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Hoosier Mate

Parks and Rec Spoilers Below:

Amy poehler parks and recreation

Amanda Marcotte makes a pretty strong case that Parks and Rec has recently been laying off the subversive feminism it specialized in over the last couple of years. Ben has become a bigger part of Leslie’s life and has played the “knight in shinning armor” on more than one occasion. Where once our strong willed, independent heroine would have come through on her own, or (more often) by rallying her friends and coworkers to pitch in, now we see Ben more and more saving the day.

I can’t say I completely agree that we’re seeing the writers dumb it down. After some growing pains, I see Ben as integrating into Leslie’s team. She’s always had a tendency to get in over her head, and the show has been clear that it’s characters care about each other and are step in to help. Ben sacrificing his job to save Leslie, for example, is similar to her taking the fall for shooting Ron in the head. In the show’s world, these are the things you do for the people you care about. You could argue that it’s a trope the writers have returned to too many times this season, but I’m not sure it reflects a change in the shows point of view.

However, in a follow up post, she points to this week’s Operation Ann as the payoff of this new anti-feminist bent. She calls this episode a “fundamental betrayal of both the characters of Leslie and Ann and of the show’s quiet but persistent feminism they’re now selling down the river in a desperate bid for ratings. ” This is a serious accusation, and I don’t think the evidence warrants it.

To me, the question is whether or not the story stayed true to the characters. Were Leslie and Ann acting in a way we would expect their characters to act? This is a tough question because, over the course of 4 seasons, Ann has only every really existed in relation to the characters in the series. I’ve seen most episodes of this series twice now in the last two months (don’t ask) and I still don’t think I have a great handle on Ann Perkins. That’s problematic, but it doesn’t effect this argument. It’s been a constant of the show since day 1.

But we do know a little about Ann. Specifically about how her feelings of self worth are tied up in her relationships. She gets lonely and makes bad decisions. After breaking up with Mark, she kisses Andy. When Chris breaks up with her, she dyes part of her hair pink and flails about dating random men (after she considers moving). What Amanda sees as “having a fun time tearing through every dude in Pawnee” was really Ann’s reaction to being rejected. Remember that that storyline ended with her and Leslie’s first big fight as Ann decides to skip out on a job interview so that she can go on a date with a guy literally named “The Douche”.

So when Valentines Day comes, it doesn’t seem out of character for Ann to be a little bummed that she’s spending it alone. Even empowered women who realize that Valentines Day is horse shit can still find herself feeling down having romance thrown in her face constantly. This episode wouldn’t have worked if it were randomly situated in the season. But in context it makes sense.

I don’t know that Amanda’s correct in thinking that Season 2 Leslie would simply have given Ann the same speech she gave Chris and sent her on her way. We know that Leslie is a romantic at heart, and that she loves to meddle. To me, it’s totally plausible that after seeing Ann seem sort of lonely, Leslie would take it upon herself help Ann find a date, whether she wants it or not. Why didn’t Leslie treat Chris the same way? She’s not as close to him or as protective.

So Leslie puts the rest of her team on the case. They are each charged with bringing a single male friend for Ann, and of course each screw it up in their own unique way. When April suggests she try going on a date with Tom, the audience is as shocked as Leslie. But April’s reasoning makes sense. “[T]he whole point of Tom’s character” is not that he’s “an insufferable douchebag”. In fact, he’s an insecure but generally decent guy who often acts like a total douche as a defense mechanism. The show has often hinted that there’s a likeable guy underneath the cologne cloud. Ann (and the audience) want to see if there really is anything worthwhile to this guy.

In Season 3, Ann (sort of) almost set Leslie and Tom up. That didn’t work because Leslie would never have put up with Tom’s bullshit.

But Ann isn’t Leslie. She doesn’t see the world in quite the black and white way her best friend does. Whether you like the direction this storyline is going, it’s true to the characters. And hopefully, it’ll be funny too.

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