Parks and Rec may have teased a big shocker in the last few minutes of its season finale Thursday night, but the actual shocker played second fiddle to the real upset: Leslie Knope’s new bangs in the flash-forward.
On the episode of Parks and Recreation, we got a look at Future Leslie… with bangs. On How I Met Your Mother‘s season finale, we got at a look at Future Robin… with bangs. In Scandal‘s first season, flashbacks are signified by Olivia Pope going from bang-free to full-on fringed. On Friends, ’80s Rachel has — guess what? — bangs.
More and more, the fringe is used on TV to indicate a time change even though it’s basically useless, both expositorily and plot-wise. Time jumps are often accompanied by a title screen indicating as clearly as possible that the scene is either from the past or future: On the Parks and Rec season finale, a caption tells us we’re three years in the future as Leslie jaunts around the office with her new blonde bangs. All the men look the same — save for Ben’s gelled-back hair — but nope, not Leslie. How would we viewers figure out it was a time jump without the fringe?
And, because TV shows are obviously where we look to for realism, women acquiring bangs later on in their life just isn’t practical. Little girls — and Zooey Deschanel — have bangs. They’re cute! But they’re a pain. The constant trimming, the annoyance of growing them out and not knowing whether to pin them up or let them fall over your eyes, and the difficulty of styling them if your hair isn’t one of the one-in-a-million types that easily allows bangs to exist hassle-free. This is why (wild speculation incoming!) women, once they’re grown and wise, often realize that the bang-free lifestyle is the way to go.
Using hair as a prop to indicate changes in time is a technique often used in media — Clementine’s changing hair color in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Jack’s future-indicative beard on Lost. And in those instances, the change makes sense symbolically: Clementine is a character full of spontaneity and indecision, and her wavering between hair colors exposes those characteristics of her personality; Jack lets go of himself and his refusal to shave reflects that deeper change within him. But bangs? What do they tell us?
Nothing at all. They’re simply an easy way to make someone look different. Case in point: Olivia Pope’s flashback-bangs in Scandal.
In TV, “different” is apparently enough to qualify for “age difference.” But again, there are other ways to indicate time change that don’t require giving the female character a new haircut that tells us nothing about her character other than she asked for something new at the salon since the last time we saw her. Like, really: Does Robin’s hair make her look older… or just like she made a questionable hair decision?
So, television, put down the scissors and give up on flash-forward/flashback bangs. They add nothing to the character or to the plot, and instead serve as a distraction — do you really want people to be saying “OMG, can we talk about Robin’s hair on How I Met Your Mother?” instead of “OMG, can we talk about that How I Met Your Mother twist?” It’s time to let the characters do the talking in time jumps, not their bangs… although Leslie’s were pretty cute.