I'm guessing most of you won't care, but this entry contains mild spoilers for the TV series Parks and Recreation.
Thursday nights are when the anime club I've attended for eleven-some years holds its meetings, and so for one third of my life(!), most of my Thursdays have been spoken-for. This Thursday is one time where I'm glad that I've already watched all of the series we're watching in anime club, though, because I know my mind will be elsewhere, looking forward to coming home and watching the season premiere of Parks and Recreation.
I don't watch a lot of live-action American television series. It's not so much that I dislike domestic TV, but I'm so invested in anime that I have very little time left-over to spend on it. It actually took me a good three years to finally decide to commit a chunk of free time to the show, and that was after months of hearing friends and internet acquaintances alike quote the series at length and recommend it to me several times. This is essentially the same scenario which got me to pick up the "A Song of Ice and Fire" novel series, and like those books I found myself very quickly drawn in to the fandom surrounding the fictional world and characters of Parks and Recreation.
The show doesn't really sound like much on paper. It follows the "adventures" of a small-time city bureaucrat named Leslie Knope, who despite not having a whole lot of clout within her local government does her best to improve various aspects of the (fictional) city of Pawnee, Indiana. As an official of the Parks and Recreation department, Leslie doesn't always realize that her projects are often the lowest-of-the-low priority in terms of importance and budgetary allotment, but she always dedicates her energy fully to them anyway.
What I like about the show in general is that its tone differs quite a bit from what I'm used to seeing on television. I find that a lot of sit-com humor is based around insult, alienation, and character (and social) clichés. This doesn't surprise me, because these things are easy to write; featuring an over-the-top caricature of someone (who most people who consider themselves "mainstream" would be able to poke fun at) is a simple way to garner laughs from a wide audience. This, to me, is the type of humor that defines shows like Big Bang Theory, which despite including a lot of scientific, mathematical, and geek culture humor is written to appeal to a mainstream viewing audience. Parks, on the other hand, seems to prioritize different things including the evolution of its characters, the idea that positive thinking and action are useful behaviors, and the notion that value of friendship overrides that of workaday drudgery (but not always breakfast food, naturally). This might sound like incredibly sappy, feel-good fluff, but I find that, for me as a viewer, the good-natured undercurrent has helped me to form a great appreciation for the show's writing, which is clever and funny and reliant on investment in the various characters' lives and their goals.
The major reason for my passionate investment in the show, however, is that I absolutely love the main character, Leslie Knope. I spend a lot of time in this space talking about the women of anime who do a good job of disproving the notion that female characters are just there for the titillation of heterosexual male fans, but I have to say that, as many interesting female characters as there are in anime, I still don't feel like there are very many to whom I would want to or could aspire to be. Leslie fills that gap for me in a way that no other character has really managed to do. The biggest factor here isn't really the fact that she holds a government position, nor the fact that she's smart and driven to succeed (although those things certainly do play a part). What really hits home for me is that Leslie is quirky and that she sometimes makes mistakes (well-meaning though they may often be), but that those around her still respect her. I think there's a tendency for "feminist" characters to be shown either behaving in wholly misguided, cartoonish ways or to be almost too perfect to emulate, but Leslie is a more realistic portrait of an idealist. She wants the best for her city and her friends, and they in turn want to work harder for her even when she makes beginner mistakes or occasionally follows her heart at the expense of her head. There's a humanity to the character that really shines.
As a bonus, the series is one of few that features several supportive friendships between women. The TV standard, I've noticed, is to pit women against one-another by having them fight over romantic or career-related prospects, or be overly-critical to one-another regarding looks or fashion sense, but the relationships in this series are, for the most part, very supportive. Leslie encourages her friends to reach beyond themselves; she helps her best friend Ann interview for a job at city hall that she may have not otherwise considered, and continues to offer opportunities for snarky office assistant April to move upwards and put to work the talents that she's often been loath to acknowledge. Yes, the women in the show do sometimes disagree with one-another; Ann in particular knows Leslie well enough to point out when she's making poor decisions. However, these instances exist from a place of mutual support rather than one of petty sabotage.
It's rare to watch something and think "I believe these characters have earned every bit of happiness that they get," but as season four's primary story arc wrapped up with Leslie winning a hard-fought city council election, it would have been difficult for me to think anything else. I'm not generally one to get super fannish about anything, but this show has earned the greatest extent of my devotion. I've been anticipating the season premiere for weeks, and I'll probably be watching it the moment I get home tonight. I have very few illusions that the series will continue for much longer - its consistently low ratings always seem to put it dangerously close to the chopping block and I've made peace with the fact that this season may be the last - but I certainly hope that I'll get to watch new episodes for several more years.
If not, I suppose there's always anime.