Pawnee Forever: A Farewell to Parks and Recreation

fdgfParks and Recreation is the last remaining of NBC’s beloved, though criminally under-watched, sitcoms from their old Thursday night comedy block, but soon it too, hot on the heels of The Office (ended), 30 Rock (ended) and Community (rehomed), will conclude its run. I have to admit, I write this post with more emotion than can usually be found on this here page. As the finale date draws closer with alarming velocity (anyone ever told you, you’re the worst, NBC?), I am struck by just how missed this comedy will be. It’s rare that a cast of characters is so universally warm, energetic and loveable, reiterating the message, time after time, that no one achieves anything alone. That is Parks‘ heart and soul.

If there is one thing to take away from the critically acclaimed comedy, it’s the value of creating rich relationships with every combination of characters that you have in your arsenal. I imagine half the fun of writing this show was pick-‘n’-mixing character pairings for subplots. I mean, think about it. Think about any two characters and, if you’ve seen the whole series, you’ll know their dynamic. From Ben and April (“She’s like the little sister I never had, because the little sister I do have is normal and not terrifying.”), to the mutual respect between Leslie and Ron as they settle their differences over breakfast foods, to the juxtaposition of super-fit Chris and, well, Andy, to the inspiring masterminds behind “Treat Yo Self”, Tom and Donna, everyone fits together and, crucially, provides an endless source for comedy. One relationship above all others really steered the show and that was the friendship between Leslie and Ann, unique in its platonic nature as the focal relationship. Given how female friendship has been portrayed within the media when it’s portrayed at all, Parks was a rare treat, celebrating the way that women can support and inspire one another – often over breakfast food. This started with Leslie and Ann but quickly seeped into every female dynamic the show has to offer: the mentor relationship Leslie has with April, the love-hate-but-secretly-just-love between April and Ann, and the ladies’ casual and constant admiration for Regal Meagle.

The reason these friendships are all so special, of course, is because the characters that make them up are a wonderful bunch of weirdos, just as any comedic cast should be. When shows end, often it can be hard to say goodbye to a beloved favourite character. How do you keep it together when you’re saying goodbye to so many favourites at once? If anyone knows, share with the group. I’m desperate here. As I haven’t figured it out, here are my heartfelt goodbyes to each one of Pawnee’s finest…

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The 10 Best Moments of The West Wing’s Josh and Donna

140796482_10January has been a crazy start to the new year, with illness and assignments both sentencing me to full hermit status. As February beckons and we reach the end of my house arrest, it feels like a good time to have a big ol’ fangirl sesh and there’s nothing quite like reminiscing over the best moments of The West Wing to lift everybody’s spirits. I could watch a hundred shows and I’d still come running back into the arms of those beautiful liberals. It’s a show about the best of politics, a fantasy, an alternate world where those at the top care about those at the bottom. Within this magical universe exists the greatest love story ever told, that of Josh Lyman and Donna Moss.

Maybe you’re skeptical. Maybe you disagree with my statement of fact. Here are 10 moments that back me up big time…

10. “You’ve got health and strength.” – Guns Not Butter

vlcsnap-2013-01-09-17h14m01s124 copyAt the end of a day that has been packed full of punches, Josh walks out of the Oval Office to find Donna sat outside waiting for him. “It’s getting harder,” he says, conveying immeasurable frustration with the process that he’s devoted his life to. You’d be forgiven for thinking they were long-time marrieds as you watch their tender exchange.

Donna: You took funding for remote prayer to the president?

Josh: Oh, I did it with gusto.

Donna: That’s because you don’t know the story of Fishhooks McCarthy.

Josh: Is this a real person, or a Donna person?

Donna: Corrupt politician on the Lower East Side in the ’20s. Every morning he stopped at the St James Church on Oliver Street, and said the same prayer: “Oh Lord, give me health and strength. We’ll steal the rest.”

Josh: Not that there needs to be, but was there a point?

Donna: You’ve got health and strength – both of which, coincidentally, I prayed for after hot lead was shot into your body.

Josh: (getting agitated) Yeah, and you’re going to need some kryptonite, by the way–

Donna: Okay… settle down.

Josh: (whispers) Alright.

Donna: So you’ve got health and strength.

Josh: And we’ll steal the rest?

Donna: Bet your ass.

I feel like all Josh needs at the end of the hardest days is to stop and take stock for a minute. In a single moment, looking at Donna and listening to her, he is refuelled. Hope is restored. Whether or not you read this moment romantically or not, it’s evidence that it’s Donna who keeps him going, which should really be a shock to nobody at this point.

On Donna’s part, there is also something incredibly revealing in her reference to the shooting. Little is said about the trauma of nearly losing him but this modest comment, hidden behind the story of Fishhooks McCarthy, reminds you of her ordeal. It’s the ghost of a pain bigger than any ‘bad day’ could bring. It seems to be her point of reference when it comes to challenges or pain or disappointment. It doesn’t hurt as much as the day Josh nearly died, therefore, we can get through it. Together.

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Lessons Learned From Leslie Knope

Parks-and-Rec-2This month marks the beginning of the end for Parks and Recreation fans, as the final season starts its brief run. This wonderful show, exploring the trials and tribulations of local government, was the gift that gave generously throughout its seven years. Perhaps the biggest gift of all was its leading lady, Leslie Barbara Knope, an icon to many and the future president of the United States. In Leslie, Parks presented viewers with the warm-hearted, ambitious heroine that they had long deserved.

The fact that Leslie Knope was so impressive while still hugely relatable, a woman pushing forward in a world built for men, meant that it became easy to learn from her mistakes and heed her best advice. Here are some of the gems that Leslie Knope has bestowed unto us humble Padawans.

1. Be ambitious.

“2024. I win. We move in there. I’ll take the West Wing. You take the East Wing. You can be the First Gentleman.”

Despite her modest position as Deputy Parks Director of the parks and recreation department, Leslie had more firepower than everyone else at Pawnee City Hall put together. When the budget cut Grim Reaper came, in the form of Butch Count-sidy and the Sum-dance Kid, Leslie had one hell of a fight on her hands. Forced to go big or go home, she masterminded the Harvest Festival with great success, winning the admiration of her beloved hometown and taking the first step on a road that would eventually lead to the city council election. In the words of Leslie Knope herself, “Winning is every girl’s dream. But it’s my destiny. And my dream.” And it was. Both.

Her campaign to replace Councilman Pillner (aka my beloved Josh Lyman) was a genius move by the writers, creating a perfect season-long timeline that united the entire ensemble in one aim. Her ambition, both in this venture and always, has subverted the archetypal representation of the career-minded woman. There is no edge of coldness about Leslie; as she breaks Ben’s heart as well as her own to avoid a career scandal, the viewer remains steadfastly on her team while tearfully embarking on their own tragically futile attempt at claymation (probably). You want to see all of Leslie’s big ideas find a home. You want to see her be given the respect she deserves by the town that she adores. You want to see her face brimming with pride when she finally wins that long-desired seat on the city council. The necessary sacrifices that she is forced to make along the way do not define her as cold and ruthless, but determined and brave. Her ambition is portrayed as aspirational, not detrimental.

2. Patience pays. Sometimes.

Admirably, while the many public forums that Leslie has hosted have uniformly proved anarchic and unproductive, Leslie’s attitude remains firm: “These people are members of a community that care about where they live. So, what I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.” Even though that community has really not helped very much at all, it was at one of these public forums that Leslie was first introduced to Ann Perkins. There began the greatest love story of our time. It was also at this very first public forum, way back when, that the saga of the pit was introduced. Whether we ever get to enjoy the fruit of Leslie’s labours at Lot 48 remains to be seen, but without her constant patience and perseverance, it would probably still be a pit – or a fast food restaurant.

3. Don’t let people shame you for your passion.

Leslie Knope is passionate about many, many things – namely, friends, waffles and work. And let’s not forget Joe Biden. In a world where it’s become all too cool not to care, Leslie’s enthusiasm reminds us why passion is far preferable to apathy. The special thing about this show, pushing against the heavy tide of cynical television, was that in Pawnee, passion was celebrated and not mocked. Even April, who began as Parks’ representative of the apathetic youth that Leslie tirelessly seeks to inspire, is moved by the dedication of her friend and boss. As we near the end, it’s clear that over the course of the series, April’s journey has been to learn from a seasoned pro that it’s okay to care. In fact, maybe it’s actually kind of… nice?

April explains: “Where I live, there are a lot of apathetic people, people who don’t care at all about what they do or how they do it. They let the world wash over them and barely notice anyone else is even there. Leslie Knope is not one of these people. She cares about everything and everyone in our town. I don’t know how she does it. People come to her with the pettiest, stupidest problems and she cares, like really actually cares what happens to them. And if you’re lucky enough to be her friend, your life gets better every day. She spends every waking moment thinking of new ways to make her friends happy.”

4. Don’t let the haters keep you down. Bounce back.

Of course, with great passion comes great disappointment. Leslie’s taken more than a few knocks in her time in the parks department: government cuts, relationship scandals and the recall vote, to name but a few. While she’s had to deal with her professional setbacks, she has also faced a series of personal ones, with the second season charting Leslie’s often-disastrous attempts at dating. With Ann on hand to console her, it’s never long before Leslie is back on fighting form, though. Her irrepressible positivity has afforded her the dream job and the dream husband, so it seems that bouncing back has done pretty well for Leslie Knope.

The key, with Amy Poehler’s portrayal of Leslie Knope, has been maintaining the balance between her theatrical side and her competence. ‘The Comeback Kid’ is the perfect example of one of Leslie’s turbulent attempts to bounce back. She is finally getting back on her feet but is faced with the reality that, in a town like Pawnee, the ground will always be shaky – or rather, slippery. Even when the entire cast are sliding around on the ice, the belief that Leslie can and should win the election is absolute. The viewer knows that no one should ever bet against Leslie Knope.

5. Love yourself. (Also: love Leslie Knope.)

vlcsnap-2015-01-05-23h57m00s241“I am big enough to admit that I am often inspired by myself,” Leslie says unapologetically as Ben notices the framed picture of his girlfriend that she displays on her “wall of inspirational women”. I adore her total lack of false modesty, particularly within the context of her relationship with Ben. Women should never feel inclined to reduce themselves for the ego of a man. Despite her small stature, Leslie is a powerhouse. She should not and, delightfully, does not pretend otherwise for Ben’s benefit. Leslie’s self-assurance only makes all of her friends love her more, so it’s win-win. Leslie’s relationship with Ben works because he is not intimidated by who she is, and she allows it to flourish by not moderating herself for his benefit.

6. Love your friends. Love them a lot.

Leslie Knope loves her friends. Like, reeeeally loves them. Especially beautiful Ann. No matter how swept up she might get in her relationship with Ben (her brilliant, sexy little hummingbird), Ann always comes first: “You know my code: hoes before bros, uteruses before duderuses, ovaries before brovaries.” When we are first introduced to the colourful world of Pawnee, it is Leslie and Ann’s relationship that provides the opening chapter of our story, and their bond holds firm from that point on. To celebrate the ladies in her life, Leslie even created Galentines Day, a day of “ladies celebrating ladies”. If we take one thing away from this show, it should be that February 13th is henceforth set aside for ladies celebrating ladies.

tumblr_mc3n7kzhsR1qe9t4zo2_1280 If there’s one thing I find most relatable about Leslie Knope, it is her unabiding love for Ann. I have my own Ann, named Hannah. Her name even contains “Ann”, so it’s kismet. As Leslie declares, “Less man time, more Ann time,” I will proudly do the same (with an ‘H’ in front).

As well as her love of Ann, Leslie maintains numerous other firm friendships. Her growth, from everyone’s pain in the backside to their respected leader, has allowed every one of her friends to realise the value of having Leslie in their life. To show their gratitude for Leslie’s unwavering loyalty, they frequently team up with interventions of support and motivation. There’s nothing that that team of people wouldn’t do for her, and I promise that I’m only paraphrasing The West Wing there by accident. Remember, “one person’s annoying is another person’s inspiring and heroic.”

7. Love your hometown. Hate Eagleton.

Eagleton sucks. Pawnee forever.

Goodbye Dunder Mifflin

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Hey, can I talk to you about something? I was just umm… I’m in love with The Office. I’m really sorry if that’s weird for you to hear, but I needed you to… hear it. Probably not good timing (since it’s ending), I just… I just needed you to know. Once.

Watching this week’s episode, what I’ve known for months finally hit me: The Office is ending. ‘Next episode’ is soon going to stop being a thing. That’s fine. Good, even. It’s been making a steady descent for some time now. And I’ll still have Parks and Rec (or else I really will burn Utica to the ground, and that’ll be on you NBC!). But the past few episodes have captivated me in the way that the show did in its prime. My indifference has subsided and my investment revived. The performances from Jenna and John, most especially, have been out-freaking-standing.

Mostly, I’m glad I can properly enjoy the farewell season because it’s been a good’un. It’s taken some risks. There have been times since Jim and Pam got together when I feel like they haven’t been brave enough. This season, though, it’s like a head-on collision into the unknown: change, upheaval and, dare I say, career advancement OooOOOHOOoooh. Could it be? Could it be? EXCITING.

Also, congrats to the writers for making me do a total U-turn on Erin this season and finally invest in a romantic storyline that isn’t Jim and Pam. I love Pete. Pete’s great (pretty). Pete’s funny (pretty). Pete’s good for Erin (also pretty). I’m sorry but the easiest way to win me over is to say the words, “I just want you to be happy.” Yes. Good. Important.

Introducing new characters hasn’t always been this show’s strong suit (I’m usually just crying out for more Krasinski), but this season they’ve written Pete and Nellie, in particular, excellently.

It’s crazy to think that it’s been nine seasons. It was that number that really hit me hard: nine. Nine years. I was 11. I would have just been starting high school. Now I’m a proper adult (I have a house key an’ everything!!!!). Gawd. It’s actually half my life almost. I didn’t get into it until much, much later but it still freaks me out. I mean, THE WEST WING WAS ON THE AIR WHEN THIS SHOW PREMIERED. And The West Wing is proper classic NBC. Remember when there was lots of quality scripted television? Not bitter. I’m suddenly hit by the urge to cling tightly to the leg of this show just as it starts to walk away.

With a shared love for Jim Halpert, I’ve met some fantastic people through the magical world of social networking. I guess now I’ll have to find another way to make friends. Blackmail maybe? I don’t know. Wish me luck.

Put simply, I’m just glad to be sad. I was so worried that I was kind of already done. I think all it was really was I had high hopes that I never expected this final season would live up to. But it has. Work Bus will go down, in my mind, as one of the comedy greats of the series while Customer LoyaltyVandalism and Couples Discount have made me impatient for more. It’s made me want to talk about the characters again, and indulge in classic Office on quiet afternoons, and engage with the actors’ Twitters like a fully-fledged fangirl. It really is going to be the fondest of farewells.

This is going to hurt like a motherf*cker.