A television show can get a lot of mileage out of good will, but the smarter series know when it’s time to call it a day. For me, it’s a sad task to begin the final season of NBCs Parks and Recreation, but I’d rather see it go under the power of its complete cast than trickle away in a shell of its former self (sorry, The Office… It just wasn’t the same in the post-Carell era.)
But NBC certainly isn’t doing the show any favors by effectively dropkicking it off the schedule in an abbreviated and rushed final season – its seventh. The show’s greatest episodes were never the hour-long stunt runs as, with any hour-long comedy, the material felt unnecessarily padded to conform to the extended session. Now, in the run up until the series finale in late February, NBC is airing the final episodes two at a time, back to back. The effect is not entirely a winning one, though the second selection saves the hour.
The first of the two episodes that aired tonight, “2017,” sets the stage for what appears to be the thread that will run through to the end. Flash-forwarding three years into the future, Leslie (Amy Poehler) now works as Regional Park Director, giving her an extended set of responsibilities but still keeping her feet firmly in her beloved Pawnee. Estranged over a rift that is only referred to as “Morning Star,” Leslie finds herself in direct competition with former boss Ron Swanson (the criminally underrated Nick Offerman) over a prime piece of land upon which she wants to, of course, build a park as her lasting legacy to Pawnee. Swanson left the Parks and Rec office to work in the private sector under his own construction business, the plainly named Very Good Construction.
Her husband Ben (Adam Scott) receives a Man of the Year award and is unceremoniously ignored. Tom (Aziz Ansari) is a lonely but very successful entrepreneur (“awesome at being humble”), Donna (Retta) excels at real estate and is engaged, and Jerry/Larry/Terry (Jim O’Heir) hangs around, smiling the blissful smile of a simple man.
The episode has a great deal of territory to cover, perhaps too much, and it’s not their finest outing. The best section involves my personal favorite characters Andy (Chris Pratt) and April (Aubrey Plaza) growing in terror at their increasing domesticity (Andy’s local cable TV show “Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show” is a fantastic site gag that I hope continues).
Andy’s weekend plans include going to the farmer’s market, cooking in the crockpot, and watching a movie on cable. It sends April into a memorable frenzy as she accuses the crock-pot of taunting her. Later, they decide to buy their own home – a reportedly haunted mental institution for people driven insane by their jobs at a doll’s head factory. The best part? It’s currently owned by Werner Herzog in a blisteringly funny cameo. Of course, they need to buy the house…
Andy: We are responsible adults, you know what that means right?
April: I know.
Andy: That means we have money, and we’re gonna to buy the f*ck out of this house.
The second episode of the evening, “Ron & Jammy,” is far more successful, largely thanks to the brilliant comic timing of guest star Megan Mullally as Tammy Two, Ron’s second ex-wife. Tammy has her hooks in local councilman Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser) – now sporting Ron’s trademark hairstyle and mustache. Leslie and Ron team up to effectively deprogram Jamm in a series of comic montages including spraying him in the face with Tammy’s perfume and slapping him and fitting him with an iron chastity belt for men.
The episode ends with Tammy stripping naked in a library to seduce Jamm but failing to do so in the end. This second episode provides more consistent laughs and feels like a more confident effort, particularly in (again) April’s attempts to find a meaningful new job, a quest that takes her to the local mortuary.
This later confidence and return to their consistent level of humor are very good things because deciding the right time to end a series is only part of the battle. Great series still have to stick the landing.