As a pop culture junkie, I thought I may as well get some articles out of this crippling addiction. In Q’s Queue, we’ll be having a look at some of the hits, hidden gems and horrors found on my Streaming list, all through a feminist lens. Today’s venture: Parks and Recreation.
Are you upset with the state of politics right now? Brexit, Trump, Marine Le Pen. It just seems like the bad guys always win, and that everyone in politics is horrible. If you want to affirm that view, yeah you could go watch The Thick of It, or Veep, but today we’re going to be talking about one of the nicest shows of recent memory: Parks & Recreation.
On the day of the results I was having a pretty rubbish time; Trump had been elected, we had a really shit lecture, I was physically exhausted from election-related-anxiety. Everything about me that day screamed, “not having it.” At about midnight when I had worked myself up into a ball of anger and despair, I realised that I needed to chill, if only so that I could eventually get some sleep, so I immediately turned to Parks and Recreation.
Created by Mike Schur (The Office, Brooklyn Nine Nine) and Greg Daniels (The Office, King Of The Hill), Parks & Rec follows Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), a midlevel city government employee of Pawnee, Indiana, who believes in hard work, the good in humanity, friendship and waffles. Despite early shaky characterisation (you can just go ahead and skip season one), Leslie Knope turned out to be the cheery optimist the world needed, more so now than ever.
“That’s why people respect Hillary Clinton so much. ‘Cause nobody takes a punch like her. She’s the strongest, smartest punching bag in the world”
We’ll just get the political / topical stuff out of the way first; there’s no way you can’t convince me that Leslie Knope wasn’t directly inspired by Hillary Clinton – or at least early pre 20 years of media negativity Clinton. She’s much smarter than her male colleagues, yet somehow isn’t given the respect she deserves, she’s idealistic, a strong believer in equality and the goodness of government, endlessly ambitious, perpetually prepared for any professional situation, and she’s blonde with a penchant for pantsuits. There’s even a surprisingly difficult Buzzfeed quiz comparing their quotes! Not to mention that Leslie just happens to be played by the longest running Hillary Clinton impersonator on SNL. It’s almost too obvious, I’m surprised people aren’t going around calling Leslie unlikeable and questioning whether or not she’s got Parkinsons even though she obviously doesn’t.
In season 4, Leslie decides to run for city council, however her main opponent is Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd), a privileged rich boy who’s never worked a day in his life and expects the election to just be handed to him. While Bobby is pretty affable (I mean he’s played by Paul Rudd, what can we expect?) his team isn’t afraid to play nasty when necessary. Somehow, he ends up being a formidable political opponent, despite zero experience and zero preparation. Somehow he ends up winning the initial vote; because Parks & Rec takes place in a beautiful, good world, after a recount, Leslie ends up winning, but I’m honestly wondering if that would happen in the real world. Luckily, Parks & Rec doesn’t take place in the real world, and Leslie is awarded for her hard work, preparation and years of experience. I don’t even need to draw the parallel, you guys surely all know where this is going right? Yeah, it’s like Trump v Clinton, I’m sure you figured that out by the second sentence, but rewatching the election episodes in a post-Trump world felt pretty damn emotional. That being said, it also felt cathartic, and hopeful that even in a fictional world, women can be rewarded for hard work and ambition. Admittedly, Leslie does get recalled a few seasons later – and let me tell you, watching her concession speech in a post-Trump world was heartbreaking to the point of honest to god tears. Through her losses and set backs, Leslie Knope never quits. She just gets up, brushes herself off, and tries again. And in this dark climate, she’s exactly the female icon we need right now.
“Oh I have a medical condition all right, it’s called caring too much and it’s incurable! I also have eczema.”
Despite my gushing, there are other characters too! For those of you who are still reading in the hope of more politics-adjacent talk, Nick Offerman plays Ron Swanson, the perfect foil to Leslie’s perky optimism. He’s a no nonsense, deadpan, staunch libertarian who doesn’t believe in government, and only works there to try and spend as little tax payer money as possible. Yet despite their differences, Leslie & Ron end up being good friends; he admires her work ethic and determination even if their political compasses don’t necessarily align. Ron somehow ended up being the moral and emotional heart of the show, in part due to Nick Offerman’s wonderfully humane performance of a character who could, in lesser hands, be kind of a jackass. Also he plays saxophone and if you don’t think that’s amazing you can just get off this website.
One of the joys of Parks & Recreation is seeing the unlikely friendships and alliances form as the characters reach their full potential; April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) starts off as a dark apathetic youth who hates everything and everyone, and ends up married to the human equivalent of a puppy (Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer) with a fulfilling job and genuine comradery for her co-workers. Andy Dwyer starts off as a typical douchebag boyfriend and evolves into a loveable, hardworking, genuinely nice guy*. Everyone on Parks and Recreation benefits from being kind to each other, a hard worker and picking themselves up after a failure, and if the world was a bit more Parks & Rec, it’d be a better place, and we certainly wouldn’t be dreading President Trump.
Odds & Ends:
- Feminist Buzzkill (cause not everything’s perfect)…. I’m sure I’m missing something (if so, feel free to tell me in the comments), but I honestly can’t really think of any major anti-feminist sentiments in the show. Nice one!
- Does it pass the Bechdel test? Easily and regularly
- Following Trump’s election, Leslie Knope wrote a letter to America, and somehow a fictional character has managed to instill hope via Vox. Check it out here and try not to cry
- I feel like I’ve underplayed this in the review because politics, but I can’t stress how genuinely funny this show is! The scripts are so tightly written there’s a joke practically every ten seconds, and every single performance is hysterical whilst retaining its heart. Chelsea Peretti and the tragically Harris Whittles were on the writing staff, and if you’ve heard any of their podcast appearances (like I told you to a few months ago), you’ll get how hilarious this show is.
- Starting from the end of season 2, there’s a genuinely beautiful love story that even a cynicalcold-heartedd bitch like me couldn’t help but swoon at it.
- Aziz Ansari stars in this! It’s always nice to see a fellow brown person on TV, and thanks to the success of Parks & Rec, he was able to go on and make one of the best shows of 2015, Master Of None
*Not in the fedora way. For real.