7 Reasons Why I Love Parks and Recreation! (Or, Here goldfish, please stay and read this!)

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.

1. Feminism


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.

2. Predictability


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.

3. Friendship


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.

4. Age


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.

6. Comedy


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.

I hate U2. I love U2. I hate U2. Aaaaaaarghh!

A series of random events has lead me to listen to some U2 recently.  As the title suggests, I have a somewhat mixed feelings about U2. I tweeted a little bit about it when it first happened but I’ve since gone back and listened some more and the love/hate thing is tearing me up, so as therapy I’m putting it out here.

A couple of months ago I was chatting to a colleague about music, we got on to U2 and we both agreed we weren’t really into them.  When I said part of the reason for me was that when I was younger, most people I knew who were into them were REALLY into them, and I didn’t happen to like these people much, so by association I decided not to like the band. I was glad when she said she had exactly the same experience, cos it made my random prejudice seem a bit more justified. However it got me thinking and I decided I should go back and give them another shot some time.

I had managed to keep up my loathing of U2 for many years quite happily, until I started to go out with someone who liked them. I reluctantly gave them a shot.  A little while later they released All That You Can’t Leave Behind. I had to admit it was quite good. I wasn’t a connoisseur but I thought it was a bit different from their previous stuff, so it was acceptable to like. I pretty much pretended it was a different band. The next year they had to make changes to their touring schedule due to Bono’s father being ill, so a last-minute concert was announced in Glasgow. Knowing how much my then-boyfriend liked them and how I could almost stomach them (I secretly really like that album. Most of it) I persuaded my work to let me go early and I legged it down to the SECC to try to get tickets. I joined a massive queue and waited there for 4 HOURS! For U-bloody2! I have never queued like that for a gig before or since. Anyway, it was quite a nice atmosphere in the queue, and I had to admit some U2 fans were kind of alright.

After 4 HOURS!! I did secure 2 tickets, so we went to see them in a surprisingly small hall at the SECC. And wouldn’t you know it, they were good. Dammit U2. Actually they were very good. I had a thoroughly good time and was surprised at how many of the oldies I knew. I was forced to admit several things. 1. They are a great live band. 2. They have a pretty awesome back catalogue to draw on. 3. They know how to put on a show and work an audience.  Although I did draw the line at joining the people who were clamouring to be spattered in Bono’s sweat when he came along the walkway thing into the crowd. It was a sweaty event. I don’t care who Bono is, that was gross.

But that was it, I listened to that album some more, I think we bought the next one which wasn’t as good, so I wrote that off as a 1-time thing and moved on.

The next event that lead to me to consider them again was that I’ve recently finished watching Parks and Recreation. Bear with me here. Late to the party as usual, I absolutely love it and because most of the stars were unknown to me (sorry, cool points lost) apart from I knew Aziz Ansari from Flight of the Conchords days (cool points regained?) I have been trying to find out about other stuff the cast have done.  I’ve read Amy Poehler’s book and Aziz Anasari’s book (both highly recommended) and watched a couple of films some of them have been in. Adam Scott doesn’t have a book (insert choice of Parks reference here) but he does have a podcast. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a podcast. Found out the podcast was all about U2. Bollocks. I want to have a listen, because Adam Scott is awesome and I’d heard about his podcast partner Scott Auckerman’s work too. But it’s all about U2! I hate U2! No wait, do I? Gut reaction, sorry.

So I had a wee listen. (“U Talkin’ U2 To Me?“) It is highly entertaining, and mercifully has very little actual U2 in it. It’s basically a couple of blokes, and occasionally some guests, who are really into music talking about the the music they love, with a smattering of U2. It made me miss having similar discussions with my friends, although I don’t think we were ever that funny. They even make a discussion about their (intensely serious) suggestions for alternative track listings for Rattle and Hum amusing. But it did make me want to properly go back and listen to the band.

I started at the beginning. Bearing in mind I was mostly listening at work so only had half an ear on it, if that. Sorry, but I don’t have the luxury of a spare hour to listen to a complete album with my full attention. The podcasts were listened to whilst also doing housework and cooking.

The verdicts so far:

Boy – I was surprised how much I enjoyed this. It has energy, passion and a story to tell. I was reminded of a quote from Frasier, when Roz’s cool young cousin criticises her choice of radio station, “For your information Classic Rock is both classic and it rocks!”.

October – I couldn’t get on board with this at all. It was virtually unlistenable. Really, I had to skip forward several times. I went back and listened to Boy again today, but couldn’t bring myself to listen to October again. Sorry, I’m done with that one. Next!

War – I was most distracted during this, but found it more like Boy, more varied, quite interesting, I’ll give it another go when I’m more able to focus on it.

The Unforgettable Fire – Apart from Pride, which is a great song, it was pretty forgettable actually.

The Joshua Tree – Now we’re talking! I know some of these songs well enough to sing along to. Dammit, I’m singing along to U2! Yes, you can’t argue with those opening 4 songs, in the words of Adam Scott, “that is some high quality rock and roll music”. I listened to them on repeat they were so good. I hate myself now.

Rattle and Hum – I couldn’t bring myself to listen to this after Scott and Adam pretty much slated it on the podcast, I might try their alternative track lists some time.

So that’s as far as I’ve got. Actually I went back and listened to Joshua Tree again. Those songs are so damn good. I’ll do the rest when I have time, might do an update here.

When I was writing my Editors post last week I was swithering about making the U2 comparison because, my own prejudices aside, for many it is a toxic association. But the first track of Boy is so very Editors. Or vice versa I suppose. I realised Where The Streets Have No Name reminds me of The Airborne Toxic Event’s Sometime Around Midnight, which may be my favourite song ever. I’m not sure how TATE would feel about at U2 comparison, I certainly would have balked at it until about a month ago…

Part of the reason is Bono himself. He has this reputation as being a self-important arrogant ****. I can’t say I hold any particular animosity towards him, anyone in his position would find it hard to remain grounded I suppose. However the band are currently on tour, and this morning Shappi Khorsandi tweeted this:

I have no reason to doubt the lovely Shappi, but seriously?!? This is exactly the kind of thing that makes people (me) hate U2 (again). I’m glad we saw them in a relatively scaled back show without any of this nonsense. There are still tickets available for the Glasgow leg of this tour, but at ridiculous prices so I’m definitely not tempted. Once was enough, that once was a great experience that I would rather remained unsullied. I’ll continue to explore their back catalogue, but I still don’t know if I’d call myself a fan, or if I love them or hate them. Still both I think.