7 Ways 'Parks and Recreation' Gets Female Friendship Right
In the age of the antiheroine, great friendships between women on TV are few and far between. Even on fairly sunny shows like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the characters primarily use each other for personal gain. Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang's friendship ended when Sandra Oh left Grey's Anatomy in 2014. The Gilmore Girls may just be a Netflix click away, but even that feels too far in the past.
Times like these make us really miss Parks and Recreation. In addition to being funny and charming, the show about Leslie Knope and her co-workers in Pawnee, Indiana, really understood genuine female friendship.
Whether it was between Leslie and best friend, Ann Perkins, or the various other female characters, Parks and Recreation presented friendship as a fully fleshed-out concept: difficult at times, but ultimately positive. To show what we mean, we've collected up seven way the show nailed real relationships between women.
1. Leslie knows how to give her friends compliments.
Much has been made of Leslie's hilariously escalating praise of her best friend. Only someone as truly invested in the well-being of other people could make ridiculous lines like "You're a beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox" feel like the kindest words ever shared between friends.
Leslie's general optimism and positivity are a major reason why her friendships feel so real. The level of interest in Ann comes from a genuine place. Every outlandish joke feels authentic.
2. She knows how to help in times of need.
The authenticity of Ann and Leslie's friendship largely comes from the audience seeing the roots of it. In the pilot episode, Leslie pledges to help a nurse and Pawnee resident named Ann Perkins fill the giant pit next to her home. Their devotion to each other springs from Leslie's generosity — a lovely foundation for their friendship.
Leslie doesn't stop helping Ann throughout the show, either. Whether it's finding her friend a man or something more personal, like helping her decide on a sperm donor during the season five episode "Ann's Decision," she's often helping Ann out somehow. She doesn't always do it perfectly, but Leslie's heart is in the right place.
3. They know how to have fun.
Ann and Leslie's relationship isn't just about gushing over each other, either. They have fun together, whether busting a move or celebrating their lady-centric holiday, Galentine's Day. Theirs is the kind of actual enjoyment of each other that viewers want to see reflected in their own friendships.
4. They bounce back from fights easily.
Maintaining friendships isn't always fun, though; like relationships, it presents both hills and valleys. In the third season episode "The Fight," Leslie and Ann get wasted at a club and grow increasingly irritated with each other. Leslie's mad Ann isn't preparing for a job interview, and takes it out on her by insulting the men she's dating. Ann fires back by criticizing Leslie's own dating habits, and then Leslie calls Ann out on her lack of motivation.
They leave the bar furious, then wake up instantly regretful of the fight. They make up largely because their argument came from a place of caring for each other: Leslie wants the best for Ann's job prospects; Ann wants Leslie to get with her crush, Ben. Thanks to that investment, understanding and making amends is all the easier.
5. They keep each other honest.
Though it's great to see two women building each other up in such a sincere way, sometimes both Ann and Leslie need to be taken down a peg. That requires others to cut in. In the third season episode "Andy and April's Fancy Party," Parks department employee Donna and Ann attend the same singles mixer. Noting exactly how bad Ann is at dating — "Did you grow up in the woods?" Donna asks. "Are you Nell? From the movie Nell?" — she intervenes to drag the lovelorn nurse out of her funk.
Leslie's greatest foil comes in the form of Parks department assistant April Ludgate. In season five episode "Leslie vs. April," the ordinarily apathetic April has a good plan for an empty lot that isn't what Leslie wants. Instead of supporting her friend, Leslie gets caught up in her own desires and ends up apologizing for her selfishness. It's refreshing to see Leslie recalibrate in such a way.
6. They help each other deal with men.
Donna's primary characteristic, especially early in the show's run, is her penchant for speaking truth. That leads to sometimes harsh, always true bits of advice about how to deal with men.
She's not the only one helping friends with romance, either. Season four's "Operation Ann" is largely about Leslie trying to find Ann a significant other. Even April eventually helps her archenemy Ann after a time. Even the enemies on this show support each other — it's quite charming.
7. They push each other to be better friends.
April is, in fact, the strongest evidence for how impactful these women are on each other. "Donna and Joe," a seventh season episode featuring Donna's wedding, shows the apex of that growth. Picked to be Donna's maid of honor, the character who once couldn't be bothered to care about anything invests real time and resources into making sure her friend has a great wedding experience. Elsewhere in the later seasons of the show, April is motivated to do good and becomes increasingly kind.
That, more than anything else, is what makes the female friendships on Parks and Recreation so fascinating. They don't exist in a bubble; these women who barely know each other at the time of the pilot grow to be great allies and sister figures. Their relationships deepen as they grow as people. Their development is a television treasure.