TV Talk: Optimistic Ladies

Yesterday I wrote a post about Brooklyn Nine Nine and mentioned how glad I was to have leslie knopeit in the wake of Parks and Recreation‘s series finale earlier this year. It’s only been off the air for maybe a month or two, and already I miss it. In fact, after the finale I went ahead and re-watched the whole thing, all seven seasons. This is a show that will go down as one of my all-time favorites, with qualities I think will be incredibly difficult to replicate.

Parks had a lot of strong, strong elements going for it, but the thing that stood out for me the most was simply Leslie Knope. To be fair, if you watch the first season – and even a handful of episodes from the beginning of Season Two – Parks, and indeed Leslie Knope herself, got off to a rough start. Coming off The Office, and in fact originally envisioned as and Office spin-off, Leslie Knope started off the series as a female version of Michael Scott, a somewhat out of touch, buffoonish character surrounded by a group of apathethic co-workers who tolerated her at best. Thankfully, that characterization of her was quickly put to rest early in Season Two, and she instead began to emerge as the kind, passionate, driven, and determined woman we all fell in love with.

The thing that always struck me about Leslie Knope, what always endeared her to me even in her earliest incarnation, was her eternal optimism. Leslie was someone who was straight forward and positive, someone who believed in herself and others, someone who knew that anything could be accomplished with little more than a can-do attitude and some elbow grease. She was a person who honestly and unironically enjoyed things and wanted to make sure the people around her were just as true to themselves and their own dreams. In an ocean of cynicism and sarcasm, snark and irony, Leslie Knope was a beacon of simple, kind-hearted joy.

This isn’t to say the sarcasm and the snark are unwanted. Believe me, I enjoy a good sass-master with the best of them. I love my cynical Britta Perry’s or my judgemental Jessica Huang’s or my caustic Rosa Diaz’s. And I will forever love the one we should all credit as the leader of the snark movement, one Miss Buffy Summers, whose cheeky one liners seem to have become a hallmark of any female character writers try to pass off as “kick-ass.” I’m all for it: all for the sarcasm, all for the verbal smackdowns, all for the snark.

As long as that’s not the only thing I have to look forward to.

And so I found Leslie Knope – a woman I truly believe would hardly even understand the concept of “hate-watching” – to be a breath of fresh air. Someone who didn’t have guilty pleasures, just pleasures – because who really has the time to feel guilty about what they love when they’re trying to change the world one park at a time. Someone who could get even April Ludgate to admit there were things in the world she didn’t hate – even it was only her husband Andy and their three legged dog Champion.

So suffice it to say, I was bummed when Parks ended. I was sorry to lose that sunny, simple optimism.

But it turns out, I didn’t have to worry too much.

This past season we were introduced to two new women who I feel are cut from the same cloth as Leslie Knope: Ms. Kimmy Schmidt from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – recently rescued from a Doomsday Cult and ready to start her new life in New York City – and Ms. Jane Gloriana Villanueva from Jane the Virgin – accidentlly artificially inseminated and trying to take the romance literature world by storm.

kimmy schmidtjane villanueva

While they’re certainly not carbon copies of Leslie Knope – and really, why would we want them to be? – they both embody so many of her best qualities. Both woman are kind and compassionate, seeing the good in people where others would judge too quickly. Both employ Leslie’s can-do, tenacious work ethic – whether it’s Kimmy determined to actually learn in her GED class and not just coast through, or it’s Jane who gives up a decent job as a teacher in order to follow her real dream of being a romance author – and have the perseverance to see it through. Both women have incredibly odd and unique backstories – Kimmy was kidnapped and held for 15 years in an underground bunker while Jane was accidentally inseminated during a routine doctor’s appointment and is having a baby despite still being a virgin – but they don’t let these hiccups derail their lives or their dreams.

I think it’s important to see the sunny optimism these women portray. This outlook on life, this positivity and determination and joy, is a sentiment I want to remember. It’s what I want to aspire to. I was sad when I thought I was going to lose it from my tv screen, but instead I’m happy to see it continue. And I think Leslie would be proud to pass the torch on to these other two fine women who prove themselves to be well worth her legacy.

And if the previews are anything to go on, I feel confident in assuming they’ll be joined by a Ms. Kara Zor-El come this November.


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