Throughout its seven-season run, the NBC sitcom was widely praised for its earnest and optimistic depiction of public service. Nearly a year after the show’s finale, The Federalist’s David Harsanyi sat down and watched the show and took a very different view of its hero, “Leslie Knopes.”
Over the winter break I finally got around to binge-watching “Parks and Recreation.” In case you missed the show’s seven-year run, it’s about a fascistic, small-town councilwoman who believes it’s a politician’s job to impose her notions of morality, safety, and decency on everyone, no matter what voters want or what the system dictates. She is justifiably recalled by the people of her town after attempting to regulate portion sizes at fast food restaurants, but ends up running a federal office where she can do big things without the consent of the people.
Now, I realize that most of the show’s fans see the narrative in a vastly different light and the protagonist, Leslie Knopes, as the sort of idealist, compassionate, and principled politician Americans should love. “Parks and Rec” can be fantastically funny (and it has a big heart), but as I watched I was often reminded that many people glorify ideas like “public service”—a preposterous term that treats politics as if it were a sacrifice without pay, power, or prestige—and “doing something” as a moral imperative no matter how politicians get it done.