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?