Which is to say that I found Leslie annoying and unlikable in most of the ways that I have worried I am annoying and unlikable, even as I have also worried that a concern with likability is just another way that women keep themselves down. That Leslie was romantically paired early on with one character who clearly disliked her, Paul Schneider’s Mark, and another with whom she had a punishing lack of chemistry, Louis C.K.’s Dave, didn’t help. (Yeah, the C.K. episodes are unwatchable now.) Neither did Leslie’s dowdy pantsuits.
But as she would say in Season 6, “One person’s annoying is another’s inspiring and heroic.” Sometimes the same person’s. Because Leslie changed. The show’s writers realized their calibration error and remodeled their heroine, making her enthusiasm infectious rather than obnoxious, rewarding her hard work. Even her pantsuits improved. Eventually, the show introduced a worthy romantic foil, Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), a dishy auditor, who became her boyfriend, then not her boyfriend, then her boyfriend again, then her campaign manager, then her husband.
After a hard-fought race, Leslie won a seat on the City Council, realizing her ambitions and establishing that she wanted political power not for herself, but to make Pawnee a healthier, fairer, more verdant place. Yes, voters upset with her nanny-state practices would soon recall her, but still. For someone like me, who grew up in the ’90s, when ironic detachment was de rigueur and enthusiasm a source of deep suspicion, it was nice to love a character who made caring cool.
Because I spent a lot of young adulthood pretending, unconvincingly, that I didn’t care — about grades or student government or whether boys who play guitar would ever notice me (mostly, no) — when I cared so agonizingly much. Even into not-so-young adulthood, I would try to talk less, to volunteer less, to simulate a nonchalance I didn’t remotely feel. And then at some point in my 30s, maybe around the time that “Parks and Recreation” aired its last seasons, I accepted that I’m always going to have my hand in the air, that no one will ever describe me as “Zen,” that maybe there are worse things than being Knope-like.