This feature is part of our Politics and Entertainment week, looking at the points where art and issues overlap.
Parks and Recreation is a show about friendship, community, feminism, love, family and of course, politics. It’s the politics that, unfairly, sometimes gets lost when we reminisce about the best Ron Swanson one-liners or when fans swap Leslie Knope feminist memes on Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, Pyramids of Greatness and listicles chronicling every time Amy Poehler’s character shut down sexism on the show are great, but in a time when our political system has morphed into a bad reality TV show, we need a reminder of the power government has to affect positive change and to unite people, not divide them. We need a lesson in diplomacy done right. We need Parks and Rec.
In Pawnee, politics often fuels the storylines – from Leslie’s tireless battle to turn the pit beside best friend Ann Perkins’ house into a beautiful new park to her run for city council, her fight against giant tech corporations and sugar monopolies like Sweetums, her husband’s campaign for mayor and her eventual turn at the White House. Politics is in Leslie Knope’s blood, and therefore the show’s. It’s easy to forget that now, especially when any mention of the “P” word immediately unearths feelings of dread, disappointment and, often, downright anger. Politics is a charged topic in the current climate and the state of this year’s presidential race, which is why it’s more important than ever to recognize the political message Parks and Rec attempted to convey through seven seasons of brilliant comedy.
At the Patton Oswalt-hosted PaleyFest panel in 2014, co-creator Michael Schur explained how politics fueled relationships on the show, specifically between two polar opposites like Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope. “In very broad strokes, Republicans and Democrats in this country simply don’t talk to each other and they don’t try to fix problems,” Schur said. “The sort of cynicism of government, I think in my opinion, is worse than it’s ever been. And we just wanted to say one guy could have a set of extremely fervent beliefs that run completely counter to the beliefs of his coworker and they can still just get along and respect each other and admire each other and find things in common and they can sit down and have a glass of whiskey together at the end of a long night.”