This week I suffered a great loss. Parks and Recreation aired its final episode this Tuesday, and we were forced to say goodbye to Pawnee and all who live there. I am a person that gets very attached to fictional characters. I’ve openly wept during goodbyes in television since childhood. During Tuesday’s final episode of Parks and Recreation, however, I didn’t cry. I felt big pangs of emotion thrashing at my heart, but I didn’t feel destroyed and I did expect destruction. I can’t say the lack of tears were a fault of the show’s. The thing about this finale is that it didn’t feel quite final. I know that I will not see new episodes again. I am not secretly harboring hope that the show runners will suddenly decide to bring it back. I’m not even sure I’d want that. I’ve grown quite fond of shows that choose to go out on their own terms. Rather, it’s more that, as Leslie’s final words suggest, these people don’t end here. It is a finale that is filled with life and growth, giving us a glimpse of the big moments to come and promising the kinds of friendship we all want, the ones that don’t wane or weaken with distance and time. This post is an homage, a dedication to my favorite characters from the show, and what made them so special to me.
When Ben’s character was introduced I wasn’t necessarily into it. He served as a bureaucratic foil to Leslie’s fierce optimism. Once he began the move toward romantic interest, though, I got on board. Ben is an outsider at the outset, and as such, at least in the beginning, he’s often playing the straight man. Adam Scott excels at delivering that mixture of skeptic puzzlement with a hint of needing to belong. He was the perfect not-as-out-loud-in-his-excitement-but-passionate-nonetheless-counterpart to Leslie Knope. As his character was fleshed out his enthusiasm spread from fiscal responsibility to include science fiction, board game building and calzones. Eventually he just becomes an integral part of the Parks&Rec crew. Also, I should mention, that Ben is just the perfect feminist fantasy: unrelentingly supportive of Leslie and her career ambitions and friendships. We all want a Ben Wyatt to grow old with. Despite how perfectly paired the two are, though, my favorite Ben moments were when he was with Donna or Tom (or both!), two people so much cooler than him, they served to emphasize that sense of awkward excitement and reservation so many nerds possess.
I love Donna because Donna is the baddest bitch in town and she will let you know it. She name drops (her cousin is Ginuwine!), is into what many people consider frivolity (twitter, her Mercedes, diamonds and treating yo’ self) and makes no apologies for these interests. In many ways she has the most in common with Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), but unlike Tom she is never an idiot or douchey. In fact, her love of celebrity culture and consumerism, while used for comedy, is never used to dumb her down. They are just aspects of her personality, aspects that exist among her business savvy and genuinely caring nature, and not in spite of. She even has tender moments for Gerry. Private moments, but moments nonetheless. Donna is magnanimous, but also really really into herself. I love that the show never proposes that these parts of her person are in conflict with each other, or that she has to choose to be one way or the other in order to be a good wife or person, in general. At the end she has both started an educational non-profit in order to support her husband’s do-good dreams, and shows off a brand new watch emblazoned in diamonds when Tom attempts to chastise her for losing her edge. She is my role model, basically.
At the show’s inception, Leslie was mostly unlikable. We all wanted her to fall in that ditch. Although, considering how much I love the character now, perhaps unlikable is too strong a word. There do come some difficulties in playing a government official you can get behind. Amy Poehler is too good at her job, though. She managed to portray in Leslie positivity, hope, ambition, endless caring and strength, but was never cloying or disingenuous. Mostly, I love that Leslie is full of a can-do attitude that she always delivers on. She is really good at a job that she is incredibly passionate about. Isn’t that what we all want as well? Leslie Knope exists as an icon in my book (probably why I tag all my tumblr posts about her with #queen.) Unrelentingly positive, like a beam of sunshine she thaws out your cold hard heart if you’ll just take a step into her light. I sound like I’ve been indoctrinated, I know, and I guess in a lot of ways I have been. My main takeaway from the show was that there is no time for negativity when you’re trying to get shit done, an idea Leslie propagates in every episode.
Ron Swanson was my in. Where I initially found Leslie a bit annoying, as a person that has worked in government, I kind of related with Ron’s utter dispassion for it. Admittedly as the show and his anti-government Libertarian tendencies progressed I found less and less in common with Ron’s politics. I grew fonder of him regardless. With his unwavering honor, mustache, handiness and all meat diet, Ron was a great big exaggeration of capital M-manliness. I loved his secret sweetness the most, though. His talent with the saxophone, seeing him fall in love (with Xena!), and the way, despite how ever much he fought it, he found himself caring and standing by his friends. How could you not love that man? I also must say that Ron easily had the best lines on this show. His one-liners were never not funny, and Nick Offerman’s giggle is everything.
Parks and Recreation was probably the most positive show on television. That is the show’s overarching achievement, I think. It was a show that taught “lessons” in a world where prestige television is pretty much all grit and despondence. Shows that teach you something are often seen as simplistic and condescending. Parks managed to be none of that, its messages weary of both treacle and cynicism. It occupied a corner of television that won’t be easily replaced, with a cast who’s chemistry won’t be easily replicated. I will miss it. Do not count on me this weekend. I will be binge watching all seven seasons on Netflix.