Sigh. I knew it was coming, and I knew it would be bittersweet, but still – the last episode of Parks and Recreation was poignant TV watching. The truncated seventh season was all about change and moving on. So it makes sense that the final episode acted like a condensed version of the seventh season. In the first episode (all the way back in January), we leaped forward three years to 2017. In those three years, lots happened, and our crew pretty much split up, each going his/her own separate ways.
In the final episode – “One Last Ride” – writers Michael Schur and Amy Poehler played around with time like Faulkner, jumping around from 2017 to 2024 to 2034 to 2048. Because Parks and Rec is, above all, a very sentimental show, the changes for our beloveds were pretty much all good. The most equivocal was Tom Haverford, who took his successful bistro and expanded it to a floptastic chain which decimated his fortunes and left him humble and depressed. But before we felt too sorry for Tom, he quickly rebounded as a profitable motivational speaker and author (with the gorgeous Lucy by his side).
But aside from Tom’s momentarily blip, all of the other Parks and Recs had great futures, wrapping up some wonderful plot lines. Donna Meagle, a real estate superstar leaves the corporate world for the nonprofit sector, throwing her considerable wealth, intelligence, and attention into an education charity; Andy and April are living wedded bliss, punctuated by a baby; perpetual punching bag Jerry is elected mayor of Pawnee and lives to a ripe old, old, old age of 100, dying with his gigantic family by his side, including his still-gorgeous wife Gaily; Ron, finished with running his own successful construction company, goes through a spat of midlife crisis, and turns to Leslie for guidance – and Leslie, being Leslie, gets Ron a job overseeing a national park; and Leslie and Ben have major decisions to make when both are tapped to run for Indiana governor. And even Craig gets a flashforward, in which he marries Typhoon (and Ron – say what? is best man), and lives sorta happily ever after (as happily after as the overly emotional Craig can be).
Predictably, this episode was full of laughs and tears. Parks and Rec is a show defined by warmth and friendship – though it started off as a The Office clone, it really is a Mary Tyler Moore Show descendant. The show is about how people find themselves becoming each others’ family because they work together. The show’s first season was about establishing the characters, but it did a piss poor job. Leslie wasn’t the hyper competent, wonderful, inspirational woman we know – instead she was a daffy Michael Scott clone who was the source of derision and contempt from her colleagues. Thankfully, that concept was junked, and instead the show developed a strong love among the folks in the parks department.
Along with its warmth, the show was also marked by projects – big projects. Leslie had a big goal to achieve, whether it was the Harvest Festival, running for office, or the Unity Concert. The seventh season didn’t have a big project, and instead, each character was given his/her future. But it seems fitting that in “One Last Ride” there is one last project: a minor issue with a park swing needing some fixing. Even though she doesn’t work in the parks department, she jumps in with both feet, dragging her pals. Shur and Poehler do a great job of writing these tiny vignettes, where viewers are magically transported into the future – thankfully, Shur doesn’t slather our actors in terrible aging makeup (Poehler, Adam Scott, and Jim O’Heir are the only ones who sport wigs and fake wrinkles), and the futures are believable.
Ron’s growth is the most poignant, given that the seventh season hurt like a muthafucka for him. His family unit was disheveled by change, and he, like Leslie, doesn’t do well with change. In “Ron and Leslie” we see how a deep and important friendship was damaged by pride – and Ron knew better than to let it happen again. He appealed to Leslie, the woman he was closest to, and knew him best. The solution – only in TV do we get a solution this pat and convenient – Leslie gets him a job as a park manager (Ron Swanson working for the Federal Government, who woulda thunk it).
Though Ron’s journey was the sweetest, Donna’s was the most inspirational, because it’s clear, that like April, Donna’s time with Leslie made a profound influence. Despite her financial success, she recognizes the virtue of philanthropy and benevolence. Donna has always been a good person, but she was also easily dismissed as materialistic because of her love of expensive jewels and clothing (and her romance with her Mercedes Benz). The writers were great in that even if Donna was usually a peripheral character, her commitment to her work (and her love for Leslie) made the progression credible and organic. Who wouldn’t want to do good after working for years with a do-gooder like Leslie Knope?
As for Leslie? Well, the future is bright, but we’re not given all of the answers. She’s a two-term governor from Indiana, but there’s an implication that she (or Ben) is president of the United States (at Jerry’s funeral, she’s flanked by Secret Service). And her triplets are hell raisers (reminds me a bit of Felicity Huffman’s appalling twin boys on Desperate Housewives). Towards the end of the episode, Leslie’s getting an honorary doctorate from Indiana State University (with its library named after her), and gives a beautiful speech about public service “When we worked here together we fought, scratched, and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better. That’s what public service is all about. Small, incremental change, every day.”
And that’s what Parks and Recreation was all about: a group of friends trying to make people’s lives better. Once the show runners junked the empty snark of the first season, the show promoted love for one’s community. Leslie’s road to the governor’s mansion (and possibly the White House) is the tale of the least cynical fictitious politician. It’s interesting comparing Leslie Knope to Selina Meyer from Veep – unlike Leslie, Selina’s public work is solely motivated by personal gain and ego – Leslie has a healthy ego (which is constantly stroked by her endless successes, but kept in check by the periodic failures), but her motivation has always been to help others and help her town.
Like every good finale, “One Last Ride” brings back some old favorites – including the beautiful and gorgeous Ann Perkins. Unfortunately, Rashida Jones’ appearance is merely a cameo, but Leslie’s pure, unadulterated joy (“It’s Ann! It’s Ann!” she screams and she shoves Ben out of the way) is great to take in. Ann Perkins’ departure in the sixth season made Leslie rely more on April and Donna for sisterhood support, but in the five minutes that was spent watching Leslie hug Ann showed just how right for each other the two are (and I misted a bit when I learned that Ann’s tween daughter is named Leslie).
Though Parks and Recreation‘s ratings were tiny when compared to 30 Rock or The Office, in the end, I found myself more invested in the gang from Pawnee instead of the folks from Dunder-Mifflin or the scribes at TGS. What pushed Parks and Rec forward is the unabashed way we’re supposed to love Leslie Knope – the epitome of hard work, determination, intelligence, and kindness.