#4 Peggy and Joan (Mad Men) vs. # 13 Leslie and April (Parks and Recreation)

Division II: Work Friends

Leslie and Ann get all the press for being the best friendship on Parks and Recreation, and I plan on taking it to the mat for them, but the Leslie and April relationship has always been one of my favorite elements, in one of my favorite shows, and I believe they’re a female friendship for the ages.  One day I’ll write my ode to the brilliance of the season finale of Parks and Recreation, because I think it was one of the best season finales in television history, but at this moment I’m going to use the episode as an encapsulation of the Leslie and April friendship.

When we first meet our duo, Leslie is a over-enthusiastic, over-worked, over-committed low-level bureaucrat, and April is both her intern underling and polar opposite.  Feminist superstar Leslie’s superpower is combining her endless energy with her powerful intelligence to create positive change in the world–the chicken and egg is figuring out if she only sleeps 3 hrs a night and therefore can devote so many hours to so many issues, or if she cares so much she can only afford the sleep schedule of a coke-addled Wall-Street broker.

As the show goes on, April slowly grows into the Leslie Knope model–despite her misanthropic exterior, April cares passionately about three things–her husband Andy, animals (because they’re not people, and for that should be rewarded), and Leslie.  Like a bear hibernating in the winter, April’s energy reserves build during her periods of cynical disengagement, and then get tapped into whenever Andy, Leslie, or animals need help.

As Leslie states in the episode “Leslie vs. April”, all she wants to see is April realize her full potential and work to create change.  Leslie reveals that she thinks of April as a daughter–so we have to assume a maternal pride is what drives Leslie to tears over April’s first power-point presentation:

April isn’t immune to the pull of a powerful female mentor–she admits she loves Leslie too, as well as other female role models–Ethel Beavers for locking down one-night-stands in her 80s, a Mongolian wolf-wrangler for being a freaking wolf-wrangler.  She doesn’t necessarily respect the work that Leslie does, but seems to truly respect Leslie for doing the work:

By the season finale, April has found a career she’s deeply satisfied with and Leslie is on her way to the Indiana Governor’s Mansion.  April is struggling with the fact that while her husband clearly wants children, she feels their life is already complete.  Noting the tension in her mini-me, Leslie and April have this interchange:

April: Ok go ahead, You’re gonna lecture me about how Andy and I should have kids. You’re going to be like “they’re so great, they change your life, and yes they drive you nuts, but it’s all worth it for the beauty and the majesty and the glory of their little faces in the morning and blah blah and barf. YOu know that’s so unfair, because you guys got so lucky. You had sex one time and you had three kids, and they’re all like smart and great and healthy.

Leslie: You think that’s the only time we had sex?

April: Yes! And now your lives are perfect. But our life is pretty perfect already. And you know what? Kids act the opposite of their parents, that’s why your kids are so cool. But Andy and I are cool already, so our kids will be like really lame and weird. I’m sorry, I just don’t know what to do. Please tell me what to do, what do I do?

Leslie: It’s not about trying to make your life perfect. Nobodies lives are perfect. You have kids because you and Andy are a team, and you want to bring in some new team-members. I don’t know if you should have kids, I really don’t. But I do like your team.

While I’d like to imagine uber-feminist Leslie would never pressure another woman regarding choices about her body, the interchange represents her developed restraint over dictating what is best for her friends. Instead of offering advice or telling April what to do, she simply re-frames the decision, so that whatever path April choses reflects positive self-determination, the theme of their relationship, and the show.

In a decade when bullshit like this can be published, and the ‘golden age’ of television is dominated by The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, I think one of the major reasons I love this show is that its relentless optimism runs against the grain. In the end, it’s a testament to the idea that hard work and friendship can elevate the individual.  Most episodes revolve around characters identifying problems and working together to find solutions, while growing and changing for the better.  It’s the opposite of Seinfeld, filled with hugs and growth, and it’s deeply satisfying. It’s idealistic, optimistic, probably something that can be problematized, and I love it.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a major fan of female mentorship, and Leslie and April are one of my favorite examples of this kind of relationship.

Also, I’m not cool enough to watch Mad Men. I’m sure Peggy and Joan have a great friendship, but someone else would have to argue for it. Even if Leslie hates Librarians and Libraries, I still love her and her friendships.

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