When I started watching Parks and Recreation about a year ago, I didn’t have high hopes. I wasn’t the biggest Amy Poehler fan going in, but I sum that up mostly to the fact that my exposure to her had been a theatrical preview for “Baby Mama” in which she peed in a sink. My brother had told me that I had to watch the show, which I had written off during its first season as trying to ride the coat tails of The Office’s mocumentary-style success. Everything was wrong. My old self, with its negative thoughts and presumptuous ideas was Toby Flenderson and my new and enlightened self was doling out a Michael Scott worthy scolding. The characters were fresh, the writing was excellent, and the story—well—the story managed to claw its way out of a pit (pun intended).
Once the writers figured out how to make the show work without centering it on the pit, Leslie Knope got to truly shine. Though endearing from the beginning, I’m glad Leslie’s dopey (and Michael Scott-reminiscent) side was quickly replaced with quirky tenacity and genuine enthusiasm that I found really refreshing. Where The Office fed my craving for workplace cynicism, Parks brought me a blonde ball of sunshine radiating the effects of a strong work ethic and positive energy in a small workplace. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t get enough of Leslie Knope.
Balancing the equation, I was equally as enchanted with team negativity: Ron Swanson and April Ludgate. April’s dark and brooding mannerisms paired with Ron’s Libertarian values played really well against Leslie’s chipper get ‘er done attitude. Every attempt made by Ron to slow Leslie down (and thus save the taxpayer countless dollars) resulted in hilarious antics and a heart-warming rivalry. Watching the two of them respect the hell out of each other is a truly unique experience in television. Completely opposed when it comes to ideas on how their jobs as government officials should be done, these two always manage to meet in the middle and bring out the best in each other.
But Leslie isn’t a fully realized Leslie until she meets Ben Wyatt. If we thought she had met her match in Ron Swanson, Ben Wyatt was there to show us differently. He represented a threat big enough to bring out the most resolute Leslie yet. After much competition and resentment, mostly on Leslie’s part, she finds in Ben a kindred spirit. For the first time she meets someone who also has stars in his eyes for what the government can be, and it’s not long before we have an exciting love scandal on our hands.
Ben manages to bring out the best in Leslie. We are used to seeing her working hard and succeeding in her endeavors, but we get to see a vulnerable Leslie that is incredibly sweet, and so herself with someone. I get the idea that not too many a gentleman shared her deeply affectionate sentiments toward Madeleine Albright, so Ben also brought out some of Leslie’s most endearing nerdiness. I’ve found myself cheering for and investing in Ben and Leslie the same way I did for Jim and Pam. Their relationship, of course, teetered all through the beginning of season 4 as Leslie learns she has been selected as a possible city council candidate. As a viewer, I found myself torn between wanting her to get the campaign and wanting her to have Ben; both seemed to simultaneously be the one thing that would bring her happiness and fulfillment, but they were mutually exclusive. As the season wore on, Ben eventually called things off for the benefit of her campaign, which looking back was the only thing he could do, until the season went on break for Christmas and Ben decides to quit his job so that Leslie could have everything. The Christmas episode this season was everything. It was everyone showing Leslie how much she is appreciated. It was Ben showing Leslie how much he loved her. It was Leslie getting everything she could ever want and truly deserved. It was me crying into a pillow.
I’m totally happy with Parks and Recreation as the feel-good show it is right now. For me, the show is Leslie Knope and having her as the focal point of all the major plot lines right now is completely appropriate. I’m excited to see what the rest of this season will bring to Pawnee’s City Hall, and to the brilliant cast we all know and love. Until then, you can find me hosting pancake suppers in Leslie’s honor to raise funds for her 2012 campaign. KNOPE WE CAN!