I’ve been watching a lot of “Parks and Recreation” lately. Now I’ll admit, when I first heard about the show, my reaction was pretty lukewarm. I couldn’t figure out why a comedy about small-town government would be entertaining. If you’re like I was, let me just say: Give it a shot. Unless you hate all happiness and joy. Then you can stick to that terrible “Beauty and the Beast” show.
I’ll be honest, I think the show took a little while to hit its stride. Nothing wrong with that. Early Leslie Knope is kind of a sad figure. She basically stalks this woman with a pit in her yard and begs her to get involved in a park-building effort that is meant to launch Leslie’s career. She’s pining after a guy she slept with once who obviously has no feelings for her, she feels left out among her co-workers, she’s obsessive about rules and she seems doomed to never get anything done. She’s earnest, but almost painfully so. Her first attempts to hang out with Ann as friends are frankly a little cringe-worthy.
But something happens after season one, and it turns Leslie Knope into a character that I can honestly say I see as a role model, even if she’s still kind of absurd at some times. Leslie gains her footing. Maybe it’s that she loosens up a little bit. Whatever it is, suddenly she and Ann are real friends, who really care about each other. Her coworkers start responding to her as an actual leader (some of the time), not just someone who will throw out huge ideas that they will refuse to implement. She starts dating, and doesn’t turn into the clingy, relationship-obsessed caricature you could realistically expect from her behavior with Mark in Season One. Basically, Leslie Knope becomes a person you can believe in.
Not like “change we can believe in.” Like, believable.
And I gotta say, I really like this Leslie Knope. Her drive has always been to make Pawnee better, and maybe America better, so it makes sense that her priorities are more work- than relationship-oriented. But she’s always wanted this because she cares about Pawnee and its people so dang much, and you see that in her relationship with Ann. Yes, she’s still neurotic sometimes, yes, she can be selfish, but who isn’t? And when it comes to making a tough decision, even if at first she tries to run away from it (literally in at least one case), she always does the right thing.
You get the sense that early Leslie doesn’t really like Leslie all that much, and that later Leslie gets along with herself pretty well.
You get the sense that early Leslie didn’t have faith in where she was headed, and that later Leslie trusts that in her work and her relationships, she’s going to be okay, even if things are rough at the moment.
That’s a really comforting thing to see in a female character. In any character, really, but especially in a woman. Instead of going for the tried-and-true “biological clock” story line, the “can she have it all” misleading question (because who asks if men can have it all?), Parks and Rec follows Leslie as she continues to work on something she cares desperately, almost hilariously, about: the future of her highly-obese town in the middle of America. It’s not the “workaholic learns to enjoy life” story. It’s not the “starry-eyed politician gets corrupt with power” story. It’s just a woman doing the best she can for what she believes in, and weathering the personal bumps along the way with the people she cares about.
Gosh, but I like that story.
Is she going to make it to the presidency? The show’s ending after this year so I think probably not. Will she get her “happily ever after” with the guy? I think so. And that’s something nice, too–“the guy” (I don’t want to spoil too much for people who haven’t watched) loves her primarily for the heart and drive she shows in the way she approaches her job. He doesn’t just think she’s pretty. He’s into the core of who Leslie Knope is, in a way that Mark and [redacted] and [also redacted] never quite were.
I’d count myself lucky to have a life like Leslie’s: one spent doing work I care about and supporting the people I love without worrying too much about what hasn’t popped up from the traditional success narrative (money, fame, marriage, etc.) I have a sneaking feeling that that’s the kind of life where you tend to get the things you’re looking for.
And so, it is my distinct pleasure to announce to you that I’m applying for the position of Chief Administrative Officer for the Chicago Park District.
Or, wait. Maybe I should just stick with making the best darn theatre company I can.
One of the two. Stay tuned to see how that goes.