Article contains spoilers! But then again, all 7 seasons are on Netflix so if you haven’t seen the entire series at least once you should probably reevaluate your life decisions and come back to this article after experiencing the show in all of its glory.
An entire year after the series ended I am still (and will forever be) upset that Parks and Rec is officially over. I know all TV shows eventually meet their end, but if Grey’s Anatomy can still air new episodes after twelve long seasons, I have to admit that I’m a little bitter I didn’t get more of my favorite group of government employees from Pawnee. That’s not to say I didn’t like the way the show ended – I was a big fan of the way everyone was given a proper send off and stories were sent full circle. But since this sad ending, I feel like there is something missing from TV. There are very few shows that can match the level of likeability of Parks and Rec. I’m always the person to suggest this show when people ask for Netflix recommendations, so instead of chatting with you for an hour (and probably more) about why you should watch it, I decided to write it all down.
There are a lot of shows in the realm of half-hour network comedies that have successfully garnered the fanbase and dedication that Parks and Rec has received – such as The Office, 30 Rock, and Community. The premise of all of these shows is simple, and fairly similar to one another: a group of people in a particular occupation forced to interact on a daily basis and solve the problems that arise in their immediate environment. But what I think Parks and Rec does better than all of these shows that is extremely rare on television today is the fact that these characters are not based on the cynicism they have toward their work. They don’t hate their lives, they don’t hate their coworkers, and the plotlines aren’t fueled by ongoing distaste and conflict. Tim Carvell, head writer for The Daily Show, said it perfectly: “They figured out how to make comedy out of people who like things, as opposed to the usual sitcom where it’s just people being awful to each other. Turns out passion can heighten things in the same way that conflict does.”
The writers of this show are thoughtful and gracious to their viewers, especially when it comes to the on-screen relationships. There is no shortage of romantic drama, but it is perfectly curated to make you fall in love with the couples as much as they love one another. Leslie and Ben don’t have a perfect relationship. They keep their relationship a secret, they break up, and they are forced to compromise jobs and other priorities in order to be together. But this is done with such attention and care that it almost enjoyable, unlike the majority of TV writers that simply have their couples break up and fight for the sake of entertaining drama. April and Andy are another example of a uniquely brilliant couple on this show. They get married after being together for just a short period of time – again, a decision a lot of show writers make in order to ultimately test the couple’s relevance and commitment. But this did not mean failure, though that could have been expected because of the couple’s reputation for irresponsibility and spontaneity. But April and Andy stay married for the entire series. Ron and Diane stay married. Leslie and Ben stayed married. Even Jerry has a successful marriage (that is mocked and analyzed throughout the entire series, which just adds to the unique nature of these relationships the writers give us). You can root for these relationships and not be afraid they are going to fall apart and make you angry and make the characters hate each other.
Although Parks and Rec is a show about government, the references to political issues are often kept light and concise. While it is no secret that Ron Swanson is the most representative character for libertarianism that has ever graced the TV screen, there are plenty of more subtle hints (and not so subtle – see: framed pictures of Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright in Leslie’s office) in relation to recent political topics. The show addresses gay marriage through the union of two penguins, rallying for women’s equality is almost always sprinkled through any given episode, and Tom’s obsession with capitalism is one of the most consistent tropes on the series. But when you’re watching these political situations unfold, viewers do not have the same reaction of when they are watching The West Wing or House of Cards. There is a balance that occurs among Ron’s opposition to the government as a structure, Leslie’s love for the like, and everyone else’s flippance and overall feeling of content about simply having a job. But as the series continues and characters grow, there is a learning process that causes them all to understand more clearly that despite their individual positions, their purpose and contributions are all equally essential. These messages don’t feel forced or extravagant, and I think that’s what’s so special about this show. Parks and Rec found a way to make a show about the government that isn’t about deceit and scandal and conflict, but rather working toward your goals and getting help from friends along the way. There is so much optimism on this show, and that alone is enough to keep you watching.
Bonus content: Check out Hank Green’s video about one of the most thoughtful and intricate friendships on the show, Ron and Leslie: