Guest post by Shelby G.
Sitcom. Mockumentary. Political satire.
If this is how you’d pitched Parks and Recreation to me, I never would have watched it. As it is, it took six months of my best friend’s almost daily recommendations to convince me to start watching…and even then I didn’t like it.
Parks is filmed as a mockumentary, which, while wildly popular with fans of The Office, drove me nuts for an entire season; the shaky footage gave me headaches and the absence of a fourth wall felt about as comfortable as walking naked around a grocery store. But once I warmed to the style and realized its storytelling potential, the candid comments and dramatic looks into the camera were just too good to hate.
Parks & Rec follows Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) around her job as deputy director of Pawnee, Indiana’s Parks and Recreation department. If that sounds boring to you, I promise, it’s not. Leslie cares deeply about her job, so deeply that she plasters her office with pictures of inspiring female politicians and eat-sleeps-breathes the Pawnee parks department. You can’t help but love her. You also laugh at her, especially when she butts heads with her anti-government, libertarian boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), which is a lot.
Leslie and Ron aren’t the only loveable characters Parks has to offer. There’s also Leslie’s best friend Ann (Rashida Jones), Ann’s boyfriend Andy (Chris Pratt), and Leslie’s coworkers Tom, Jerry, Donna, and April, the apathetic intern who doubles as my spirit animal. Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) and Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) don’t arrive until the end of season two, but once they do, you’ll wonder how the show survived without them.
TV has gotten me through the worst times in my life. Flesh-and-blood people have played their roles, but fictional characters have always helped me in ways that real people cannot. Star Trek’s B’Elanna Torres got me through high school. Alias’s Irina Derevko challenged my dualistic thinking and prepared me for college by teaching me that the world isn’t black and white. Lost was my constant the summer before college, Fringe got me to write for the first time in months, and The X-Files helped me believe that the truth was still out there as I struggled through a faith crisis.
Maybe it’s silly to call fictional characters “family,” but that’s how Leslie and the parks department felt by the time I watched the finale. I started the show in a fragile state, three weeks after college graduation. I had no post-grad plans, lived days away from my best friends, and missed my department like an amputated arm. My body was home, but my heart wasn’t.
Parks didn’t erase my emotions, but it did help me work through them. It offered me a place to retreat when all my safe spaces were gone. It gave me a cast of characters I could love, jokes I could laugh at, and events I could cry over. Its familiar faces and quirky characters kept me afloat those first, angst-filled months of post-grad blues. In short, it gave me the stability I so desperately craved. So maybe calling fictional characters “family” is wrong. But if it is, I don’t want to be right.