‘Parks and Recreation’s’ Ron Swanson: simply irresistible
There are many reasons to watch NBC’s marvelously funny “Parks and Recreation,” but at this point I only need one: Ron Swanson.
Swanson is played by Nick Offerman, an actor blessed with a deeply melodious voice and wickedly expressive eyebrows who has mastered, if not invented, the art of over-the-top understatement. But Swanson is a sum of several parts — an exquisite creation of Offerman’s talent, but also of writing and directing, of hair, makeup and wardrobe.
And I love him with all my heart.
My love for Ron Swanson is so fair and wild and true that it has become difficult for me to appreciate even the cockeyed wonder that is Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope or the comedically perfect pairing of April (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy (Chris Pratt) if Ron is not in the scene. My love for Ron Swanson is so close to devotion that I have begun to measure every man on television (and more than a few in real life) against him, and all of them fall lamentably short.
Which shouldn’t surprise me. Though there are plenty of “guys” on television, there are very few men. Ron Swanson is a man.
He wears slacks, not skinny jeans or even pants, and his sweaters are collared. He is comfortable with firearms. He can fix things that are broken and solve really tough riddles. He is quietly rude and quite often chivalrous. He plays the saxophone.
Ron Swanson doesn’t wear vests and drink tea, doesn’t pop Vicodin and sexually harass his staff, doesn’t live with two other goofy guys and a girl, or another man and his child. Ron Swanson isn’t a smart-mouth member of law enforcement; neither does he murder people ritualistically and then blame it all on a traumatic childhood incident.
Ron Swanson laughs like a little girl and gets away with it because he understands things that other humans of his chromosomal order appear to have forgotten, including:
1. Hair. A man should comb his hair, after which it should appear combed. I could write a sonnet to Ron’s hair, which rises on a semi-Elvis wave, in perfect harmony with the mustache echoing it below.
2. The mustache. After years of enduring the mixed message of carefully tended scruff — “I’m too busy/disaffected to shave! But I manage to be unshaven in an even and meticulously shaped way!” — it is a relief to see a man with real facial hair. Sorry, Selleck, there’s a new ‘stache in town.
3. The bod. Ron Swanson does not look like he weighs less than me. What with the general waifishness of men on TV, I cannot overstate the aphrodisiac effect this has on a woman.
4. The diet. Steak, bacon and Scotch. Three of the best-tasting, best-smelling things in the world.
5. The attitude. Ron is not apathetic, Ron is Zen. He is a public servant who hates 99% of the public, a government official who does not believe in government. He will not suffer fools at all, save the fools he has come to love and those he will protect with his life.
When the show began, Ron was just one of a very loose and unformed ensemble. Part of upper management, his character seemed designed mainly to serve as ballast, the grimacing, feet-dragging yin to Leslie’s overly zealous cheerleading yang. Slowly he was allowed glimmers of humanity, through his grudging admiration of Leslie and his mentoring of April, a young woman as antisocial and indifferent as he.
Because “Parks and Rec” did not have a real conflict at its heart, or even an über-narcissist, à la “The Office,” the characters have all become a bit more lovable without falling into a sentimental sameness. Miraculously, Ron, like April, has been allowed to maintain his mien of disdain while his otherness has only increased.
Over the years we learned of Ron’s bizarre psychosexual past, including his marriages to the glacially powerful Tammy One and addictively kinky Tammy Two (played to great effect by Patricia Clarkson and Offerman’s real-life spouse. Megan Mullally, respectively), of his strange childhood spent learning anachronistic skills (in a recent episode, he recounts working in a metal factory and a tannery “while trying to finish middle school”) and his firm belief that most government is a waste of time and money.
Even so, Ron remains a man of mystery. His true feelings are revealed only by his actions — whether these be fixing every broken thing in April and Andy’s house or spending the day driving all over creation to prove to Leslie that she is trying to do too much.
Unlike the multitude of fractured and unforthcoming antiheroes that crowd the screen, Ron is all action and little talk. And whatever his past, he is past desiring help in dealing with it. Ron isn’t nursing some tragic hurt that needs a woman’s love to heal; he doesn’t need to be fixed, he just needs to be accepted.
In fact, he doesn’t actually need that, or at least not nearly as much as a Buck knife, a roll of duct tape, a T-bone and a little peace and quiet.
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