Instant Nerdflix: Geeks and Recreation

Hey kids, it’s a brand new semester here at the GeeKon Record, and that means it’s time for a bit of a revamp here at Nerds & Netflix. First off, I realized three days ago that I could have called it Instant Nerdflix, so that’s the name of this feature now, because puns are important.

Secondly, I’m going to be changing up what I’m covering here. My plan is to highlight different portrayals of geeks on television—from typical nerds you could find on most channels, to guys on The League, a show I plan on covering later, who geek out about fantasy football! On our instant-streaming journey together, I hope to introduce you to a variety of folks with whom we’ll feel a very enthusiastic kinship.

Let’s get started this week with a show that I feel celebrates many, many types of enthusiastic geeking out: Parks and Recreation. Parks, first and foremost, is a celebration of loving other people, as evidenced by the first half of Pawnee, Indiana’s motto: “First in friendship.” The characters on the show feel, for the most part, like real people—flawed, yes, but full of joy at the things and the people they care about. I think you could make an argument for anyone on the show being a geek about something: Donna livetweets her favorite shows (inspired by the actress Retta, who plays her); Ron Swanson, of the famous mustache, won a prestigious woodworking award for a chair he made; Chris is literally the character most excited about fitness on any show, possibly ever.

But there are two characters in particular I’d like to focus on while talking about this show: the Pawneean queen and king (or, as she’d prefer, President and First Man) of geekery—Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt. Ben is a more typical nerd, so we’ll talk about him in a bonus post—right now, I wanna talk about my girl Leslie.

If geekdom was judged solely on enthusiasm about a topic, Leslie would qualify as a geek about almost literally everything in her life. In her own words, “We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.” Let’s tackle these in order.

First, Leslie is as passionate about breakfast food as Ron is about meat—in one episode, her best friend, Ann, and Ben, her husband, fight over who gets to buy Leslie a vintage waffle iron for a gift. She turns down chicken soup in favor of waffles when she has the flu. There’s not much else to say here that she can’t cover herself.

Ron’s matter-of-fact response? “People are idiots, Leslie.”

As mentioned earlier, Parks focuses on the joy and love of friendships, and no one geeks out about that more than Leslie. She refers to Ann early on as her best friend, saying, “anyone who hurt her is someone I would murder, probably.” She’s supportive to a fault—at times, she’s downright mean to her friends to try and push them in the direction she believes they should go, a bad habit one episode calls “steamrolling.” But on the flip side, Leslie might just be the best friend you’ve ever had. She invented her own holiday (one of many) called Galentine’s Day. It takes place on February 13th, and it’s a celebration of lady friendships. She considers Christmas gift giving a competition, where she usually beats everyone by finding the absolute perfect gift for them—her wedding gift made Ron, one of the closest friends she has on the show, cry once. Not only does Leslie geek out about her friends, she inspires the same level of loyalty and support from them—when she runs for City Council and her campaign managers quit on her, her office friends rally together and offer their talents to help her keep her hat in the ring. That’s her Christmas present the one year we watch her lose the competition—“I got my ass handed to me,” she says through a teary smile.

Leslie’s friends and coworkers presenting her with a gingerbread Parks office and a plan to keep her campaign going.

And finally, work. Now, Leslie might be a government employee, but she absolutely loves it. Leslie is a huge geek about her work with Parks and Recreation and later, the City Council. She’s crazy about Pawnee, too—she literally wrote the book on the town, doing meticulous research about things almost no one cares about. Once, Leslie was suspended from work for two weeks. Her boss Chris caught her sneaking in to take work back home with her on a flash drive, and had to chase her down to keep her from going home to work for the city during her mandated suspension. When he finally got through to her that she wasn’t allowed to come into the office and work on official city business, she started a citizen’s brigade to try and get things done from the other side of the government desk. Leslie geeks about about her work because she loves her town, the people in it, and the waffles at JJ’s Diner—and, you know, the importance of the government listening to its citizens.

A word cloud created from the text of Leslie’s work emails shows what she cares about, and how much she cares about those things. “She definitely loves Ann,” one character says, and her husband Ben is on there as well. It’s impossible, though, to miss the size of Pawnee and Parks, the largest words on the board.

There are infinite examples of Leslie’s geekery about these three things, but there’s honestly not enough room to list them all. If you’d like to watch for yourself, the first five seasons of Parks and Recreation are on Netflix, and the newest season is available on Hulu/Hulu Plus. If you want to read more about Parks and Geekreation, stay tuned for the second part of this discussion, focusing on Ben Wyatt, the man who cried in a Batman costume.

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