Was it really ten years ago that the world was first introduced to the residents of Pawnee, Indiana? Ten years ago, we’d never heard of Galentine’s Day or Little Sebastian or “treating yo self.” We had not fallen in love with Ron Swanson’s mustache or April Ludgate’s death stare or the wonderful puppy dog of a person that is Andy Dwyer. We didn’t even know that everything is Jerry’s fault. All we knew, in April of 2009, was that the blonde lady from Saturday Night Live was starring in a new show that was kind of like The Office but was set in a parks department. It was called Parks and Recreation, and its first episode was airing April 9, 2009.
Fast forward a decade, and we’re all pretty familiar with Parks and Rec. If you haven’t seen it (and you definitely should!), you’re probably familiar with the memes—“Give me all the bacon and eggs that you have”—or at least the actors. I mean, Chris Pratt? Star-Lord? The Jurassic Park guy? One of the most famous human beings on earth? On top of all that, even though the show’s finale aired a few years ago, we never really had to say goodbye to Leslie Knope and company. Streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon have made it possible to watch and re-watch the show “literally” (to be read in Chris Traeger’s voice) all the time. Seriously, Parks and Rec was one of the top three most watched shows on Netflix in 2018.
A few weeks ago, the cast and creator of Parks and Rec reunited at PaleyFest to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the show. At one point during their panel, the show’s creator, Mike Schur, was asked about the possibility of a revival, and while he didn’t dismiss the idea outright, he did say they’d only do it “if we all felt like there was something compelling us to do it.” “I felt the show had an argument to make,” he explained, “and the argument was about teamwork and friendship. I don’t feel like we left anything on the table.”
If you’re looking for a new prayer, a good one might be, Lord, make me more like Leslie Knope.
I was really struck by that response. On one hand, as a Parks and Rec fan, I would be overjoyed to see all of those funny, lovable people be funny and loveable again. Plus, Parks and Rec is a show about politics, and in our current political turmoil, we could use a dose of Leslie Knope positivity. But on the other hand, I think Schur is right. We don’t need new episodes to help us navigate the world of 2019. The themes and messages of Parks and Rec that were relevant in 2009 are just as relevant today.
So, in honor of its tenth anniversary, let’s look at three lessons from Parks and Rec that we could still stand to learn in 2019.
1. Community is difficult, awkward, rewarding and possible.
From the very beginning, Parks and Rec had more on its mind than just comedy. Obviously, we’re supposed to laugh at the outlandishness of the characters, but there’s more to it than that. In many ways, the show is a love letter to community. Leslie and Ron could not be more diametrically opposed, in worldview or in temperament. They bicker and disagree constantly. And yet, they care about each other deeply. They seek out common ground and continue to move forward. For seven seasons, Parks and Rec was a picture of very different people coming together in service of a shared cause. More than that, it was a reminder that such a thing is feasible. People as dissimilar as Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle can be friends. The Ben Wyatts and April Ludgates of the world can work together. Again and again, Parks and Rec showed us that community can happen.
2. Do what is right, regardless of pushback or apathy.
Where most political shows tend to focus on the lack of morals in politics (House of Cards, Veep, etc.), Parks and Rec went a different route. Leslie Knope is a politician, yes, but she is unabashedly committed to following her moral convictions. In a world of indifference, she cares. In a town hall filled with corrupt or lazy officials, with citizens who reject any type of change, and aided by a frequent hapless and ill-equipped staff, Leslie pushes on. That’s pretty inspiring. In the current television landscape, amidst the anti-heroes and satirical political commentary, you don’t see this kind of earnestness very often. And why does Leslie keep at it? Even when it’s thankless and demoralizing? Because she loves Pawnee, Indiana. If you’re looking for a new prayer, a good one might be, Lord, make me more like Leslie Knope.
A lot of sitcoms don’t dare to hope. Because that’s not the point, right? Sitcoms look at the world ironically, finding humor in the flaws. The characters in Arrested Development or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are funny because they are so unlikeable. It’s funnier when things go wrong than when things go right. But again, Parks and Rec is not your average show. More than maybe any other comedy I’ve seen, Parks and Rec is about hope—hopes dashed or unmet or slightly met or re-examined, but never, ever given up on. The characters in the show really believe that they can make a difference, and they actually succeed.
That’s kind of the thesis for the show, if there is one: keep hoping, because good things are only to be accomplished if we have hope. What an important message that is, not just for 2019, but for any time, for all time. So, happy tenth anniversary, Parks and Rec! I wish you all the bacon and eggs that you can eat.