I wrote the following for the #EWCommunity, to share some shows that have made me smile even half as much as Parks and Rec did. There aren’t many, but click through for some shows that celebrate optimism, love, and friendship.
Parks and Recreation was lauded for its combination of comedy and earnest sweetness. The people of Pawnee, Indiana, are “first in friendship, fourth in obesity,” and they proved the former to us for seven seasons. The characters love each other, love the work they do (even as underappreciated public servants), and taught us to celebrate Galentine’s Day, waffles, and ourselves (Treat yo’ self!).
Very few shows allow themselves as much happiness as Parks and Recreation did. So many shows are gritty and dark, or concern us with which major character is being killed off this week. Nothing is wrong with that; I love a lot of shows that raise my blood pressure in a very real and probably unhealthy way. But sometimes you need to balance it out with shows that make you smile every single time you watch an episode. Parks and Recreation was one of those shows.
Now that it’s gone, I want to reflect on other shows that celebrated friendship, love, and optimism, and were unafraid to be bright spots in a cynical and dark world. There aren’t many, but here are a few shows that exemplified a few of the qualities that made us love Parks so much:
Girl Meets World looks like it’s finally coming to television! I’m so nervous and excited! Cory and Topanga are back and some of the others from Boy Meets World will make appearances. There’s a lot of pressure to live up to with a show like this, as it won’t just be tweens watching it. Millenials who grew up on Boy Meets World are going to be watching, looking for the same feeling the original show gave us. Here’s hoping they can live up to the pressure and the hype! Looks like it’s gonna be a lot of 20 year olds watching Disney Channel this summer…
It’s so very rare to find a show with more than one character of color. Some notable tokens off the top of my head include Angela from Boy Meets World, Lisa from Saved by the Bell, Martha Jones from Doctor Who, Charlie on The West Wing and Gunn on Angel. 30 Rock subverts the trend by having Tracy Jordan in the main cast, but also Twofer, who is both black and nerdy. Some of the disappointment behind Agents of SHIELD came from the team claiming diversity and internationality (yup, I made that up), but only having one character of color, Melinda May.
For the most part, the characters listed above were main cast members, but even when I Googled “Token Black Character,” a lot of the examples were recurring characters, if that. When we begin to include 1-episode black characters as “token” characters, it doesn’t look good for the diversity of television.
Some shows this season, however, are trying to buck that trend. Mostly they’re on FOX, who started and seems to be maintaining a diversity initiative this season. Brooklyn 99 has one of the most diverse casts out there, up there with Grey’s Anatomy in terms of variety, which makes sense due to its New York Police Department setting. FOX also airs Sleepy Hollow, which has 2 black main cast members and up to 4 black supporting characters. Then there’s John Cho’s recurring character and the sometimes seen Abbie ex-boyfriend Det. Morales.
And when they brought Damon Wayans Jr back to New Girl, I was pleasantly surprised that Lamorne Morris wasn’t going anywhere. (Though, just through a quick google, there don’t seem to be any new cast photos with Damian– I have to wonder how the conversation went down when they told Lamorne Damon was coming back. Was there a “don’t worry, we’re not replacing you with him like we did him with you” conversation, or was it just we’re adding him to the cast everyone, no one is leaving. With this trend so prevalent, I would have been a little nervous my time was up.)
This article, from Time a few weeks ago, discusses FOX and other networks beginning to break the 1 black friend trend, which we could hopefully include other nationalities of color too. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the article.
But it’s also a welcome change because it makes New Girl a rarity in TV today: a major-network sitcom with more than one African American character in its regular ensemble–a comedy about friends in which “a black friend” isn’t “the black friend.”
The big networks have had a notoriously sketchy track record on casting diversity–better some seasons, terrible other seasons. The reaction has tended to be adding minority characters to shows with largely white casts. That affects the overall math, of course, but it has the side effect of replicating a universe in which black–or Asian, Latino, &c.–characters are scattered, uniformly and singly.
The exceptions are scarce: Troy and Shirley on Community; Glee, if you count that as a comedy; Parks and Recreation, depending on your definition. (That is, Rashida Jones is biracial, but having seen every episode I can’t recall Ann Perkins’ ethnicity.)
Brooklyn 9-9, the diversity is very conscious, not for p.c. reasons but simple realism. As its co-creators have said, it’s a New York City police show, and New York’s police department is about half minority. So you’ll see two Latina detectives who are very different personalities, because why not? You’ll see Andre Braugher and Terry Crews (who had a fantastic episode this week), sharing a subplot about Crews’ character’s annoying brother-in-law–not because they’re bonded as the precinct’s black characters, but simply because they work together, and it’s life–and, you know, in-laws, amirite?
But there’s another reason: sometimes, a show should just have two black women on it, because sometimes in life, there just are two black women in the same place. (Again: or men, or Indian, or Middle Eastern, or…) TV should be diverse because of fairness, but above all because it should reflect the world.
What network a show will be on can be very important to the tone and feel and message of a show. The shows that the big networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX) air are very different than what FX or HBO or even The CW air. As it is pilot season, knowing the network a show will air on really tells you a lot about what kind of drama or humor may be on the program.
So, with that said, I’d like to briefly discuss the upcoming Girl Meets World pilot that is currently in pre-production. (Go here for the recent casting choice for said Girl. Cory and Topanga will indeed be back!) Any child of the 90s who watched Boy Meets World is super excited that this show will exist, with Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel on board–and hopefully some other familiar faces, and hopes it will be good. But part of what made BMW so good was its network. It aired on ABC during the unforgettable TGIFriday block along with other great shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Full House, Family Matters and many other funny, family oriented shows. They could be super cheesy, but were exactly what kids of the 90s stayed home and watched before they became teenagers who partied on Friday nights (I never became one of those people). But the shows that aired during that block on ABC are not the same kinds of show that aired on Disney Channel, even in what I’d consider its height (I’m talking the Famous Jett Jackson, Lizzie McGuire era). BMW followed Cory and the gang from 6th grade through college (all in 7 seasons, life speeds by!) and hit some major milestones on the way. Shawn joined a cult once, Mr Turner’s unresolved motorcycle accident, Cory and Topanga’s various relationship issues including cheating, the Pittsburg problem, and the light evolution of their sex life eventually. Those are areas Disney Channel shows now don’t touch.
If Girl Meets World is to be as good as Boy Meets World, I’d like a 2013 update of some of those same problems but with the same feel. So I am concerned about the show being on Disney Channel and not on ABC (though it’d be harder to find a place for it since I’m not sure ABC has the same kind of TGIFriday block) since what made the original show so good were the stories they could tell on ABC that they don’t on Disney Channel. Hopefully the show is great and my expectations (which I am forcing to be lowered) are met and exceeded. I just needed to get these concerns out and also post on my new blog!
I didn’t quite expect this post to be so long, but I ramble when I write and am trying to cut down (as any screenwriter must learn to do). So I’m ending it here.
Any thoughts (related to this or not) on Girl Meets World? Production begins in February.