was enabling an extremely talented roster of performers to utilise the tools at their disposal. The takes were few, but many of them would be improvised whether that meant tweaks to dialogue or physical responses. Pratt’s character of Andy has some of the most memorable improvised moments in the series, with his specific brand of humour adapting so seamlessly to the scenario Schur says most of those moments would never be noticed by the audience as improv. The sweet little (OMG) reaction shot helped endear Andy and the man who played him to viewers, creating a bridge that would one day see him as the breakout star from the series who would go on to star in three hugely successful franchises with The Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014), Jurassic World (2015), and The Lego Movie (2014).
The perceived ‘downfall’ of Pratt as the weakest of the four celebrity Chrises (Hemsworth, Evans and Pine occupying the remaining three slots) perhaps not coincidentally occurred when he seemed furthest away from Andy. The public were attached to his marriage with Anna Faris not unlike the way they were attached to Andy’s relationship with April (Aubrey Plaza). When he moved into a distinctly Hollywood sphere by marrying into the Schwarzenegger/Kennedy family complete with a controversial association to the Hillsong church, the shift away from everyday guy seemed well and truly complete. The (OMG) and Chris Pratt reaction gifs – once go-to’s for meme and internet culture – are less used and seem somewhat like distant memories as both the character of Andy and Parks and Recreation fade further from the immediate pop culture memory.
– Maria Lewis