One of them was “Smallest Park.”
Okay, so I never knew that Nicole Holofcener directed it. She’s one of my absolute favorite filmmakers — Friends with Money is one of the only times I’ve ever actually enjoyed Jennifer Aniston, and Please Give is just so damn perfect — and one of the reasons she’s one of my favorites is because she has this way of telling stories about women without reducing them to stereotypes of any kind. So naturally, she’s a perfect fit for Parks, which, at its core, is really about the ladies. She’d previously directed the episode “Eagleton,” which is another one of my favorites (because of REASONS and they’re all named Parker Posey), and that was a perfect episode for her because it was, once again, mostly about relationships between grown-ass women.
But “Smallest Park,” I think, is on my top five episodes list, because it is about a grown-ass woman dealing with actual issues in a grown-ass way.
Look, I know people tend to think that Leslie Knope is a little bit of an idealized character, and this past season she did get a little too perfect at times. It can get really irritating when you have a fictional character who just never seems to fail at anything. But what I love about this episode is that both Ben and Ann call Leslie on her flaws, and after she gets (understandably) defensive about it, she then realizes they’re right and is like, “Well, how do I fix this?” Because Leslie totally steamrolls people into going along with her plans, no matter how misguided, and even though they usually work out, this episode made it clear that everybody else is super annoyed by it nonetheless. Leslie made Ann watch all eight Harry Potter movies and eat an entire cheesecake at a party so she didn’t look bad! The catharsis of that scene, where Ann calls Leslie out with this kind of supportive and loving but pained frustration, was so good, because you rarely see sitcom characters interacting like grown-ups. And the fact that Leslie realized Ann was right and didn’t immediately set out to prove her wrong was so refreshing, because in any other show, that’s exactly what would’ve happened.
Oh, and the final scene between Ben and Leslie? You know, where Leslie admits that she’s been a domineering ass and that Ben should feel free to avoid her if it makes their breakup easier for him, and then offers a third option, that they should just say screw it and be together anyway? There is nothing about that scene that I don’t love. Nothing. Because once again, it’s two adults talking out their issues in a way that doesn’t seem boring and like you’re sitting in on couples’ therapy. There are still huge stakes at play in that scene! But it’s not cheaply done! It’s so smart and so well-written, and how awesome is it to see a woman be the one laying it all on the line for a (really good) guy? When they kiss, it’s cathartic again, and even better, it feels earned.
Look, I’m sorry, I know it’s silly to be sitting here gushing over an episode of TV that aired eight months ago. But when I was just watching it, it really struck me how rare a pairing like this is on TV — one where both parties are rational adults who can talk out their problems, but you’re still invested in them. You’re rooting for them to be happy together not just because they’re played by pretty actors or whatever, but because you feel like they’ve earned it. That alchemy is so hard to explain and it’s even harder to achieve, and it’s one of the main reason I love Parks. I loved Friday Night Lights for the same reason, and I really think Ben and Leslie are very similar to Eric and Tami Taylor. And more than anything, I wish there were more pairings like that and fewer couples where the man’s always rolling his eyes as his wife yammers on about nothing. It’s easy to say there’s nothing compelling about functional relationships, but I think they can be more interesting than anything else, when they’re written this well.
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- heartfelt-handwritten said: I rather enjoyed this insightful rant about my favorite TV show! You rock!
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- galentines said: oh god i love this because yes. i like that parks always remembers to make leslie a real woman in the end, and yeah she gets a little zany and controlling and silly, but she’s human and learns from her mistakes and becomes better from them.
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