We're two months in to 2015, and the smell of change is as musty as Andy Dwyer's sock drawer. An all-female Ghostbusters team has been announced. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the satirical comedic beacons of a generation's world news, are leaving their desks at Comedy Central. Breaking Bad's prequel, Better Call Saul, has been a predictable hit - and that's a big plus after the show's epic ending. Friends is back on Netflix, hooking a new generation (and us older folks, re-watching with a giant tupperware bowl of ice cream) to it's gigantic fold. Shows that made up entire decades of our lives are gone.
Tomorrow, [Parks and Recreation](series:214218) will join the long list of shows and assorted wonderful things that are ending this year. While Parks & Rec didn't last for a decade, or even gain the popularity of other shows that my generation idolizes, the stories and characters have made a lasting impression on every single one of it's viewers.
I first watched Parks and Recreation on the plane trip back from last year's New York Comic-Con, so you could certainly say that I didn't have a lot of time to "grow" with the show - but for over six years, this completely underrated comedy has been powering through low ratings and naysayers.
For the span of the past season, loose ends and character arcs slowly came to an end. April made a life-changing decision, and the once blindly selfish Andy dumped everything he had (including an extremely successful children's TV show) to support her. Leslie and Ron went head-to-head, then resolved their problems by realizing the strength of their friendship, and using that to secure an outcome that they were both happy with. We watched the marriage of the notorious Donna Meagle and Tom's personal growth with a new lady love.
Every character on the show had an arc of personal growth (though, arguably, Jerry/Terry/Larry/Gary only had a bunch of name changes, and was a swell but smelly guy from the start, but even he has changed) but it was the show's protagonist, Leslie Knope, that obviously showed the most change.
She has grown so much from the unsure, brash, but well-meaning community leader that we were first introduced to in the show's pilot. She has learned how to forge friendships with former enemies, and manage partnerships with those who still attempt to bring her down. Leslie Knope, the once angry and childish Biden admirer became a collected, loving, selfless leader (and Biden admirer). She keeps her promises, challenges the norm, and makes admirers out of folks who would otherwise hate her.
It is hard to find a Parks & Rec fan that hasn't been inspired or affected by Amy Poehler's vivacious and strong Leslie. For this writer, personally, Leslie's courage and confidence has broken down barriers and eased me in to the idea of getting older.
Screwing up, learning, and doing things right the next time served as a hard lesson for Leslie; watching her break through it as a strong and inspired leader has helped me overcome my fears tremendously. Seeing Leslie mess up and fall face-first on to a stage in the middle of an ice rink was part of what kept me pushing forward when it came to hosting and public speaking.
Experiencing the love, laughter and heartfelt hijinks that the staff of Pawnee's parks department gets themselves in to has made it easier to slowly move toward the end of the third decade of my life - with huge goals for who I want to be by the fourth, and the confidence I need to know that I can do it.
Along with the fiery confidence and a newfound sense of self-respect, I think the best thing Leslie Knope offered to viewers was her sense of compassion. We do not live in a kind world, and even the best of us turn a blind eye to situations that we might feel we have no power to change. Leslie Knope challenged that right off the bat by taking on the pit project - an endeavor that was way beyond her level of experience at the time - in order to make a complete stranger happy.
Time and time again, Leslie took on the problems of people who otherwise hated her. Yes, of course she wanted those people to learn that she deserved respect, but Leslie dug holes, planted trees, and helped give new life to downtrodden Pawnee neighborhoods because she wanted to make people happy. Leslie Knope's endeavors were not always the most noble, but with each victory she found a way to sprinkle some extra joy on top.
One of my favorite examples of this was the Pawnee Goddesses episode, where a jealous Leslie starts her own all-girl scout group after Ron denies girls from the Pawnee Rangers. Ron's Rangers (along with Andy Dwyer) prefer the fun that Leslie's troop has over their own and become Goddesses themselves (tiaras and fanfare included). It's a great episode that supports self expression regardless of gender, but the end sticks with me in particular.
Leslie, who rightly feels like a jerk for practically stealing Ron's Rangers and co-leader, puts together a group of girls and boys interested in building things with wood, silence, and hard work. She call them The Swansons and apologizes for being rude to Ron just to prove a point - and Ron, delighted with the idea of kids who don't like noise, stands to command his new squadron.
So, one shouldn't be as selfish as Leslie can sometimes be, but Leslie's selfishness so often falls to the wayside because of her need to see other people smiling. Leslie thrives off of being not just a leader, but a good one. In her endeavors, she breaks rules and pulls off insane stunts; sometimes, she fails and has to recuperate in order to score a victory that doesn't come until half a season later. But Leslie's determination to see the citizens of Pawnee happy doesn't know limitations, and she doesn't recognize the idea of giving up.
Beyond being an inspiration to her co-workers and peers on the show, Leslie Knope has personally taught me what it's like to grow up and take the world head-on. It's okay to be an adult who oozes courage, but also loves breakfast food. It's okay to be weird, and being weird won't hold you back from accomplishing great things. In fact, sometimes, it helps.
Tonight I say goodbye to one of the weirdest fictional mentors I've ever had, and it's going to be a hard one. But with the closure of the last few episodes and the courage of Leslie Knope (Political Leader, Archer Goddess, and Matron Saint of Galentine's Day) I think, in the end, everything will be okay.