I’m a sucker for comedies with heart. My two most-used coffee mugs say “Luke’s Diner” and “Central Perk.” So Parks and Recreation fit right into my wheelhouse. I expected it to be mildly amusing when I started watching it, but, lo and behold, I discovered the next comedy series to capture my heart, featuring two characters who showed the audience what it meant to selflessly love and support one another.
I’m talking, of course, about Leslie and Ann.
While romantic entanglements tend to hog the spotlight in entertainment, one of Parks and Rec’s greatest strengths was how the various romantic pairings never stole the spotlight from the individual friendships formed and the overall group dynamic. You could reach into a hat and draw the names of any combination of characters to put in a scene, and you’d get something incredible. While I adore many different character pairings, Leslie and Ann’s friendship is particularly dear to me. They aren’t catty or passive-aggressive toward one another; they aren’t conniving against one another to get revenge over a guy. They represent a real female friendship instead of serving a dramatic plot device, and it’s something to be applauded.
Leslie is always complimenting Ann and will often call her beautiful multiple times in a single episode. (The phrase “beautiful tropical fish” stands out the most for me. An honorable mention goes out to “poetic, noble land-mermaid.”) She might be more enthusiastic about Ann’s successes than Ann herself. When Ann starts working part-time at the Health Department, Leslie fills her office with balloons for her first day and plans out a celebratory itinerary, much to the chagrin of Ann’s grumpy office-mate. Leslie’s coworkers run a program to see what topics she talks about most in her emails and discover that she talks about Ann more than anyone else. Leslie’s admiration and love for Ann is the foundation of their heartwarming relationship.
Ann is just as fond of Leslie though she expresses that love in a more subdued, down-to-earth manner. Even before she gets a job at the Pawnee government building, she’s often seen around grabbing lunch with Leslie or showing support for one of Leslie’s pet projects. She’s the ultimate support system for Leslie. When Leslie is in danger of losing her job, she asks Ann to text her every 30 seconds to remind her how much she loves her—and Ann happily obliges. Ann’s practicality balances out Leslie’s intensity. When Leslie panics about about a date, Ann is there to calmly walk her through her fears and gently give her advice to make everything go smoothly. She even names her daughter after Leslie, cementing their life-long connection.
As a single woman in her 20s, I rely on the female friendships in my life. They’re a constant source of support and companionship so it’s always saddened and confused me when TV shows devalue those relationships. Once characters get involved in a significant romantic relationship, their friendships built up over several seasons are suddenly barely mentioned. It’s like studio executives think it’s impossible for someone to nurture friendships while also maintaining a love life. Parks and Rec is one of the few shows that doesn’t fall into that trap. Leslie and Ben have an incredible love story, and throughout their time together, Leslie and Ann’s friendship doesn’t falter. They consistently and steadily support one another through their triumphs and failures, and you can’t ask for a better example of friendship than that.