3:43 AM

On the set of Beginners

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield in NYC. April 2nd  

Not too long ago, I posted a bit about how the most recent episode of The Office revealed some long standing differences in the Pam and Jim characters and highlighted some good reasons why they’re not ultimately long-term compatible.  I also mentioned that Ben and Leslie from Parks and Rec are a much more ideal pairing.  The recent wedding episode, which was funny and charming and had a genuine emotional honesty, was very typical of the series and why I recommend the show to just about everybody.  Ben’s vows in particular remembered back to the beginnings of their relationship and underscored the arc both of them have gone through - like a good relationship should, their pairing hasn’t changed their fundamental characters but has improved them as individuals.
When we first meet Ben, he is bitter and cynical and a bit jaded, having already gone through a failed political career and resigned himself to mid-level bureaucracy, seemingly having given up hope on being able to do good work that helps people.  Meeting Leslie is like a catalyst for him.  He is a good guy but he needed to feel inspired and to be reminded that it’s still possible to be driven by optimism and hope.  His transformation is a slow build and never betrays his core, they never do such a drastic shift that he flip-flops and becomes a new character, he is as pragmatic, sensible and straight-laced as he always was, they just reopen another facet.  This is what good relationships and the important people in our lives should do: not change us but help us find our better, truer selves.  Leslie’s infectious enthusiasm and perpetual optimism has a positive effect on everyone around her (truly, it touches just about every single character at some point or another) but it made the biggest impact on Ben.  He loves her for her but also for what she’s done for an entire community and also what she’s done for his own relationship with himself.  He sees the best of everyone in Leslie, the best of what people are capable of.
Leslie isn’t altered by Ben coming into her life, but she is galvanized.  In the first couple seasons, she is written as a failure at love, she can’t make any relationship stick and the big ongoing storyline is that she’s bouncing from guy to guy, unable to make a connection.  I think this is legit because she is failing to connect on a deeper, ideological level until she meets Ben.  Leslie cares a lot about ideology, she is guided almost entirely by her beliefs and values with pragmatic concerns scarcely figuring into it, so for her, an ideal mate is someone who shares her convictions.  So it makes sense that she can’t make it work with anyone else, nobody else is at her level in terms of core belief system.  As bad as she at dating, she’s good at her job and has a strong vision for her future and the world she lives in, she does deserve someone compatible.
I do have to say that her pining after Mark Brendanawicz was really pathetic and terrible because she was reducing herself to grovelling in an attempt to gain the affections of an apathetic chauvinist which betrays her feminist sensibilities.  But, although that’s not OK, it is OK that she went through that because it makes a good point: people really DO sometimes fail themselves when they’re trying to impress others romantically and better people, which Leslie eminently is, realize this and move on stronger and more self-aware for it.  Mark represented the opposite of the kind of guy who can make Leslie happy: she made herself less like herself to please him.  Ben helps her more fully realize her individuality, which is why he’s a good man to marry a feminist.  She doesn’t need or want a white knight to “save” her and he respects and appreciates her too much to be that for her.  This is the truth of good, lasting relationships: It’s not about finding your “missing piece” or someone to prop you up like a crutch, it’s about people entirely comfortable with who they are as individuals and already whole simply being emboldened and strengthened by someone else.  I think the writers picked up on that energy between these two characters.  Michael Schur has said that the original intent was to have Ben be just another passing phase, not unlike Louis CK or Justin Theroux but there was something special in what each of them did for each other and also themselves.
The “name changing” bit was great (probably too cutesy but who cares? it’s too charming to argue) because it was very in-character and typical of Leslie and Ben’s common sense of humor.  They make one another happy, which is obviously important, in addition to making one another more productive as members of society and self-actualized.  They are just fun.  And shit gets done when they work together because they have opposite but mutually beneficial strengths and weaknesses: Ben is practical, realistic and level-headed but also a bit square and boring.  Leslie is ultra proactive, energetic and optimistic but also a bit untethered and rudderless - he anchors her and she ignites him and it’s a good match since they both have the same value set and core principles and therefore end goals in sight.  
In general, Parks And Rec is about stories and characters that have a real-world resonance (relative to it being a fictional sitcom, of course) that balances against the bright-eyed optimism pretty nicely.  While never being infuriatingly saccharine in a false, contrived manner, it’s a show about people staying true to their better nature and bettering themselves and the world around them and it rewards decency and positivity as much as possible.  To that ends, it’s best that Ben and Leslie found one another instead of the original premise, which was a never-ending string of failed up-and-down relationships.  These two together is possibly the best thing about the show and almost definitely my favorite thing on TV.
2:04 AM
12:57 AM

Carey Mulligan and Eddie Redmayne
7:03 PM