Doing the ‘Bramance’ Right (Or Why Parks and Recreation is a Revelation)
My favourite movie of all time, unequivocally, is Superbad. Do I love it because it’s a hilarious big-screen introduction to Michael Cera, Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as social outcasts who just want to get laid? Obviously. Do I love it because it features a then-mostly-unknown Emma Stone portraying a high school girl who is actually funny in her own right? Definitely. Do I love it because I have a weird Canadian Crush™ (that’s a thing) on Seth Rogen and will basically watch anything with him in it? Sure. But the thing that makes Superbad my favourite go-to movie is that it so perfectly and honestly captures an awkward, platonic relationship between two best friends.
No “buddy” movie has ever so successfully embodied the relationship between me and my own best friend. The super crude jokes, witty (vulgar) repartee, the quirky but fulfilling co-dependence – Superbad has it all when it comes to me and my bestie. I am telling you all this to let you know that I, a grown-ass woman, have a friendship best exemplified by a coming-of-age tale about two horny high school boys. And I’m telling you this so that maybe the point will get across that I’m starting to get tired of these same relationships constantly being portrayed by men.
Hollywood seems to have developed an absolute fascination with the Bromance. Now, don’t get me wrong—as it should be obvious from the paragraph above—I love me some bromance comedy. Seth Rogen and James Franco will win over my heart any day. But the trend means that these portrayals often become “awesome man-man friendship (that’s totally not gay)” that feature women only insofar as they can be nags, bitches, love interests, or unavailable. Oh, and they definitely have to be hot.
Think about some of the biggest on-screen “bromances” of the last ten years. The Hangover (2009) and subsequent sequels feature a four-way bromance where the women are virtually non-existent for most of the film, and when they do make appearances they are either love interests or awful, awful human beings (think of Stu’s girlfriend Melissa). I Love You, Man (2009) has Paul Rudd and Jason Segel making purely platonic googly eyes at each other while Rashida Jones occupies the sidelines as a loveable, but ultimately flavourless, girlfriend/fiancee figure.
Even Community, beloved baby of the Internet, has Troy and Abed whose friendship easily eclipses any of the women characters’ friendships on the show. The list goes on (and on, and on, and on), including shows or movies like Scrubs, Hot Fuzz, Lord of the Rings, the Bill and Ted franchise, Jay and Silent Bob, Wayne’s World, Harold and Kumar, Star Trek, Dumb and Dumber, Boston Legal, Wedding Crashers, The League, Sherlock…hopefully you’re getting the picture.
I want to re-iterate here that I’m not saying any of these examples are bad and that you should feel bad for liking them; some of the greatest franchises or standalone creations of all time have featured bromances. The problem, in my opinion, simply comes from a lack of gender variety. Hollywood loves portraying the friendships between women as catty, shallow, or centered around vanity. These relationships certainly exist, but they’re not the only kind of female friendship. Other examples fall into the trend of setting up the friendship off-screen and then trying to convince us that somewhere along the way, friendship ~magically~ happened (I’m looking at you, HIMYM).
Over the past couple years we’ve seen a few examples of broader, more genuine woman friendships emerge, or at least try to emerge. Some notable examples would be Bridesmaids (2011), Girls (2012), The Heat (2013), Orange is the New Black (2013) or Broad City (2014), and of course, the focus of this article, Parks and Recreation (2009).
Parks and Recreation is now in its seventh and final season on NBC, ending its run with a 13-episode condensed season. And though Rashida Jones’ character Ann Perkins actually left partway through Season Six, her friendship with series star Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) has become the stuff of legends. The Leslie-Ann friendship has inspired YouTube montages, entire Tumblr blogs dedicated to the duo, numerous articles, websites that just list Leslie’s endearments for Ann (Ann-jectives), and even some fanfiction (though I’m too scared to actually read any). In other words, Parks and Recreation created a ‘bramance’ between two women that easily holds its own against the plethora of available bromances.
Leslie and Ann’s friendship started with a public forum about the pit at Lot 48, where Ann introduced herself and then boldly asserted “I’m a nurse and, frankly, I don’t really care for politics.” This simple statement set Ann up as an obvious antithesis to Leslie’s unendingly ambitious, politically-driven self, and this was a burgeoning relationship that the show easily could have either forgotten or turned antagonistic. But instead, through a combination of Ann’s inability to say “no” and Leslie’s infectious persistence, the duo’s interactions evolved into an easy friendship supported by mutual respect, lots of laughs, and tons of encouragement. Leslie is an admitted supporter of women, as she chooses to fill her office with portraits of prominent female politicians, hosts an annual “Galentine’s Day” event, and even coins the phrases “uteruses before duderuses” and “ovaries before brovaries,” and this same spirit of unconditional support follows her into her friendship with Ann.
Though their friendship had strong roots already in the series, the Leslie/Ann bramance became entirely unforgettable when the writers stopped telling us it was important and started showing us. One of the first defining Leslie/Ann moments for me was in a Season 2 episode, ‘Telethon’, where Leslie volunteers herself and much of the Parks department for Pawnee’s 24-hour diabetes telethon, “Pawnee Cares”. Because Leslie is a bundle of over-worked-by-choice energy on any given day, she has already been awake for 24 hours when the telethon begins. Between intermittent naps and binging on Sweetums bars, Leslie learns that Ann is thinking of breaking up with Mark. At the end of the episode, everyone goes home and despite not having slept in 48 hours and being fuelled almost 100% by high fructose corn syrup, Leslie shows up at Ann’s door asking if she needs to talk about Mark (which she does). Leslie stays awake long enough to have a heart-to-heart with Ann, and then finally falls asleep and stays that way for 22 hours while Ann watches over her protectively, and also draws a moustache on her face. Friends, right?
And how could we forget the Season 4 episode “Operation Ann”, when Leslie dedicated her very special Galentine’s day to finding Ann a Valentine? In her own words: “Oh Ann, you beautiful spinster, I will find you love.” Despite it not working out (and certainly not in a way that Leslie hoped), the very spirit of what Leslie did is what makes Leslie and Ann so sickeningly heart-warming. Or what about in Season 2, when Leslie is nervous about going on a date and Ann runs her through every possible “worst” case scenario to make her feel better? Their brand of platonic love is just incredibly enjoyable, immensely funny, and absolutely honest. Leslie and Ann’s devotion to one another has continued throughout the series as they have been there for each other’s big life moments: the Pawnee Harvest Festival, Leslie running for city council (and subsequently being re-called), Leslie and Ben breaking up and later getting married (it’s been a whirlwind, folks), Ann (in a moment of character suicide) dating Tom, Ann and Chris’s relationship and her eventual pregnancy, and of course, Ann and Chris moving to Michigan in Season 6.
As the show comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting more and more on what Parks and Recreation has done right and what it has done less-than-right. Despite being one of my favourite shows on TV, it’s certainly had some points that are worth criticizing: Season 1 was a bit painful as the show got its sea-legs, some relationships have been unconvincing or lacklustre (Ann/Tom in particular), and some people have definitely complained about the show’s absolutely unrelenting optimism and unrealistic approach to politics (not me). But the Leslie/Ann friendship is one area that Parks and Rec has consistently done right. When we say goodbye to these characters for good on February 24th with their fittingly-titled final episode “One Last Time,” I’m happy to say that I can leave it behind, though somewhat tearfully, feeling like this show has done something really, really special for female friendship.
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