Jump Right In (the one about Parks and Rec)

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. I love to write, and I love to talk. I love to do both of these things in detail on pretty much any subject. I’m sure this is not surprising to those of you reading this since any followers I do have at this point are people I already know. But here’s the thing, with the writing and the talking. The whole introduction or smooth conversational transition to what I want to talk about? yeah I’m not so great at that. So when I sat down to write my very first blog post my first thought was not “what am I going to write about” but rather “how am I going to write an introduction post?”After much thought (let’s be real it was like 10 seconds of thought) I decided I wouldn’t write one at all.  Instead I’m just going to jump right in (ahh the clever reiterating the title of your blog in the blog trick!) and write about a topic I really love…television.

If you follow me on facebook (and I hope you do) chances are on any given Thursday night you will see a post from me gushing about how much I love the show Parks and Recreation. Parks and Rec is a show created by Greg Daniels and Mike Schur (they also created The Office) starring Amy Poehler. It follows a woman in local government named Leslie Knope (Poehler) who is the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department in Pawnee Indiana. What started as an Office like comedy that I didn’t even watch in Season One has slowly evolved into the sweetest/funniest/warmest show on television in the fourth season. Seriously if you aren’t watching this show stop reading right now and go catch up with it (seasons 1-3 are on Netflix instant) and then come back to continue reading. Parks and Rec also boasts the best portrayal of female friendship I have ever seen on television. No I’m not being hyperbolic. It’s true.

I watch a lot of tv. Most of the female friendships on tv suffer from 2 main problems. One is what I call the tell and not show problem. Think of the show Gilmore Girls (a show I also LOVE by the way so no mean comments). Rory is supposed to best friends with Lane and in the first season, sure I could buy that, (although the friendship in that season did suffer from the second main problem which I’ll get to in a minute). However, by the end of the series could we really call what those girls had a friendship? We had hardly any scenes where Rory would tell Lane what was going on in her life and most of the ways we saw Lane’s life change were almost completely separate from Rory’s story-lines.  And yet the show kept having characters hammer home how these two girls were “best friends” and so close, and shared everything. Really? Because I talk to my best friends almost everyday. If AJ didn’t hear from my own mouth I bungee jumped off a bridge wearing early 19th century clothing holding hands with a cute boy who wasn’t my current boyfriend she would have a conniption                      “Before we jump Logan, I have to call Lane!”

This tell and not show problem effects many shows, some I watch and love and some that I casually view. (here’s just a brief list off the top of my head: Summer and Marissa on The OC, Elena and Bonnie on The Vampire Diaries, Blair and Serena on Gossip Girl, Beckett and Lanie on Castle, in the later seasons Lily and Robin on How I Met Your Mother, and all the girls from Friends) That is just a brief list. I’m sure there are more.

The second issue most shows have with portraying female friendship is summed up with the phrase The Bechdel Test. This is a test where you see if any popular entertainment has more than one women in the cast that could be called leads. The next question is does this show put these two women in a scene together? The final question is do these women talk about anything other than the men in their lives while in that scene? If the answer to any of these questions is no the medium in question has failed the Bechdel Test. Just look at the brief list I made in the last paragraph and if you watched any of those shows try to remember some of those women’s scenes. How many of them would pass the last question in the Bechdel test? Honestly? very few. Early seasons of Lily and Robin I think pass, and I guess Lanie and Beckett do sometimes although honestly the times they aren’t talking about their relationships is time they are talking about whatever case on which they are working. But going back to Lane and Rory, even in season one most of their scenes revolved around Rory liking Dean and Lane trying to go on dates with non Korean boys without her mother finding out.

I’m not going to pretend that when I get together with my friends we don’t talk about men. We absolutely do. However, I feel pretty confident in saying that more of our conversations cover things besides the men that walk in and out of our lives. We talk about books, tv, politics, music, and our jobs. Television does a disservice to us when it portrays what is supposed to be a representation of our deepest friendships as an hour long discussion about what a man said to us right before we met up. That’s why Parks and Rec is such a wonderful show (see it came back around).

Leslie Knope is best friends with Ann Perkins (played by Rashida Jones). Until season 3 Leslie did not have a boyfriend that was long term enough to be more than a guest star. Ann was the most important interpersonal relationship in her life. Their scenes together are warm and lovely. They talk about work pressure, their friendship, and yes relationships. But the relationships part is just that, one part of their deep friendship and love they have for each other. When I watch their scenes I could be watching a conversation I had with anyone of my close friends. And what is truly the best part? The show makes no comment about their friendship being so special. It is presented as what it is…normal.

See? How cute are they!

Even when Leslie began a serious relationship with someone her friendship with Ann was still a huge priority in her life. Most shows present how the main character’s best friend fits into the relationship begun between the male and female leads. Parks and Rec has Ben Wyatt (played by the oh so handsome Adam Scott) reach out to Ann to help fix a fight she has had with Leslie. He knows that the best way to make the girl he likes happy is to be a support in her friendships. This should not be groundbreaking television, but it is! In how many shows have we seen a girl start dating a guy and immediately the number of scenes with the best friend decrease significantly? And even when they are in the same scene the discussion is all about the lead’s relationship!

My point in all of this? (sorry to be so long winded) Parks and Recreation does not have the highest ratings. While it is critically adored it’s numbers are never very high. I wish more women would get behind shows like this and not watch other crap that presents us in a much more shallow light. I hope that someday a strong well written female friendship will be the norm on network television. I think one way that this can happen is by shows like Parks and Rec having success. So, if you watch the show, keep watching, and tell a friend to watch too. If you don’t watch start watching! Let’s support healthy portrayals of women on television. God knows there are enough unhealthy ones out there to last us a lifetime.

End note: Here are some of my healthy female friendships. Love you girls!

Posted in: TV

2 thoughts on “Jump Right In (the one about Parks and Rec)

  1. Amanda B says:

    Very well written Janelle! I have been trying to think of another show that has a tighter, functional friendship than Leslie and Ann, but I can’t think of one. Can’t wait until Parks and Rec is back!

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