I came onto the Parks and Recreation scene pretty late in the game. I have no real excuse except for the simple fact that I didn’t really like comedies. Sitcoms have never been my thing, so I immediately assumed I wouldn’t be interested. However, after countless quotes, gifs, and other assorted media about it leading up to the last season, I finally dove in. I gave it a chance, and I’m so glad I did and grateful for this show.
1. Parks and Recreation modeled healthy, real friendships.
As someone heavily invested in psychology and social work, the relationships depicted on this show were a breath of fresh air. In today’s television it is common to glorify dysfunction. We’re not interested in the lives of characters unless they’re in the midst of some grand drama that usually involves hurt which is never truly resolved. I think about movies, too, and just general media, and often cannot watch shows because of the relational discord.
The beautiful and refreshing thing about Parks and Recreation is the simple fact that all of the characters were likable somehow. Even Jerry/Garry/Larry. Maybe they got into fights or set each other up or attempted to manipulate, but these actions weren’t glorified. Instead, healthy relationships were modeled as friends and loved ones called each other out on their crap. This was not a show where “anything goes as long as I end up on top.” It was a show about reconciliation, friendship, love, and forgiveness. It was a show about grace and people willing to extend grace to each other even in the midst of turmoil.
There were no assholes who were glorified. There were clear moral lines and a distinguished sense of healthy and unhealthy. From Leslie being a steamroller and being called out on it, only to work on changing, to Anne realizing that she had a tendency to take on the characteristics of the people she dated. All of the characters took the good and the bad and handled it like real people should.
2. The writing was solid, ordinary, and funny.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Parks and Recreation is the fact there are no cheap jokes. Jokes aren’t had at the expense of good writing and enjoyable plot lines. The comedy featured in the show was real. People did things normal people would do and we all got a chance to laugh at it. We’ve all got Toms, Donnas, and Jerrys in our lives and it made the show relatable. The very best part? Shame wasn’t involved.
So many comedies focus on shaming people. It is a type of comedy that looks to tear a single person down in order to draw a couple nervous laughs. Instead of falling into that comedy style, Parks and Recreation took the actions and relationship dynamics of everyday people and made them funny. Even Jerry, with all of the crap he was given, never seemed to be ashamed. Angry, yes, as would anyone who gets picked on enough. Yet he was so self-assured, so content with his lot in life, he’d learned to accept who he was, and in the end he was never once ashamed of himself.
None of the characters were. Laughter at the expense of a person’s sense of self was never an issue in Parks and Recreation which made it a wonderful and easy show to watch.
3. It left me wanting to strive for my own Pawnee.
I think one of the cool things about good television is that it inspires us to strive for something more. That’s the point of media after all, isn’t it? It comes down to stories with lessons, or stories which provoke some sort of positive emotions. Movies, music, literature, and television all strive to take us outside of our lives and show us something bigger. They give us a chance to step outside of the box and look at a different world and to safely view how things could be.
Media allows us to try on a different life for a little while.
In the end, Parks and Recreation is a show that has left me to look at the world a little differently. The characters were so relatable and real that I realized I wanted to find those type of people and stack my team with them. I want the Leslies, Annes, and Aprils of the world in my life. I want to hear people’s diverse and unique stories. I want to sit down at JJ’s Diner, eat waffles, and celebrate my friends. I want to be encouraging, honest, and courageous. What struck me most was how much this show made me want to love the people around me better. If we could create our own Pawnee, minus the extreme health issues, Ponch Burger, Sweetums, and raccoons, even in a small way, I think the world would be a little easier to take.
That’s what it’s about, folks. I want more shows about encouraging and loving people. End of story.
I’m going to dearly miss this series, but rejoice in the fact I can watch and rewatch it as many times as I want. I can continue to dive into Pawnee, Indiana and enjoy a break from the world.