I started watching Parks and Recreation recently. As a man who’s genuinely terrible at keeping up with television, I’ve had this show on my Netflix list for as long as I’ve had Netflix.
Parks and Rec follows a familiar curve. Season 1 wasn’t great, very obviously lifting its joke climate from The Office. In season 2, the show finds its own identity and becomes way, way better.
But, by season 6 . . . it’s exhausting to watch.
Why? Well, that’s what I decided to make this post about. Because it’s exhausting for a reason that I’d never experienced before.
Everything . . . is just perfect.
In its earlier seasons, Parks and Rec had a lot of entertaining conflict. Budding romances that viewers wanted to see happen, goals that the department was trying to complete, setbacks for a cast of fun characters to figure out together.
By season 6, however, it’s a nonstop thrill ride of pretty much everything going well. There is one major set back for the protagonist, but, within two episodes, it’s like it never happened.
And, maybe I’m a pessimist . . . but that kind of optimism is just . . . so boring.
And it’s cloying; I’ve seen things go well for people in real life — long streaks of good times — and that’s fine, but I’ve never had to watch friends on TV, high-fiving and constantly talk about how much they love making out with each other.
I mean, sure, you can blame this on the fact that Parks and Rec wasn’t designed to be binge-watched on a streaming service. It was written to provide spaced-out doses of good vibes on NBC.
But it’s still tedious watching episode after episode of everything going great and being perfect for everyone. The cast is split up into neat, perfect pairings that fall in love very easily — sometimes unbelievably. The main characters are just rolling in job promotions — that they often turn down because they’re already so happy.
I mean . . . fuck’s sake. So far, there have been no normal weddings on this show; every wedding on Parks and Rec has been a cute, surprise wedding. Not “most of them” — literally all three of them have been surprise weddings. Every single one. Because every single couple that’s gotten married on this show loved each other so much that they just had to get married “tonight!”
Couples don’t fight; they disagree with each other, but the disagreements are always easily resolved. Which is weird because, in early seasons, relationship problems endured — as they do in real lie — instead of neatly fizzling out.
Near the end, babies start happening, and I actually sighed when one husband decided he really wanted babies . . . on the same day that his wife — in another part of Indiana and unable to reach him by phone — found out she was pregnant.
Wow. The magic of everything being unrealistically perfect.
It almost feels . . . contrived somehow.
I write this, and I think, “Well, they just wanted to write a really uplifting show by making it absurdly optimistic.”
But the question becomes . . . isn’t that just boring for everyone?
Because good stories revolve around good conflict.
And, I understand that there is still conflict and motivation in later seasons of Parks and Rec — because you can’t have a story without conflict — but, I guess what I’m trying to say here is . . . there is a ceiling to positivity in fiction. A point at which it becomes impossible to care about a group of characters, because they’re routinely handed victories.
I’m calling it the Everything’s Great Threshold, and it’s going in my personal, writing rulebook.
- Too much positivity — to the extent of magically-timed solutions to your characters’ problems — kills any tension a story could possibly have.
Or, in other words, when everything is perfect, small problems become challenges — and challenges aren’t real problems.
When said by a character whose life is perfect, “We have to put together this benefit dinner on short notice!” is not a problem. It’s a challenge.
When said by a character who’s struggling to do their job well — someone who has already gotten a warning that they’re up for review, for example — “We have to put together this benefit dinner on short notice!” is pure hell. It’s intimidating, nerve-wracking, and, when it’s resolved, for better or worse, it yields a much better emotional pay-off.
At least that’s how I feel. Granted, I’m just an amateur who’s only had one short story published.
But, hey, life doesn’t just throw victories at you.
Keeping it short and sweet for today. It feels good to get back to writing theory though; this site has been more of a journal recently.
But, hey, for anyone who was enjoying the journaling, just know that I got through the first chapter of Memory this week, finally fixing the problems I’d had with it before. I’m going to continue editing the rest of the novel, making sure everything works with the new intro, but the point is, I’ll actually be submitting again really soon, and that feels awesome.
Anyway, thank you for reading. For anyone new to the site, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.
Either way, thank you again just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.