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Notes on a TV show

A friend of mine posted a photo of her Nielsen family welcome packet with a caption that read (approximately), “Now everyone gets to know how often we rewatch Parks and Rec.”

I’m actually really, really glad that there is no Netflix counter for these things. I’m really glad that when I first moved to Stockholm, before we got our VPN set up that allowed for Netflix, no one was counting how often I watched my pirate bay-acquired first three seasons. (Swedish bandwidth is amazing. It took about ten minutes to get them all. What can I say?)

It all started, actually, when my husband went off to Stockholm to interview for the job he eventually accepted. Home alone and up too late wondering about the geography of my near-future, I took solace in binge-watching the show up to that point, about halfway through season four. And oh, how I loved it.

There aren’t many TV shows I love. They come along every few years, when I’m lucky, but once something clicks, I’m with it for life. This particular love, though, rivals even my first, Sesame Street and the Muppets in general, and that’s saying something. That something is probably about the inherent similarities—a zany ensemble cast, each with his or her own agenda, that also functions as a loving, supportive group. A team. A family. Tell me there’s no Gonzo in Tom Haverford. I dare you.

It’s not perfect. I maintain that any new viewers should start with season two, then double back to season one only when you’re already hooked and want some backstory. By season two, Parks has its legs underneath it, but the tonality of the first six episodes is different, darker, less compassionate to its characters, more akin to The Office (which makes perfect sense).  I’m also really getting tired of the whole Jerry thing. Writers, I love you, but do you honestly think no one in the office would have recognized his good qualities by now? It’s funny to a point, but part of what I love about this show is that the characters have recognizable humanity and compassion, even while being characters, that is evident in just about every other situation. (And I can’t argue with my brother—Mona Lisa Saperstein really is Scrappy Doo.)

That said, I’m in for the seventh season, even though I know it might not pan out for me, even though things may well have peaked in season four. There just aren’t many shows that manage to hit that sweet spot of flawed characters whom we love—and who, for the most part, love and care for each other.

Maybe I'm simply predictable. One of my best-loved books is, after all, Sweet Thursday, a lesser-known Steinbeck written as a tribute to his friend Ed Ricketts after Ricketts's death. It takes the Monterey community he captured in Cannery Row and gives it life one last time, really living into the row as a community in a way that the first book, with its slice of life snippets, doesn't quite do. It's Steinbeck's dream of what his friend's life could have been had that car not stalled, had that train not come, and it's glorious. Someday I'll try to write a book like that, but I can already tell that it's deceptively hard. It's not just a matter of creating characters--it's a matter of creating that larger, overarching group spirit in a way that's honest, without tipping either into sentimentality or sarcasm. 

And I’m hoping that one of Amy Poehler’s newest projects, the one that mirrors her brother’s life as a love refugee living in Sweden, turns out to be a gem as well. Amy, I’m sure your brother has it covered, but if you ever need any further observations on Sweden from an American perspective, call me.