I wasn’t sure how this year’s Parks & Rec would play out with most of season centered on Leslie Knope’s election bid for city council of Pawnee. It turns out that the outcome was especially important to Leslie, as Pawnee city law states that if there is a tie, a male candidate is elected and a woman candidate would be thrown in jail. This is consistent with Pawnee history, as faithful viewers know and love.
So stakes were high.
But more importantly, there was a brief moment in the season finale that cemented Leslie Knope as one of the great lead characters in sitcoms past or present. She steps into the voting booth, pauses, and then punches in her own name, with tears in her eyes as she realizes a dream, one that viewers have come to not just recognize but to feel along with her. We don’t get to see a character with this much bare sincerity on a comedy too often. There was no joke – except for Bobby Newport in the booth next door not comprehending how to vote – it was a character achieving a noble lifelong dream. I crossed my fingers that they would play this one straight, not having her accidentally mark in the porn star next to her name on the ballot… and then they followed through with purity to the character. Leslie Knope really deserved this moment, and so did we, for watching it build over the seasons.
The short scene sums up everything that the series has done right since its season two turnaround to establish Leslie Knope from an idiotic, ambitious, but clueless bureaucrat to an over-eager, over-earnest, sometimes wildly misguided, manically hardworking, and almost always well-intentioned political dreamer ready to risk and sacrifice to become a real politician: to serve the people, even the people of Pawnee, who have the most revolting manner of drinking from water fountains imaginable.
Amy Poehler and the writers make it work for real, and I was so happy to see such a genuine, private, moving moment from a character who we’ve previously seen steal and overdose on flu medicine to make a public candidacy appearance, get drunk on a practice first date and then show up at her date’s house drunk that same night, and get into a public brawl over Parker Posey’s snooty character feeding waffles to a dog to get it to poop.
Toward the end of the finale, I wasn’t sure that I cared whether she won or lost because she’d already proven herself to me one way or the other. She’d made the final turn around the corner from season one. Thank you Michael Shur (and maybe Greg Daniels) for writing the close of the campaign.
I don’t know where the show will take her now. I will miss the campaign, especially Paul Rudd’s Bobby Newport, the dim-witted, silver-spoon opponent, and Kathryn Hahn’s Jennifer Barkley, Newport’s ruthless, jaded careerist political advisor. It speaks to the writing of the show that both these characters sound despicable on paper but come off as borderline likable (though not sympathetic), and most certainly succeed as two wildly different but precise comedic foils for Leslie and her political passion.
In the end, I didn’t really care whether it was win, lose, or draw. I loved the finale, the pinnacle being a decidedly non-comic moment. Win.
How do I find a Leslie Knope to vote for in real life?