Parks and Recreation

Tagged: TV

US tv series (2009-2015). NBC Universal, Deedle Dee, Fremulon, 3Arts, Schur Films, Universal Media Studios. Directed by Dean Holland, Tom McGill, Michael Schur and others. Written by Megan Amram, Aisha Muharrar, Matt Murray, Amy Poehler, Michael Schur, Jen Statsky, Harris Wittels, Alan Yang and others. Cast includes Aziz Ansari, Jim O'Heir, Aubrey Plaza, Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt and Adam Scott. 125 22-minute episodes.

Earnest civil servant Leslie Knope (Poehler) idolizes women in government and cherishes a dream of becoming the state governor. For now, she is working in the struggling Parks and Recreation department of the obscure town of Pawnee, Indiana. She is galvanized into greater action, in part, by the arrival of her love interest and eventual husband Ben Wyatt (Scott), a similarly driven fiscal policy specialist who also has ambitions in Politics.

Variations upon and extensions of the Slingshot Ending are not uncommon in American television. Six Feet Under (2001-2005) featured a finale that looked far into the future, to the days of its leading characters' deaths. Both Mad About You (1992-1999) and Will & Grace (1998-2006) ended with flash-forwards of twenty years or more, since contradicted in the latter's case by its own 2016 continuation. In a reversal of the trope, the entire series of How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014) was framed by a device in which the narrator tells the titular story in 2030. A throwaway scene at the end of season six of Parks and Recreation showed a glimpse of the characters' lives three years into the future, perhaps intended as a similar such moment of closure in case a seventh season was not commissioned. However, the production then ran with the Near Future angle for the entire final season, transforming from a mainstream comedy into a subtle work of speculative fiction.

Some of the world-building elements in the show's seventh season are little more than off-hand jokes – a restaurant business fails because of America's sudden and unexplained "beef crisis", and the Seattle Space Needle is no longer visible, because it has been enclosed in a Space Haystack. Others are more involved metatexts, such as a plot point that hinges on the release date of a then-unreleased Star Wars film, now known to have been Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015). A more compelling subplot, akin to that in Dave Eggers' novel The Circle (2013), features the rise of the friendly-faced media corporation GRYZZL, whose software engineers bestow holographic tablets and free internet access on the town, only to mine the data of all residents in order to target Advertising and political campaigns.

With its constant hymn to public service and championing of progressive causes, Parks and Recreation was plainly much-loved by US Democrats, to the extent that both Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama appear in cameos. Its final season should hence also be regarded in its historical context, as a document enmeshed inextricably in the issues, fears and hopes of the second Obama administration. In scenes remarkably prescient of the media circus around Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, Knope's public appearances are caught between the irreconcilable standards of feminists and conservatives, while Ben's attempt to play the political spouse lead to protests from a "men's rights" pressure group. A throwaway scene features two male supporting cast members getting married, a ceremony that only became legal in Indiana in October 2014. The then-governor, Mike Pence, had then been unsuccessfully seeking court action to prevent the state of Indiana from recognizing same-sex marriages from other states. Later scenes in the finale, "One Last Ride", reveal that Knope is twice elected to Pence's former gubernatorial post, but stops tantalizingly short of validating her Feminist credentials by making her the actual President. Instead, the last chronological scene shows her and her husband Ben being ushered away from a funeral by their security detail, suggesting that one of them is either President, or running for the position in the 2048 election. It is Ben, however, who is wearing a tell-tale American flag pin, suggesting that after all the show's championing of hot-button issues, its progressive, feminist lead might still have felt obliged to play second fiddle to her husband's career (see also Women in SF). [JonC]

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