I am here today to present my defense for one of the most contemptible, inoffensively unexceptional characters in recent television history. His name is Mark Brendanawicz and for the first two seasons of the hit NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, he intruded into the homes of viewers and brought nothing with him except the personality and charisma of a loaf of three day old Wonder Bread. Mark Brendanawicz. The character’s own name is an inside-voice-shout of mediocrity. I looked on Google for Mark Brendanawicz quotes and the top hit is a quote from Leslie Knope, the main protagonist of the show. It’s not even his quote. Mark Brendanawicz is a virtually useless character, a twice-washed coffee stain on a clearance Target sweater.
Mark Brendanawicz is a city planner for the Pawnee government, the Indiana city that the series takes place in. At the beginning of the series, he’s the subject of an infatuation from Leslie Knope, the show’s lead character. After about ten episodes, Mark starts dating Leslie’s best friend Ann Perkins. Then she breaks up with him. That’s his entire character arc.
After the second season’s finale, Mark Brendanawicz was scoured from the minds of every character as if he was a Russian capitalist at the heights of the Stalin purges. He leaves the show at the end of the second season as one of the original seven main characters of the show, having been the prime romantic interest of at least two of the women characters on the show while possessing the charm of a beige-flavored La Croix and after the second season promptly walks off the face of the Earth. Before the opening credits of the third season, viewers are treated to a brief 90 second recap of the entire series thus far. Mark doesn’t get a single frame. In fact, beginning in the first episode of the third season all the way to the series finale, there are exactly zero references to Mark Brendanawicz. That’s 95 episodes with zero references. Two thousand and ninety minutes or just about thirty five hours and absolutely nothing.
So what? You ask. A character was written off a show. In Hollywood. Maybe there was bad blood between the actor and the writers. Things like that happen all the time. At least they gave him the courtesy of explaining his departure. Sure. You bring up a good point, even if I think it’s strange how weirdly confident you are about Hollywood culture for a Midwestern college student. However, you’re thinking about this too realistically. I’m not concerned with the relationships behind the show, I’m only reading the context of the show.
That’s exactly how Mark appeared to me at first. Then I began to see his character only in the context of the show, forgetting the context of real life, and after the third time through the series, I began to notice the absence of Mark Brendanawicz. Not the absence in the post-Mark Pawnee I previously mentioned, but the absence of his character within the two seasons he exists in. Mark just doesn’t care. About anything. It’s as though he’s an unenthused marionette dragging himself through relationships on the show.
It’s only after we recognize how easily Mark was forgotten that we can appreciate his character as a work of satire. Parks and Recreation took a boring main character and for his boring-ness sentenced him to a fate worse than death: the complete denial of his existence. In the context of the show, beginning in the third season, Mark Brendanawicz never existed. It’s not that he existed and he was forgotten. Mark Brendanawicz was never really there.
So the character of Mark is a satire. Ok, fine. But whom is he a satire on? Another good question, but this one’s a bit tougher to answer. The most obvious answer would be that he satirizes his identity, the boring, straight, white, faux-liberal man who refuse to connect deeply with anyone else. I might be projecting my own insecurities with that diagnosis. So then, what? If he functions as the only normal character on the show, is he satirizing all of us? Are the writers of Parks and Rec telling us that if we’re normal, we, like Mark ‘Brendana-quits’, will be forgotten entirely? That’s a terribly dark universe to live in, but if those are the rules, there’s a silver lining. There’s an easy way to avoid being a Brendanawicz. If you love someone, tell them. Ask yourself: “Would a thirty five year old City Planner named Mark Brendanawicz think what I’m doing is cool?” If not, do that thing.