There’s no wrong time to find Parks and Rec, but I like to think I found it at the right time. I saw my first few episodes at the end of senior year of college. A month later, I left to volunteer for a year in Alaska, Parks and Rec DVDs tucked between my rain boots. I’d been told to pack lightly, but this show was already a necessity.
Within the first week, I’d introduced it to my roommates, so we knew Leslie Knope before we really even knew each other. The show was our language. We wrote Ron Swanson quotes on the bathroom mirror (“Never half ass two things. Whole ass one thing”) and Tom Haverford quotes on the fridge. We said yes with “I think I will, good lady” and yelled “MAKE YOUR FACE BETTER” before every photo. Whatever we knew for sure, we attributed to “school.” Any show could have done this. Any good TV series can bring people together. But Parks and Rec also happens to be about bringing people together, and that made it kind of perfect.
I don’t have a list of things I want from the final season of Parks and Rec. I think Mike Schur knows what I need better than I do, so I haven’t worried about this season beyond worrying what will happen to me when it’s over. But even if I had expectations, I never would have seen this coming. Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope have had a falling out.
It hurts. It’s wrong. The relationship between Ron and Leslie defines Parks and Rec as a show about people who like each other not only in spite of their differences, but because of them. It’s a friendship built on respect and a platonic love that shows itself in action, which is exactly the kind of love that Leslie extends to her town. Ron and Leslie’s ability to bridge the gap between them, and their desire to bridge it, makes this show what it is.
This season of Parks and Rec opened in London, paused in Paris, and has been contemplating Chicago for a while now, but when Ben takes Leslie to look out over San Francisco, he still asks her to turn away from the postcard view of the Golden Gate Bridge and look at a name on a sign. This show will never stop being about the people who do the work. Leslie’s met Michelle Obama, and that’s something you never come back from, but she can’t commit to her new job until she sees that map of America’s national parks. Leslie isn’t in this for the flashy connections. She wants to put her name to something that lasts.
Today is Leslie Knope’s last day on City Council. She’s taken African dance lessons, watched every episode of Murphy Brown, temporarily adopted a cat, and left a few internet comments (probably quotes from Jack London), but Leslie is definitely not through with the stages of grief. So when Councilman Dexhart holds yet another press conference to admit yet another scandal, she takes it as a sign. Pawnee still needs her. She’s going to run for Dexhart’s seat.
I volunteered in small-town Alaska for a year after college. I only had room for the essentials, so I packed my Parks and Rec DVDs—just wedged them into my rain boots and set off. The DVDs got as much use as the boots did, and I could probably count on two hands the number of days I didn’t wear rain boots. I introduced the show to my roommates in our first week there, and it became our language. We said yes with “I think I will good lady” and yelled “MAKE YOUR FACE BETTER” behind the lens of every photo. At a Know Your Boo-style game night, we defaulted to the show for any answers we didn’t know about each other, so one roommate’s parents were named Ron and Tammy, and another’s favorite movie was books. At the end of the year, a friend called me her real-life Leslie Knope and I put it in a cover letter. (more…)
So Ben likes a woman in roller skates. Everyone has a thing, right? For Ben Wyatt, it’s roller skates, political activism, and the music of the early nineties. If he’s not on your laminated list of fictional men, I’m judging you. Ben’s a nerd in the same way real people are nerds: he gets passionately obsessed about things. Leslie gets passionately obsessed about people, which is why they fit together so well. She pays attention to everything Ben loves and gives it back to him in the form of a theme party. He returns the favor by missing that entire party to watch Leslie stage a filibuster for the town she represents.
I love that Leslie Knope loves Pawnee even when it isn’t easy. She doesn’t take the town’s flaws as an excuse to stop caring; she takes them as a reason to care even harder. I love that this show portrays public service as hard work, but work worth doing, and I love that it insists that work worth doing should always be done, regardless of how many people appreciate you for it. I love that Leslie is up for that challenge. But sometimes I just want to take her to eat waffles in some other corner of the world and tell her that it’s ok to care for herself too. (more…)