I have so many issues with how NBC treated its last good comedy and the general state of TV in that bad comedies (not going to name names but if you know me you know what I mean) continue to get viewership despite that they aren't funny. Other comedies (especially female-led ensembles, such as 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and Fox's The Mindy Project, for example) have struggled with viewership, despite high reviews and cult-like followings. But rather than complain about that, I want to reflect on and write my own love letter to Parks and Rec.
Parks is set in an imaginary small town in Indiana. In next door Ohio, I could relate to the small town-ness, the boring ordinary of the midwest, the references to strange, important rural things, like little horses and summertime festivals. Even more, I saw something of myself concurrently in Leslie Knope, for her unbridled enthusiasm and liberal, feminist politics, and April Ludgate, for her cynicism and dark humor. I find a lot of characters on television that I am like, for whatever reason, but very rarely do I find properly flawed characters that I want to be like, that I can, realistically, be like.
In an absurdly real world, where civil servants shed tears over the death of a miniature horse and argue to put Twilight in a time capsule, Parks boasts a cast of characters who are, without a doubt, real. The things that happen to them - perhaps not. But the way they interact and love and get angry is undoubtedly reminiscent of the real world. Especially poignant in Parks and Recreation is the attention it gives to healthy female friendships. So much attention that Galentine's Day, a Leslie Knope-created holiday in the second season of Parks has become an actual day, like Valentine's, in which girls celebrate other girls. Ann Perkins is Leslie's best friend and soul mate, "tragically heterosexual," Leslie says in one episode, and one of the show's most moving relationships as we see both of these women flourish separately and together. Though the fight and their friendship goes through rough moments, they always make up, and when Ann (spoiler) leaves Pawnee, we as viewers are certain that these women will continue to be friends long after they move away from the town that brought them together.
Leslie seems to have boundless passion and it occurs in everything that she does, from friendships to romantic relationships and finally, to her job. The show never shames her for this. When she loses her job or comes into a political snafu, the show does not place blame on her. Parks is a show about people loving what they do and the people they do it with, something so refreshing in a largely cynical, digital age.
What is remarkable about Parks is that it, like other NBC shows (oldie [lol] Friday Night Lights, The Office and Parenthood), makes the ordinary - government officials - extraordinary. Not only does it turn a woman's entry to a campaign speech a moment of hilarious absurdity on an ice rink, it turns an ordinary woman into a remarkable public servant who, despite many a setback, never gives up.
In my internal, personal life, Parks ends midway through my second semester of living in England, and like leaving here will be, saying goodbye to one of my favorite shows is bittersweet. The finale may have been cheesy, but it provided long-time lovers of the show closure we don't always get in TV. Something I love about books is the frequent use of the epilogue, a convention largely missing from mainstream television and film. I didn't want Parks to end. I don't want my time in England to end. But Parks's story was over and its ending was perfect. Come June 10th, the chapter of my English life will come to a close, and I hope (as stupidly sentimental I am becoming) it ends in the same vein.
Thank you, Parks, for teaching me to always treat myself, to be positive always, to love my gal friends and my guy friends, that breakfast food is sacred, to embrace my inner child and inner demon, but above all: "We need to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn't matter, but work is third."