NBC’s recent Parks and Recreation quarantine special was a delight for a variety of reasons. Chief among them was the fact that, even though it was set during the current pandemic, it seemed to be transporting us back to the time in which the comedy originally unfolded. Few series in recent memory have been as clearly tied to a moment — and, specifically, a presidential administration — as Parks and Rec. The show’s belief in the power of government to make people’s lives better — and, more broadly, in the obligation members of a community (be they friends, family, or, as Ron Swanson once put it, “workplace proximity associates”) have to help one another in times of need — made it the standard-bearer for the hopefulness of the Obama era.
That flashback to a saner, safer version of the world inspired Rolling Stone to look back all the way to John F. Kennedy — often referred to as “the first TV president” for his command of the medium — to identify the series that best captured the feeling of each administration. These aren’t necessarily the best or most popular shows of each era, but the ones that best reflect either what that presidency was saying about what America was, what was really happening in the country at the time, or something about the man in the Oval Office himself.
For each administration, we chose one representative comedy and one drama; presidents who were elected to two terms got two apiece. All shows had to have aired at least briefly during an administration to qualify, even if some or most of their run happened under another presidency.