In Praise of Parks & Recreation

First: Epic Reads will be revealing the cover of Across A Star-Swept Sea (and an exclusive interview with yours truly) on Wednesday. Set your clocks!

Anyway, somewhat inspired by the inimitable Tamora Pierce’s recent semi-rant about the beyond-all-proportion media coverage of the TV show Girls (which I have not seen, as I don’t get cable), I started talking in her comment section about how much I love another sitcom, Parks and Recreation.

I love it. I look forward to it every week. I feel like the characters are friends, so much so that when two characters got engaged not so long ago, I was legitimately happy for them, as if they were actual friends of mine who’d found love and happiness and had decided to start a life together.

That is a rare, rare thing guys. It’s even more rare for me, as a writer, to be able to lose myself so much in a story. And of course, as a writer, I immediately started trying to analyze what it is and how they did it, because it’s my job to create that same sense of closeness and reality in my stories, for my readers.

How do I love thee, Parks & Rec? Let me count the ways:

Feminism: Leslie Knope is an awesomely feminist character. She’s bright, hard-working, extremely competent, girly, caring, friendly. Best of all, she wears her feminism proudly and unabashedly. She’s not one of those people who would say “she’s not a feminist, but…” (Lady has pictures of Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton hanging up in her office.) She wins the respect and love of every character on the show, even the characters who are remarkably different from her. She has awesome, supportive friendships with other women like Ann and April, that aren’t all about men, and she also has fantastic, platonic relationships with men in her life who treat her with respect. The plotlines of the show often include Leslie challenging “boys club” institutions in her town, but the show’s ardent feminism is also shown in subtler ways, such as positively portraying female sexuality, and presenting several relationships where the female wears the pants (April and Chris) or where men sacrifice for the woman’s professional ambitions (Ben and Leslie).

Heart: Now, I don’t think they nailed this right away, or even in the first season, when it seemed to me more like they were trying to follow a “The Office” style idea where Leslie’s character was a buffoon. But they quickly righted themselves and started playing it as that she was actually crazy, crazy good at her job, and the humor was a much softer sort, coming from the idea that she cared too much, too hard about the park department in a very small town. But the thing that makes it so great, and so unlike the whole “Waiting for Guffman” kind of “let’s laugh at these pathetic people who care too much about something that doesn’t matter” is that we realize that what Leslie does actually is important in her town, and to the people in her town. Yes, it’s small government, but it matters, and she’s so damn efficient and competent that she convinces everyone else of it, too. That sort of thing really comes to the forefront in the season where Leslie puts on the harvest festival and wins over the “big city” Ben and Chris. You really root for these people to succeed, even if their triumphs are pretty small in the scope of the world. They matter to them, and to their town. Which brings me to…

Character: Now, sitcoms are usually filled with kind of ridiculous characters that make us laugh, and Parks and Rec is no different. There’s Ron Swanson, who is like a pioneer mountain man anarchist who somehow found himself stuck in a small government office, and Tom Haverford, the painfully metrosexual thinks-he’s-a-playa trapped in a tiny town. But what is really astoundingly well done on this show is that even as these characters are being ridiculous and eccentric and whatever else, the other characters are embracing and respecting those eccentricities, so instead of laughing “at” them, as shows like the Big Bang theory encourage us to do, we are really laughing and loving along with their other Pawnee friends. This was never more obvious than the recent episode where Ben decided to turn his bachelor party into a bachelor party for all his guests, which led to a hilarious evening of events that were fun to one member of the party and ridiculous to everyone else (Ben: Settlers marathon; Tom: molecular bartending; Jerry: ice cream at the place he met his wife; Ron: steakhouse, of course). These characters really respect each other, including the aspects of their character that the others don’t really understand. A lot of Leslie’s beliefs are anathema to Ron, but he loves her and wants to help her succeed despite that. It’s also fun to see the special relationships that the characters have with each other (Ron and April, April and Ben, Tom and Donna, etc. etc.). The show is reasonably diverse, too, especially since it’s set in a small midwestern town. (I’m not sure if Rashida Jones’s character is supposed to be biracial, though.)

Growth: As I said above. I don’t think Parks & Rec really hit its stride until the second season, but it’s been fun to watch how they have really embraced growth and change in the characters as the show has gone on. Nowhere is this more evident than in the character of April, played by Aubrey Plaza. She started out as a terse, disaffected teenage intern, but in the past few years has really blossomed, and this season is even taking on her first parks project, with Leslie as her mentor. This is apparently due in large part to her relationship with and marriage to Andy, a clownish, silly manchild who started the show as Ann’s ne’er do well loafer boyfriend. Andy brings out the silly in April, and April focuses Andy in a way no one else can. It’s a thing of beauty, really.

So yeah. Give the show a try if you haven’t yet (you can start at the second season — it’s all on Netflix). If you have tried the show and love it like I do,w hat’s your favorite?

Posted in TV

6 Responses to In Praise of Parks & Recreation

  1. Leila says:

    I cried when Leslie and Ben got engaged. Like, FULL-ON CRIED. I’m so attached to these characters: I cheer for them when they’re doing well, I yell “Nooooooooooo!” when they do something that I know is doomed, I’m genuinely sad when they’re, you know, sad.

    It’s just a great show with an incredible amount of depth, a great cast, and great writing. I love it when a show/book/movie/album in a oft-derided genre (in this case, the sitcom) forces people to challenge assumptions & to the realization that not all ______ are _______. (<–Fill in the blanks with whichever genre/format and stereotype about said genre/format that you want.)

    • Diana says:

      I grinned like an idiot for like a full day afterward, I was so happy for them. I’d be driving down the street and then start thinking to myself “man, I’m so happy for Leslie and Ben.” Like they were friends of mine.

  2. Kara says:

    YES! You totally said everything just like my brain thought it, but I couldn’t get the words to make as much sense as you do. The love and respect between all these characters is what I love to see when I watch. The fact is that they are all family, really. A wacky, chaotic, crazy family, but whose family doesn’t have a few characters in it? :) I really, really, really like Ben and Leslie and will admit they are what got me into the show. But once I started, I stayed hooked because how can you not? There isn’t a single person, whether a main character, or an extra who isn’t perfect.

    Okay, see? When I try to talk about Parks and Rec all I do is gush rainbows. :D

    You said it! I agree! The end. :)

  3. Bookworm1858 says:

    I am so happy to see this-I think P&R is probably my favorite show (Also “Harvest Festival” is perfection). I can’t get enough of it for all the reasons you mentioned and for many more!

  4. I agree with everything you just said!

    I marathoned Parks and Rec with my daughters the other night because I think it’s a show they need in their life – and I love that my 8 year old has already decided that Leslie is the funniest.

    So many fabulous relationships in this show, but the Ron-Leslie friendship is perhaps my favourite. The progression of April & Leslie’s friendship is also fantastic – I just watched the wedding episode, and Leslie’s horror at April throwing herself so thoughtlessly into a spur of the moment marriage – but having to hold back from stopping it – is so complex and layered.

    I also love that Andy and April have actually had such a brilliant marriage thus far, despite both of them needing to learn how to be grown ups. They do bring out the best in each other – but then almost everyone in Pawnee brings out the best in each other!

    awwww.

    Also I’m pretty sure Ann is supposed to be biracial (though they’ve never specified beyond that) because of several comments Leslie has made about her, usually as part of a gush.

  5. I LOVE this show. It took me even longer to become obsessed with it than it did for you, though. I struggled through both the first and second season. Leslie’s crush, whose name I appear to have blocked from my memory, sucked so much of the fun out of that show. He does not have a funny or quirky bone in his body, and he was just so out of place in the cast.

    Once Ben and Chris arrived, the show really took off though, and not just because I’m kind of in love with Ben.

    What’s my favorite? Gosh, I can’t even say, I don’t think. The episode where they all get drunk on Snake Juice is pretty entertaining. And any episode with a lot of Ben. And the episode where Chris gets sick and commands himself in the mirror to “Stop. Pooping.” Or the episodes where Tom and Donna hang out. Their friendship is so cute!

    P.S. There’s a girl in my book club who looks exactly like Amy Poehler AND talks like Leslie Knope and I have to work really hard on not staring at her like a creeper.