I read a really depressing article recently entitled “Why People Don’t Read Your Blog” which basically advised to write as if your audience consists of goldfish with Attention Deficit Disorder. Keep it short, don’t expect people to invest any time in actually reading words, use pictures and lists. The latest idea swirling around in my head was something about how good my new-found favourite comedy programme Parks and Recreation is, but I was struggling to find the right angle on it, so taking the advice, here is a list.
Disclaimer – I know I am late to the Parks & Rec party and that there is a LOT of stuff about the show already online, I have read some of it, but not a lot, so apologies if you have read similarly themed pieces from 3 years ago.
Also, I’m going to assume you have watched the show, cos I don’t have the time or energy to explain all the characters and plots. Plus you should watch it. Now!
Oh, and one more thing (already I’m failing at the brevity thing, all you goldfish are long gone) I don’t watch a huge amount of tv, so it’s entirely likely that some other shows also have features mentioned below, I’m not saying Parks is unique, I’m just pointing out what I’ve observed.
Credit – the many friends who told me for years how brilliant Parks was, especially Zoe who had to put up with my many many messages as I eventually discovered this for myself.
This is a theme that has cropped up in the few pieces I have read about the show. What I like is that it is subtly, rather than overtly feminist. I wouldn’t object in the slightest to an overtly feminist show, but I like the way Parks normalises feminist ideals. There are a few story lines that deal with feminist issues, such as when Leslie and April become trash collectors, or the attitudes Leslie faces on City Council, but for the most part it is just a naturally feminist show, where equality of status and opportunity are accepted. There are equal numbers of male and female characters, the lead is female, the others aren’t background characters or wives/girlfriends/love interests and the female characters have equal numbers, if not more of their own storylines. This shouldn’t be a big deal in the 21st century, but it is.
It was all over the internet a little while ago that Gilmore Girls was being planned to make a return. I read a bit about it and came across this, in which a person allegedly new to Gilmore Girls watches some and makes some highly accurate guesses about the characters and storylines. Most of the comments are a) doubting that the person was indeed new to it and b) shocked at how predictable their beloved show is. Now, confession, I love Gilmore Girls, but it’s one of those programmes where it’s predictability is comforting and I don’t begrudge that.
Parks could easily have been the same. But it’s so not. There are so many instances where a story starts, and you have this preconceived idea about where it’s leading, and you’re ok with that, cos that’s how tv shows roll, we’ve all seen it a hundred times, but then it takes a swerve and you’re shocked out of your comfort zone. What I especially like are the times when it’s what DOESN’T happen that surprises you. When Ben and April go to Washington to work together, you fully expect something to happen between them to wreck both their relationships. That would happen in literally every other programme I can think of. But it doesn’t. There isn’t even the merest hint that it ever would. They even get stuck in a hot car together for a full day and all that happens is character development and a new take on their friendship. Sounds boring, but it was amazing in it’s freshness.
I’ve read a few things where people involved in Parks describe it as being essentially about female friendship, that between Leslie and Ann. That in itself is a nice departure from male-lead programmes, or love-interest / love triangle / single white female programmes. But I also love the way it portrays male friendships. I think it shows them in a much more realistic, nuanced way. There is very little drama-for-drama’s-sake rivalry based on who gets the girl, or who is the lead alpha-male in the show. I especially like when Ben starts to become friends with Jerry/Gary/Larry. The way the relationships between the male characters develops is honest, natural and in keeping with the way men tend to relate and express themselves.
I absolutely love that the characters are played by actors who are actually that age (give or take) and that they mention how old they are. Again, on the surface this doesn’t seem remarkable, but honestly, it is. Chris mentions his age a few times, and I think it’s pretty close to how old Rob Lowe actually is. Ben mentions a few times how it has been x number of years since his failed mayordom when he was 18, which again, I think is fairly accurate to how old Adam Scott is. And I am absolutely thrilled when during “Prom” Ben tells Leslie he never expected her to ask him to the Prom because they are “nearing 40”. No-one on tv ever admits to being “nearing 40”, far less a female lead.
5. Character Development
Over 7 series all the characters undergo significant developments, but where I think Parks really shines is what they do with April. She starts off as a surly teenage intern, designed to provide contrast to Leslie’s enthusiasm. It would have been really easy to keep her in that role – it was funny, worked and continued to be necessary. It would also have been very easy to change April quickly into a Leslie-convert or use her marriage as a tool for overhaul. But what they did was keep the essence of the character, whilst very subtly and gradually evolving her into a more complex, interesting person. We end up rooting for her, delighting in the moments where she shows the compassion that somehow we all know is there. It is a testament to the writing, but also I imagine the acting skills of Aubrey Plaza. It’s hard to portray teenage characters or coming-of-age stories without resorting to cliche but Parks achieves it.
It’s funny. Actual honest-to-goodness laugh-out-loud funny. Which strangely, is rare for a comedy show. My favourite episode is The Treaty. Not only because I always really wanted to participate in a Model UN. I always see them on American tv! I would be in my element there. I took part in a similar thing when I was a student, I won a competition and got to go to Prague and do something along those lines. I won the prize for “Best Lobbyist”. So I love a Model UN episode. So many laugh out loud moments. April being The Moon. Andy stockpiling lions for Finland. Ben’s drop the mic speech. It verges on surreal and farcical and it made me remember this is a comedy show, not a political drama. I was getting annoyed at the portrayal of some of the political aspects of it, but during this episode I learned to let go. It’s Parks and Recreation, not The West Wing. Although it does still bug me that Leslie and Ben were taken in by Bobby Newport’s (surprise Paul Rudd!) campaign manager. Anyway, The Treaty is, I think, the funniest episode. But in true Parks style it stills manages to have some poingant moments too, when you see just how difficult it is for Ben to deal with being apart from Leslie and Leslie being torn between her campaign duties and her community work.
7. Personal Relevance to Me
I know that part of the reason I have taken Parks to heart is that so many of the themes are hitting a nerve for me right now. I have actually cried several times. Leslie’s struggle in a thankless job. Ben’s efforts to make his employees like and respect him. Some other personal stuff I’m not going to go into here. Not many programmes, far less comedy programmes have the intelligence, depth, insight and social awareness to touch people that way. On a related note, I read Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please recently, and cried through I think a good third of it. Saying that, I would heartily recommend it. That and Amy’s project Smart Girls. Some highly relevant and much needed encouragement and empowerment of girls that I hope my 2 daughters won’t need but fear they very much will.
Anyway, I digress. And I have strayed magnificently from that blogging advice, so I guess no-one will read this. Whatever.