Thirty Days of Feelings: Day Twelve

This year I’m undergoing a bit of an experiment: Thirty straight days of doing/watching/listening to/reading something that makes me feel – however fleetingly – like an actual human being, in the hopes that this will thaw a layer of ice off my frozen shriveled little heart, and allow me to not be such a buzzkill this year. So let’s get to it.

Day Twelve: Parks and Recreation

Parks

Once upon a time, I really liked The Office. And then, over the course of a season, I grew tired of it. And then I stopped watching it. And then every time I randomly saw an episode, I liked it less. Until by now I can basically say that I hate it – not so much because it’s no longer funny and the characters are awful – but because it’s another classic case of diminishing returns in television and an industry that refuses to tell complete stories, insisting on greedily drawing out every franchise until it is a lifeless shell of its former self.

What I did like about The Office was something the show never really seemed willing to run with: good, competent people. I know, the show is basically about of underachievers and screw-ups who only work at Dunder-Mifflin because it’s all they could get, and don’t really care about it – and about the numerous ways they snipe at each other. But every now and then it would show Michael closing a really difficult deal, or winning over a new client, or just generally proving how he made it to manager. Or it would show Pam or Jim doing something genuinely heartfelt for Michael or someone else. These moments, few and far between, were the times I liked The Office the most.

Parks and Rec is like that all the time.

It’s the story of a small branch (Parks and Recreation) of a small town (Pawnee) in a small state (Indiana). At first (season 1) no one seems to be really passionate about their job, except Assistant Director Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), and in general they seem to be just like the characters of The Office. But over the course of the show, it becomes quite apparent that they not only love their jobs, but each other, very deeply. For example, when the government of Pawnee reopens after being shut down temporarily, they all jump – literally – at the chance to return. This is due less to their fascination with politics, but because of Leslie’s passion and kindness, and the family she has forged them into.

A strong highlight of the show is Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), and I admit that he is roughly half the reason I started watching it. Ron is, well, the ultimate man. He loves red meat and bacon, drinks whiskey and smokes cigars. He owns a cabin and chops his own wood and hunts his own food. He teaches wilderness explorers and buries his gold in strategic locations across town. He despises and distrusts government and loves guns. But the best thing is that he is not misogynistic. He works with women, he respects women. He hates some women – the truly terrible ones – but at the same time he hates most people. This makes the rare occasions when he giggles, cries, or offers compassion to his coworkers all the more touching.

The other reason I started watching is Rashida Jones (who plays Ann Perkins, nurse, best friend to Leslie). Guys, she’s like my new obsession. She went to Harvard. She has written comic books. She sang back-up on Songs About Jane by Maroon 5 – one of my favorite albums. She knows Paul Rudd. She’s into philosophy and religion. She’s super funny. Oh yeah and she’s smokin’ hot but still classy. She and Leslie have such a cool relationship. It’s like a classic bromance, except with females. I don’t even know what to call that. I honestly want to call it a homance, but Leslie would totally disapprove.

What’s been really great about Parks is how it surprises me. Take Chris Pratt for example. Before, he was just that stoner on The O.C., and that guy from – ugh – Moneyball. Now, he’s this lovable idiot who cares about people really deeply, and is just a sweet, innocent, kind-hearted guy. Think Doug the Dog from Up. Or April (Aubrey Plaza) who starts as the single most bitter, cynical, sarcastic character I’ve ever seen and gradually opens up to occasionally smiling or even giving a hug at one point. Or how Tom – Aziz Ansari – slowly shows us the true man underneath all his “swagger” and false bravado.

At the end of the day, Parks is a reconstruction of The Office. Whereas the latter is cynical, Parks is earnest. Where The Office centers on finding the humor in failure, Parks finds triumph in success (the humor comes from the near-miss). Where The Office features characters pranking or snarking at each other, Parks shows characters repeatedly coming through, sacrificing and supporting each other through anything. Ultimately, this show has a lot more in common with Modern Family than The Office. 

So, next time you’re looking for a new show, ask yourself – do I need racist jokes to make me happy (New Normal)? To I need sexism to make me happy (Two and Half Men)? Do I need Kat Dennings to make me happy (2 Broke Girls)? Do I need nerd culture showed in incredibly broad strokes, with caricatures instead of characters and women portrayed as achievements to unlock (Big Bang Theory)?

No. Resoundingly no. You want characters that get into hilarious hijinks through their own mistakes, but ultimately make things right. You want characters that aren’t afraid to care about things, even if it makes them look lame. You want positive male and female role-models. Face it, you need sappy sometimes. Real life is just too serious and cynical already. Treat yo’ self to some earnest, unabashedly sweet comedy.

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One Response to Thirty Days of Feelings: Day Twelve

  1. I so agree! This is everything I love about Parks and Rec. It isn’t afraid to be genuinely optimistic.

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