As any fan of NBC's Parks and Recreation knows, Leslie Knope is a woman of bounding energy, an open heart, and stubborn fortitude. She's also a woman who will go down in history as one of the most memorable television of characters of all time — all the more reason that television won't be the same without her when Parks and Recreationcloses its final season. So, as Parks and Recreation is currently airing its remaining episodes on NBC there's no better time than the present to commemorate the amazing character that Amy Poehler, Mike Schur, and the rest of the Parks & Rec cast and crew built.
It's pretty widely accepted that the loss of Parks and Recreation is a bittersweet one. On one hand, the show's gotten a very respectable run and no one wants to see it end up drag on past its time like certain comedies that will not be named did. On the other hand, the world of Pawnee and the one woman at the center of our experiences there will be sorely missed — in part because of just how great a character that woman has been.
Hollywood often forgets that when we say television and film need "strong" female characters, we don't necessarily mean the badass fighter-types who refuse to show emotion — we mean characters like Leslie Knope. Complex women, whom we can follow as they navigate their lives. They don't need to all be earnest go-getters with hearts of gold, of course — but, this particular earnest go-getter with a heart of gold? She's gonna be remembered long after Parks and Recreation's final episode airs, and that will, in part, be due to these elements that make up who Leslie Knope is to us.
As Alan Sepinwall put it in a review of the episode that finally saw Leslie Knope elected into a public office:
I watch too many other TV series...who spend a lot of time telling you why certain characters are awesome, then fail to adequately show you. With Leslie, Parks shows you, again and again and again.
An Unrelenting Optimism
Leslie Knope entered the scene in 2009, during a time when things were looking pretty bleak in America economically. Leslie was no stranger to this; her own department would deal with drastic budget cuts by the end of Season 2. But she was a bright spot in the wreckage, determined to not let seeming futility keep her from doing her part for her community and in pursuit of her political dreams.
As The Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg noted, one of the most futuristic aspects of Parks and Rec is the notion that you really can "have it all." She's been knocked down multiple times along the way, of course, but that's the thing about Leslie Knope: She can be impeached from her dream job and get back up again; she can fight with one of her best friends for almost three years and then go right back to actively loving him into oblivion. She's got an energy that, when harnessed effectively, she can move mountains with. In a political atmosphere that can feel unceasing in its stubbornness, Leslie has served as a nice rebuttal by butting up against that system and pushing through or past it to her bright future no matter what.
An Unflagging Belief In Herself
This goes very much hand-in-hand with her optimism, but Leslie's sense of self was a refreshing and useful contrast to the flailings of 30 Rock's Liz Lemon. Both will go down as two of NBC's most important leading ladies, and both deserve that legacy. But, just as Liz Lemon helped teach the women watching that it was OK to own your flaws, Leslie helped affirm that it was OK to love yourself and your life publicly and loudly — from your friends and your work to your own ambition and desire. Leslie Knope knows who she is, and has stayed loyal to that since her writers really figured out what made her tick going into Season 2.
She's Rash, Intense, & Not Always Easy to Love
Imagine being Leslie Knope's friend in real life. It would obviously have its perks (the best presents ever, more love than you've ever felt in your life), but I guarantee you it would also be damn exhausting. Leslie isn't without her faults — as husband Ben Wyatt put it, "sometimes when we disagree, you're so passionate I feel like I'm arguing with the sun."
The very unceasingness of Leslie Knope isn't always a plus: Sometimes she's wrong, or sometimes she's just so pit against a problem that she doesn't see the full picture. She very much fits into what New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum called "The Hummingbird Theory,": which, as Nussbaum writes, is "an archetype that is grounded in ideas about compassion, but doesn’t strive for likability," and who are "idealistic feminine dreamers whose personalities are irritants."
As with any great character, you can't forget the grating bits while celebrating the whole package.
A Commitment to Loud Feelings
From anger to all-consuming love, Leslie doesn't feel things in any kind of dulcet way. She feels them loudly and she feels them in your face. She sobs at sentimental speeches and screams when the world pisses her off. Leslie doesn't hide a bit of who she is. That's part of what made her will-they-won't-they forbidden romance with eventual-husband Ben sing: It brought out rare moments where Leslie couldn't say exactly what she was thinking and feeling right when she was thinking and feeling it. Parks and Rec has co-existed in the same television era as Mad Men, but the contrast between the bottled-up emotions of Don Draper and the rollicking heart on Leslie Knope's sleeve couldn't be more stark. Both will go down as iconic characters.
Leslie Knope connects to things in a way that is pretty beautiful and memorable. She gives Parks and Rec's viewers permission to give themselves over to the show and to her life and work — and she does so by example. It's a connection that will long outlive the closing credits of that last Parks episode.
We'll always have Pawnee, and we'll always have Leslie Knope — but television truly won't be the same without her.
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