Comment Editor Emily Baldwin puts the spotlight on Parks and Recreation’s protagonist Leslie Knope, full of praise for her hardworking nature and persistent positivity
Forgive me for referencing the Millennial Bible just this once, but as someone who spent the early 2010s trying to get to grips with their identity through countless Buzzfeed Quizzes – it was a dark time for us all – there was always one face that came up, one character that truly appealed to me, and that was Leslie Knope.
Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is the driving character behind the popular 2010s sitcom Parks and Recreation. Serving as the ever-positive, obsessively organised, unstoppable force of the fictional Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department, Leslie is the epitome of optimism, commitment and grass-roots pride. Leslie consistently tries to make the town a better place, regardless of the realistically small level of power she has to do so.
If COVID-19 taught us anything, it is the importance of community initiatives and caring for those around us. It is in this light that Leslie Knope becomes the true embodiment of the incredible individuals that make our towns better. Dressed mainly in sensible business-casual suits and often found gorging on sweet treats, Leslie’s character is one that can be found in the small community halls, rented at 40% of the public rate, decorated with fold-up chairs and made more appealing through a small table of Tesco-value rich teas and bourbon biscuits up and down the country. You can almost imagine her setting up shop outside The Guild on a bitterly cold day and encouraging students to register to vote, volunteer at the food bank and donate the coats they are already wearing, all while completing paperwork of her own. Leslie is undeniably committed to raising up her team, organising her limited budget and sticking to her own values.
Leslie Knope is unapologetically intelligent, prepared and individual. I love how this is both a positive strength of her character and a true point of humour. As someone that over-commits to work, studies and extracurriculars, I know how ridiculous my schedule can appear to others and I love how she embodies this. She is so self-assured, powerful and committed, and the way the other characters bounce off of this incredible ball of incomparable energy is a creator of real comedy. Her relationship with her boss, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) – an unemotive, government-hating, libertarian – creates laugh-out-loud moments of complete dichotomy. Similarly, in earlier seasons, her unrelenting support for an unenthusiastic, uninterested college intern, and later employee, April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) create fantastic comical moments. Leslie is such an over-the-top character, and Amy Poehler such a comedian, that her existence within any scene commands comedy merely through characterisation alone. Watching the opening episode, where she dramatically falls into an open dirt pit, is a fail-safe way to garner laughs. She is so extreme, so annoyingly dedicated, and so truly Leslie that her character is funny before the jokes are even added.
Now, Leslie has suffered the ‘girlboss’ treatment in recent years, and many may be quick to retract praise due to the way in which she overworks, and the celebration of her lack of sleep and unyielding positivity is not one that I would like to add to. However, the satirical tone of Parks and Recreation successfully highlights the issues of local government, community building, acknowledging troubled histories and contemporary politics. Leslie serves as a reminder that behind closed doors, in the nooks and crannies of local councils, charitable organisations and non-profit groups, there are individuals tirelessly working away to make our lives better within the bureaucratic, neo-liberal systems trying to make that harder.
Leslie Knope, as Vox put it, is a truly ‘nice’ character. Now, this may not be the adjective you expect to describe your favourite TV show character – I know my Year 5 teacher who banned the term for being undescriptive would hate it – but for a show about small-town life in the constantly evolving post-modern world we live in, ‘nice’ is sometimes all that you want. She is the embodiment of trying to make things better with what you have. For many, including myself, she is a source of pride, comedy and reassurance that good people exist.
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