Leslie getting married
I’ve written before about how much I love Parks and Recreation — the characters, the writing — but I haven’t been too happy with this season’s trajectory. Though I am pleased with the progression of Chris Traeger’s character and the manner in which his obsessive traits have been seriously examined, the current portrayal of Leslie Knope feels both incredibly off and off-putting. The shift in Chris was unexpected. The writers could easily have kept milking his trademark perfectionism without question — his extreme fitness and nutrition practices acting merely as reminders that Chris is “that guy,” a strange, yet colorful, weirdo in this merry band of weirdos. But, instead Parks opted for depth. Lately, we’ve seen Chris’ fears laid bare and more overtly witnessed his “quirks” explained as excessive and possibly even disordered behavior. This choice is pretty brave and refreshing — to show a man who seems perfect, if grossly on top of things, and unpack that perfection as an unhealthy desire for control manifested through unhealthy treatment of his body. Pretty progressive and neat. Parks is usually pretty thoughtful like that.
But then there’s this issue with Leslie. Ever since Leslie got engaged to geeky pocket cutie Ben, things have been weird, y’all. The wedding, per sitcom norm, has taken up a lot of story time and space. On one level that makes me sad because it’s so cliché. Weddings, babies, the addition of a dog, or a cousin Oliver, all seem to mark the death of a show as we once knew it. There’s a sense that when these narratives pop up that maybe the show has run out of steam. I know that in terms of storytelling, this situation can be more complex. Perhaps romances, babies, dogs, and long lost cousins are parts of important stories and that’s why we see them cycled through so often on the television, but I for one, think that there also must be so much more unexplored TV territory and I was hoping my favorite show would go there, courageously and hilariously.
Personally, I’m not all that interested in Ben and Leslie’s romance. I like Ben. I’m glad she found a cool guy, but I’m definitely not gushing over their nuptials. The latest episodes have been particularly uncomfortable to me because they show Leslie barely capable of containing her love for Ben. We learn that getting married to her cute-butted, elflike lover is her dream come true. Spoiler alert, the couple even ties the knot 3 months early because she just can’t wait any longer to be his wife. Um, what? Again, I’m glad that Leslie’s in love or whatever, but when has marriage ever been a top priority for Ms. Knope? The Leslie I know has always wanted to be a strong, fair, and caring woman, an important politician who works for the people of her beloved town, if not the entire nation. Leslie’s dream come true, to me, would look something like President Knope (and maybe first gentleman Joe Biden) raising mini horses on the White House lawn. The Biden husband would be a nice extra, but the presidency and the mini horses would be a must.
So for Parks to get all sweet and saccharine on me, celebrating wuv, twoo wuv, and beyond that painting Leslie as so intensely eager for a typical marital union, without considering the political ramifications of what that union might mean. . . well, it’s a little shocking and disappointing. I know it’s not like we found out that Leslie is a serial killer or she secretly hates puppies, but this move just doesn’t match the tone or consistency of the show and character that I love.
Will marriage end up being more of a struggle now that the fun, pretty, and sugar-coated part is over? (The bachelor party episode did indeed remind us that almost every male character is divorced, after all). Will the old Leslie’s passion for politics return as though no sitcom narrative cliché ever occured? Or will this strange feminist show I love jump the Pawnee shark (raccoon?) and become a more typical network show? Time will tell, I guess.
Instead of titillating my inner romantic, Leslie and Ben making it official has left me mourning stories where it’s okay for women to want different things, want more, want something beyond or outside marriage. I’m left wishing the Hillary Clinton of the hilarious memes could send my gal Leslie a text, cuz, Giiiirrrrl, something’s up with your game.
Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.