Amy Poehler's Smart Girls At the Party Isn't Smart Enough

What Women Really Think
July 11 2012 4:18 PM

Amy Poehler's Smart Girls At the Party Isn't Smart Enough

Ask better questions, Amy Poehler

Photograph by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images.

Like all self-respecting feminist fans of funny, I worship at the altar of Amy Poehler, whose small-town, Middle-American bureaucrat-turned-city-councilwoman Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation is one of the most hilarious, positive portrayals of a woman anywhere on television. So I was excited for Smart Girls at the Party, Poehler's Web series aimed at celebrating "extraordinary individuals who are changing the world by being themselves."

Spotlighting intelligent young girls who might not fit the Disney Channel or ABC Family mode is a worthy goal. But Smart Girls at the Party feels less like an expression of Poehler's spiky humor than one of Leslie Knope's more-earnest and less-successful projects.


The format is simple: Poehler sits down with a pre-teen girl like Anna, an aspiring chef, or Cameron, who writes mysteries, and talks to them about their interests and activities. The interviewees are uniformly charming, but as an interviewer, Poehler doesn't seem to know how to draw them out or to highlight their talents without seeming a little condescending. Plus, her questions are boring: She asks a girl who's on to talk about her Bat Mitzvah to explain why family should be important to everyone, a basic, broad and softball question, the equivalent of asking an actor what it felt like to play a role. (And I can't imagine Poehler likes getting asked that.) During the Cameron episode, Poehler and her crew try to emphasize how impressive Cameron's approach to writer's block is by suggesting that they themselves are immature and overly emotional in response to similar challenges. It's exactly the kind of self-negating behavior Smart Girls at the Party should counter—I don't think Poehler wants to communicate that these young women should minimize their own accomplishments to make other people feel good, but that's precisely what she's doing. Too often Poehler seems to be straining to engineer viral moments, as with her interview with a young feminist here:

The difference between the Ruby video and that public radio reporter's interview with his daughter about why she gave her sister a terrible haircut is that the latter succeeded by taking the daughter and her motivations and decisions seriously, while Poehler and her cast seem focused on Ruby's cute-factor.

And that's the ultimate problem with Smart Girls at the Party: Poehler and her producer treat the subjects like they're kids getting a chance to sit at the adult's table for dessert. Acting overly amazed by these girls only plays up their adorableness, rather than presenting them as the future leaders Poehler actually wants them to be.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 5:19 PM Washington’s Acting Roles
Sept. 19 2014 3:24 PM Why Innovators Hate MBAs
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.