Key Character: Leslie Knope

We all have favorite fictional characters. They can be inspirational, sagacious, heroic… or they can be relentless villains who are just so damn charismatic. In this feature I celebrate fictional characters who make their worlds much fuller.

Leslie Knope may have begun her onscreen life as a poor man’s Michael Scott, but she became so much more. She became the noble, tireless civil servant that the citizens of Pawnee, Indiana never deserved.

Leslie loves her friends, her town, and her waffles. Not necessarily in that order. One of the reasons Parks & Recreation is such a re-watchable show is it’s easy to root for Leslie to succeed. She is the rare example of a person who cares more about other people than she cares about herself. Although she makes plenty of mistakes on her path from low level government employee to federal powerhouse, she always bounces back to being her optimistic, altruistic self.

Her relationship with Ben Wyatt is one of the best you can find on TV. Leslie and Ben flip the traditional gender roles, with Leslie being more of the domineering, type-A partner, while Ben often acts as the emotional support (and eye candy) for Leslie. They’re perfect together, and the show’s writers never felt the need to create cheap drama between them.

There are plenty of examples that illustrate the kind of person Leslie is, and one of my favorites comes from the season three episode “Ron & Tammy: Part Two.” Ben and Leslie are both worried that without police officer support at the Harvest Festival, the important event will fall apart. Ben visits with Police Chief Trumple privately to ask for police officer volunteers, and Trumple immediately agrees to help. He says, “Leslie Knope gets as many favors as she needs.” When Ben asks why, Trumple pauses to think before responding, “Because she’s the kind of a person who uses favors to help other people.” That’s the kind of civil servant we’d all be lucky to have.

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