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.

5 Responses to “Leslie getting married”
  1. Barbara Postema says:

    Pawnee shark = pike

  2. Mark Cauley says:

    I love the show too, but I felt like it started to lose its comedic chutzhpah when they focused too much on Leslies obsession with running for mayor. her obsessiveness was no longer cute, but often mean. They never should have given her any abrasive qualities. She was cute, honest, a wee deluded, and that worked. Also, they seemed to drift away from Andy too much. Oh well, still love the show. Havent seen season 5 yet. Nice work, Ana!

  3. Ana says:

    Haha Pawnee pike…got it! I really loved the campaign season. I thought that gave her so much depth and it showed us how much Leslie really wants her career while also displaying great teamwork and friendship by her ragtag bunch. *bobby newpoooort* :)

  4. Jimmy Dunn says:

    I respectfully disagree, but understand where you’re coming from. As a male who strongly champions equality between the genders, I’ve been a huge fan of Parks and Rec not only because of its incredible wit, but because of how well it handles female empowerment through Leslie Knope (and other characters, April Ludgate being a prime example and Ann Perkins… Well, sometimes).

    In a show where you have an Empowered Female, dealing with relationships is sort of like slacklining over a pit of knives. She can come across as callous or aloof, possibly too career driven to actually enjoy herself (something that the HIMYM creators have almost fallen into with Robin Scherbatzky a few times), or she can come across as boy crazy and put her own interests on the back-burner, as Ann Perkins has done several times in Parks and Rec (and man, I am very happy she’s acknowledged this and is actively working to fix it, because for a show about female empowerment Ann’s character frequently confused me. But I guess to show the bright side of an issue the dark side has to be present as well?)

    The great thing about Leslie Knope is that she has never allowed her relationship with Ben to get in the way of her political ambition. You mentioned that you felt all this marriage coverage had put that in the background–you do remember that she just recently became City Councilwoman, right? She’s not going to immediately run for Mayor right after she takes office–she’s going to spend time doing her civic duty first. And her interpersonal drama with Councilman Jamm and the realization of how little power to affect change she actually has in her new role has been a running theme of this season.

    In fact she BROKE UP with Ben to run for City Council, and then realized that she didn’t have to pick between two worlds–she could allow herself to be happy WITHOUT it subverting her goals of representing women in an elected position. When Ben got the opportunity to be a campaign manager in Washington D.C. did Leslie pack her bags and move with him? No! She never allows herself to be defined by her relationship with Ben, and their relationship has stood in stark contrast to most of the relationships in the show (the only real parallel being, perhaps, Andy and April’s very empowered team-marriage, though Leslie and Ben couldn’t be further from April and Andy in terms of their personality).

    When Ben proposed to Leslie, she made him pause, saying that she “Need[ed] to remember every little thing about how perfect my life is right now.” She doesn’t just mean the fact that she was being proposed to by the second-greatest man in her life (Joe Biden missed the opportunity to swoop in and make his case), she means how this season has been the culmination of Leslie’s entire character arc. She’s won a seat on the city council, which she knows has a good chance of translating into future political office. She’s kept her job that she loves with the Parks department. She’s finally found a man who’s worthy of her and who can be a partner, an EQUAL with her for the rest of their lives. Perhaps the reason you think this season hasn’t been that exciting is the unfortunate fact that happy characters don’t often make for good television, but I personally think this season has been right up there with every season except the first as the best television has to offer.

    (Also, rather than a Pawnee Pike, or a raccoon, I think the proverbial shark would have to be Fairway Frank).

    • Ana says:

      I think bitch magazine made the same points you make. I still think the show is doing a great job, this season just hasn’t been my cup of tea. I think a switch in writers (loss of Chelsea peretti) makes a difference. I’m hoping the marriage will bring up difficult issues much in the way her dream job turned out not to be so dreamy.

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