My stories are beautiful creatures. They remind me of my mother, who used to kick my brother and me out of the living room when Coronation Street came on. “Get out or be quiet. My story is on.” I used to think that was a stupid phrase, “my stories.” It was a phrase associated with soap operas and weepy women. As a child, I knew that I would watch shows, programs, specials – but never stories. And I would never demean myself by watching Bore-nation Street!
But sometime between then and now I found myself happily blubbering at a 22 minute comedy. “I’m…so… happy… they got… MARRIED!!!!” I had become my mother and picked up a couple stories of my own: not just television shows that I enjoy watching, but series that delight and surprise me. Episodes that I anticipate, then watch and re-watch. Programs that I consider part of my life. I am that weepy woman and I feel no shame about it.
So what changed? At some point in my adolescence, I stopped channel flicking, and I started actively watching TV. Based on gut feelings, I determined which shows were good and which were bad. That 70’s Show: good. King of Queens: bad. Friends: ok. Degrassi: the Next Generation: good (but I told everyone it was bad.) I had the list of Good and Bad (and Watchable when nothing else is on) but never thought about what made certain shows appeal to me.
Then one fine day in university, my cable and internet got cut off for non-payment. No cable meant no absent-minded surfing. No random streaming. I had to actively seek out the shows that I wanted to watch. I had to go RENT them. You have to really want to watch something if you go out and rent it. And I really did. Through the act of going out and renting DVDs, I learned that I had amassed a collection of shows that I loved and that were now “my stories”: shows that I was committed to, shows that I wanted to re-watch, and shows that I was willing to walk 20 minutes in -25 C for.
Above all others, Parks and Recreation is ma’show. Ma’story. My fave-zies. While I recognize that there are “better” shows on television, Parks and Recreation is my Coronation Street. I could watch it for 52 years. I love this hilarious show for many reasons, but the reason that sets the show apart from all others is that the characters are genuinely friends. For me, friendship is what makes a bad life good and a good show great.
I am lit-erally in awe of the way the writers keep finding new, believable combinations of friendship within the small cast of Parks. While I love Leslie & Ann, and Ann & Donna and Tom & Jean-Ralphio, my favourite new development is Ron & Chris. In the season premiere, “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” we saw how their unlikely friendship, one based on respect, has influenced Ron (the unchangeable man) to change in subtle and important ways. When Ron throws a tantrum and cancels the Employee Appreciation BBQ midway through, Chris is the one who calls Ron out on his bullshit. The next day, Chris corners Ron in his office and explains that “If you are going to lead the department you are occasionally going to have to lead the department. And I say that as one of your closest colleagues and dearest friends. But also as your boss.” Their conversation is brief but intense, and it offers a striking example of the complex relationship between Ron and Chris. It has compassion, shame, understanding, threat, acceptance + some laughs. All in under a minute. In a comedy. The day after, Ron smartens up and brings in a freshly-slaughtered pig to show his appreciation for his department. Yum!
The more I thought about it, the more awkward I found shows that didn’t have friendship as a main feature of their program. “Where are her friends? What does she do at night? How can I trust this person as a human if nobody likes her?” I understand that acts of friendship can be boring to watch. After all, if two people are in harmony there is no conflict, conflict is the source of drama and drama makes good TV. In most instances, friendship is a distraction from the forward momentum of the plot and as a result, can be cut from the narrative.
But I believe we need to see more friendship on TV. Even though it is uncomfortable to admit, television influences the way we make relationships. I am not arguing that TV makes us do this or that — just that TV presents us with options. As one of my art teachers once said, “If you had never seen or heard of a horse in your life, and one day just happened to walk by a horse, you probably wouldn’t even see it.”
Even though I still think it’s bloody annoying, I can see why my mother and so many mothers around the world love Coronation Street. Like my stories, Corrie features a set of well developed characters in an established, familiar setting. The worlds of the show are realized so fully that watching is like taking a short vacation to Weatherfield (or Pawnee or Baltimore or New York or wherever your story is set). Our stories entertain us and keep us company. They aren’t our best friends (because that would be creepy) but they are familiar people we spend time with. I like to surround myself with the same kind of the characters I would in real life. That’s why Parks is my story. And in case you were wondering, the episode that made me blubber so freely was “Fancy Party”, the one where Andy and April got hitched. God those kids are perfect for each other.
P.S. I’m damn excited to tell you that Season Five of Parks and Recreation has started. Thursdays on CityTV.
P.P.S. If my declaration of love for television makes you uncomfortable, I totally understand. It is an embarrassing thing to love. But let me just say one thing: go out and look at any TV guide. There are SO MANY good shows on right now. The Golden Age of Television is here and it wants to be embraced.