Parks & Recreation: I’m Leslie Knope

Written by Hunter Phillips on . Posted in TV

Well, what would you have done?

Leslie was faced with an incredible decision in the final moments of season three— run for city council? Or stay together with Ben? Nobody in their right mind would have thought her to try to have it both ways (this is the noble Leslie Knope, after all), but nonetheless her decision was a heartbreaking one. Even though she and Ben ended things amicably, and of course in their own dorky-cute way, this won’t be the end of this conflict. Not by a long shot.

It’s hard to choose between love and dreams. It’s even more difficult when both options are synonymous. Leslie may have chosen her political ambitions tonight, but she’ll likely spend much of this season wondering what could have been with Ben. On the same note, will the period of time that the pair dated secretly ever come to light? If so, the consequences and scandal will be equally large for Leslie.

This could be the beginning of the season that finally gets Parks and Recreation the respect it deserves. Anyone who wrote the show off as an Office clone early on owes it to themselves to give it a second chance now. None of those people would confuse Leslie Knope for Michael Scott anymore. Leslie has become one of the strongest female characters on television, a representative of hope and optimism in a TV landscape where being female isn’t a flattering prospect (this being even more true in a pilot season filled with tired female stereotypes). Her political aspirations may have seemed silly in season one, but now, they’re quickly becoming a reality, and the Parks crew has made it as believable and potentially poignant as any story arc.

Andy is facing a challenge similar to Leslie’s in tonight’s episode. He’s realized that shoe shining is far from a sustainable lifestyle, especially if he is to meet his 5-year plan of being the biggest rock star on the planet. Luckily, April has already jumped into the manager role, acting not so much as a manager for MouseRat, but as a “life manager” of sorts for Andy. When offered a job at Tom’s Entertainment 7Twenty enterprise (which apparently exists solely to put logos on items, but not even that officially), April savvily volunteers her husband to be Leslie’s assistant. Andy’s movin’ on up.

Elsewhere, another scandal has hit City Hall. A picture message of a penis has been spread to all the women in government, an obvious dig at this summer’s Anthony Weiner scandal. The subplot is slight, but has some winning moments, including Chris’s ever-increasing seriousness about the rampage of penises. Also noteworthy are winning turns from Sewage Joe (whose firing is hopefully temporary) and Ann, whose eventual apathy to the number of explicit texts on her phone. Of course, this subplot lent itself to the most wonderful revelation of the night— Jerry’s one true gift in life, and a sweet victory for him. Or, as the doctor put it, Jerry has “the largest penis…I have…ever…seen.”

The premiere went out of its way to give us some of the show’s strongest relationship, that between Leslie and Ron. After taking his 228 accumulated personal days upon the mention of Tammy 1, Ron executes his brilliantly hysterical emergency escape plan from City Hall and flees to his cabin. Leslie, too, runs from her problem with Ben to consult with Ron, and their conversation is one of the more moving ones Parks has ever done. Just as Leslie has been developed, so has this bond between her and her boss. Ron would never have allowed Leslie to talk to him about personal issues in those first episodes, but here he is, not only listening, but following her advice and returning to Pawnee to confront Tammy 1. It still may seem crazy for the headstrong Ron, but she is Leslie F***ing Knope, after all.

Leslie and Ben also share an incredible scene during their breakup. Adam Scott and Amy Poehler deserve endless praise for the manner in which they play this emotional moment for the show. Ben’s simple show of support for Leslie, with his custom made “Knope 2012″ button, expresses more love to her than any number of their make out sessions could—or, of course, an L-shaped eclair. Leslie will win her election—here’s to hoping that Ben’s still around when she’s finished.

Parks is, simply, a wonderful show that can mine beautiful moments out of almost any combination of characters. It’s a joy to be able to return to Pawnee after the summer break, and this world beginning to feel like one of those timeless sitcom places, like Springfield, or Jerry’s apartment, or Cheers. It’s a place where, for one half-hour a week, we get to be immersed in a world of happiness and optimism that can’t be found elsewhere on TV. What other show could pull off scenes like Leslie and Ron’s heart-to-heart, and transition straight into a meeting about an inbox full of penises? Parks has risen completely from The Office’s shadow, and in many ways, has even surpassed its big brother.

That’s the power of Leslie F***ing Knope.

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