Call me a little 2014, but I’m currently working my way through all 7 series of the American sitcom, Parks and Recreation, which now holds it’s place in my heart as my favourite sitcom ever. (I’ve just started S6, by the way – no spoilers please!) A spin-off mocumentary from the US Office – this time set in a governmental department – doesn’t sound like the perfect breeding ground for a barrel of laughs, but I assure you, it is. It’s funny. It’s witty. It’s nuanced. It’s loveable. It’s heartbreaking. Best of all, it passes the Bechdel test.
Lead character Leslie Knope is a bright eyed, optimistic, determined government employee who genuinely wants to make the world a better place in a mostly thankless, hurdle jumping career. Best of all, she’s quirky and flawed and super adorable. She even made me consider working for local government – that’s the power of a powerful female lead, for ya 🙂
Here’s why we should all strive to bring a little more Knope to whatever we’re doing.
1. Leslie’s immune to feeling disenfranchised
While this is a fictional comedy sitcom, the producers have gone to some effort to research what it’s actually like to work as a governmental employee. Leslie’s absolutely passionate about making her hometown, Pawnee in Indiana, a better place to live, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all roses. The citizens are obese, thankless, often don’t know what’s good for them, complain too much, and Leslie generally has to navigate the daft obstacles of government to actually make the political changes she wants to. Nevertheless, apart from a couple of episodes where the negativity towards her gets a bit much, she’s still committed to the cause, no matter what stupid fellow councilman (Jeremy Jam: “You just got Jammed”) or private sector opposition to introducing a soda tax (namely a fast-food chain with “child size” soda cups that weigh as much as a child, err, “if liquified”) stands in her way.
On a side note, one of my favourite episodes is Leslie accidentally marrying two male penguins at the local zoo, and coming under fire for taking a stance on gay marriage (eventually she enthusiastically defends marriage equality – woohoo).
“So, I transferred the penguins to a zoo in Iowa. Gay marriage is legal there so hopefully they’ll be happy.”
- Leslie loves her best friend Ann
Female co-workers can often be competitive – but not here. Leslie unabashedly loves her best friend Ann and compliments her frequently. Having a strong, longitudinal female relationship on the show where they actually talk about things other than boys *gasp*, like their career, lives and friends, is probably one of the reasons why the show passes the bechdel test. Examples of Leslie’s poetic compliments to Ann include:
“Ann, you beautiful tropical fish. You’re smart as a whip and you’re cool under pressure.”
“You’re Ann Perkins! Sperm that is worthy of your perfect eggs does not grow on trees.”
“I’ve said this to you before and I know it makes you uncomfortable, but you’re thoughtful, and you’re brilliant, and your ambiguous ethnic blend perfectly represents the dream of the American melting pot.”
The list continues.
- Leslie’s a complete weirdo
And I mean that in the most affectionate way possible. She falls down in a dramatic heap when she gets into trouble and is always doing something embarrassing whenever she runs into Councilman Houser. Thank goodness. I’m always being embarrassing.
As a side note, Amy Poehler once called vanity the “enemy of comedy”. Well, I think she’s sidestepped that one in Parks and Rec.
- Leslie’s ridiculously thoughtful
Christmas gift giving is a sport for Leslie. No matter which one of her apathetic/quirky/strange friends is the recipient, she always finds the perfect gift. She also logs enjoyable bonding experiences, both with Ann and husband Ben, into annual holidays and gives them a gift to mark these occasions – including the first time Leslie and Ann got a haircut together (August 13th – Haircut Day), and the first time she looked at Ben’s butt (January 8th, Butt Day). In return, the whole department give up their time to dedicate to Leslie’s campaign for office.
Leslie: Guys, it’s so much work. I can’t ask you to put your lives on hold.
Ron: Find one person here who you haven’t helped by putting your life on hold.
- Leslie is unapologetically herself
When Leslie sits down next to Ron and says “can I talk to you about something?” and he says “no”, she burdens him with her problems anyways. She annoys everyone until she gets what she wants – whether it’s permission to turn Lot 48 into a park, dragging the department on a team bonding/ideas camping retreat, or expressing anger/appreciation loudly in your face.
While in the first season her zealousness for government is seen as annoying by her fellow characters, later it’s clear that she is very popular and loved by her co-workers. She also makes it cool to care, even though she is depicted more geeky than traditionally cool.
“What I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.”
- Leslie has an impeccable work ethic.
Okay, so getting 3 1/2 hours sleep isn’t necessarily something we should all aspire to, but as someone who probably identifies more as a Type B Personality, I rather admire my ‘workaholic’ A counterparts.
But Leslie isn’t afraid to get her hands a little dirty. She’s just as comfortable cleaning up Pawnee’s rivers as she is in the Council Chambers, or planning her colleagues’ birthday/halloween/retirement parties. She also is quite happy doing all the above in one day. The very idea makes me sweat.
- Leslie will make you cry
- Leslie loves Belgian waffles
And who gets enough waffle goodness in their diet these days?! She also likes to put a ridiculous amount of cream on them (and in her coffee) without shame. It’s quite nice to have that quirk for a female character (not just picking at salad leaves) who is neither stick thin nor anywhere near obese. I would like to have breakfast waffles with Leslie Knope someday.
Since we’ve mentioned ‘thankless’ careers in this article, I’d like to sincerely thank the writers Michael Schur and Greg Daniels, in conjunction with Amy Poehler (who coincidentally also did some of the writing), for creating such am iconic character!
“Be the Leslie Knope of whatever you do.”
Are you pro-Knope? If you liked this article, enjoy more waffle-related content in the weekly Susty Girl newsletter.💗