Parks and Rec’s Portrayal of Smiling Depression

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In honor of April being stress awareness month, we’re closing it out with a throwback to one of the most iconic and beloved sitcoms of the 2010s: Parks and Recreation! Specifically, I’m going to focus on one of the more underrated characters of the ensemble, Chris Traeger. Chris didn’t come into the show until season two, but when he did he brought his charm, his looks, and his eccentricity to an already zany cast of characters. He acts as the foil to Ben’s straight-man persona while having his own story and struggles to contend with. 

Chris is presented as overtly positive and exaggerated in everything he says which can, at times, be off-putting for those around him. But his sincerity behind every word shows that he’s not being fake, and just chooses to be the most positive and happiest person he can be for himself and those around him. As we get further into the show, we find out why Chris is the way he is. We also see what happens when that shield of positivity cracks a bit. 

When Chris is asked why he’s so positive all the time he explains that he almost died when he was first born, motivating him to make every day as great as it can be. He goes out of his way to be perfect for himself and those around him, constantly giving people compliments and telling them how great they are, and how amazing everything they say and do is. Chris says he has a paralyzing fear of disappointing anyone or having a negative effect on the people around him. He’s also obsessed with staying healthy to the point where the flu sends him to the hospital in season two because he has never built up any antibodies. Throughout the show, Chris comes to terms with the fact that he’s depressed and by season five–at the advice of Tom–he starts seeing a therapist to help him deal with it. 

The other characters will often treat Chris like he’s a bit weird for the things he says, but that’s mainly for comedic relief. Many of his lines are very cartoonishly over the top in order to be read as parody. Even with Chris being established as someone the others find strange, they still treat him with kindness when he’s truly going through an anxious episode. They might side-eye him a bit, but they never ridicule him and even help him through his depression. Parks and Recreation is known as a more wholesome sibling of The Office and that rings true here as well. The Office often makes jokes at the expense of characters, and while Parks and Rec sometimes does that as well, it still shows a more caring group of characters than The Office does. It also tackles mental health in a more sensitive way than many other shows have.