End of the Affair: What Parks and Rec Taught Me About Love

End of the Affair: What <em> Parks and Rec</em> Taught Me About Love
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Tonight, the finale of Parks and Recreation, marks the second time America will lose the blessing of watching Adam Scott (Ben Wyatt) be in a relationship on television. For the last six years, give or take, Scott’s been a relationship councilor for me, even if he didn’t know it.

In 2009, Scott starred in Party Down, a series which along with Mr. Show with Bob and David is perhaps the best instance of a stepping stone series that far outstrips all that it leads to, even when the thing that it leads to is superlative. In that show, now available on Hulu,  Scott played Henry Pollard, a once-famous now-not-even-trying actor in a merry misanthropic band of white-shirt pink-bow-tied caterers. Over the tragically shortened two-season span of that show, Scott began dating Lizzie Caplan, who played young droll comedienne Casey Klein, who was just beginning her process of becoming jaded. [Oh, am I using their real names? That’s because, I don’t know, it just feels so real].

Anyway, both Scott and Casey were young at the time and their love, as it unfolded on screen, was the most tender,real, and relatable relationship I had ever seen on television. It was funny, goofy, sometimes touching, and a little messed up. He tended toward apathy and she tended toward despair, but together there was a real vivacity. They liked each other. I’m not even sure they loved each other but that’s what made their partnership even more relatable. They were dating, okay? They themselves probably weren’t sure either. But they knew they just had a blast in each other's company. And that was a blast to see. Watching their relationship almost felt creepy, like watching two strangers in a healthy relationship get along. I didn’t even care if the plot moved anywhere (thankfully, because it didn’t). I just wanted to hang out with them, quietly.

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When Party Down was cancelled--partially, tragically, because Scott moved to Parks and Rec, which in a meta-way both underscored and undercut the series’ premise--I felt I truly lost a couples friend. A couples friend, by the way, is one friend that is made up of a couple. It is not a couple of friends. The entity with which I was friendly was the couple.

Anyway, eventually Scott resurface as Ben Wyatt, a once-mayor now-hardly-even-trying auditor on Parks and Recreation. Even then it took a frustrating three seasons before he fell in love with Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler. By this time, and certainly in the last few seasons, Scott’s face had broadened with age. He still does that eyebrow-raised look that gives him a boyish charm, but he’s a man now. And Knope is no callow youth either. She’s a self-assured career-driven kind-hearted little-crazy woman. She’s a Regional Director of National Park Service Midwest Region!

The show ends tonight with the couple encumbered by responsibility; by two children; by, one presumes, a mortgage and all the other picayune stresses that leads couples to tear asunder. And yet, his charm remained and their charm (as a couple) is still glowing brightly. In one of the last episodes, Scott advocates on Poehler’s behalf as she bucks the traditionally passive role of candidate’s wife. [He’s running for senator.] It’s touching, really, and also inspiring and I’ll miss that.

I’ve been married since the year before Party Down premiered and I hope to remain married long after Parks and Rec ends. But I’ve known Adam Scott as at least one half of a couple friend since nearly the beginning. As my responsibilities grew, and my children were had, and my marriage gained the armature of years, he’s always been on television, as a model of the kind of husband and now husband-and-father I wanted to be. I’ll miss him now, his raised eyebrows showing the way toward kindness, his sarcastic asides burnished with an inner warmth. But I’ll never forget what he taught me.

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