Well, I’ve heard the infectious Parks and Recreation opening theme ushering in a new episode for the last time tonight. I can’t say that it wasn’t a bittersweet moment. I’m very proud that the series I’ve grown to love is going out on such a strong final season note. The seventh season has been both brilliant (“Gryzzylbox”) and hilarious (last week’s show dedicated to Andy’s local cable TV show). It has been surprising (the multi-year rift between Leslie and Ron) and quietly emotional (man, where do I start…).
But does the series finale do justice to this quirky and endearing cult hit? By centering on Leslie’s (Amy Poehler) final drive to help just one more person, this finale focuses on what made the series great – the relationship between the fantastic cast. It’s not the funniest episode of the series, but like the best finales that pay service to the fans who have followed shows through to the very end, it’s an ultimately emotionally satisfying venture.
The episode is structured around Leslie and gang embarking on a final Parks Department project, repairing a broken swing on a local park. But this step through Pawnee bureacracy is just a jumping off point for a series of flash forwards and deceptively narratively complex looks into each character’s future.
Donna’s (Rhetta) story takes us to Seattle, 2023, where she is a successful real estate agent and husband Joe is a dedicated public school teacher. There’s a great throw-away joke about the “space haystack around the needle.” Get it? Needle in a haystack? It’s so perfectly corny. It’s the kind of thing at which this show excelled. Ridiculously wealthy, Donna offers to establish a series of “Teach Yo’ Self” school grants for Joe’s suffering school programs. It’s not a particularly hilarious vignette, but like much of the episode, it’s very sweet.
For Andy (Chris Pratt) and April (Aubrey Plaza), the year 2022 brings them happily living in Washington, DC, near Leslie and Ben (Adam Scott). Well, sort of happy as, on Halloween night, Andy confesses his need to have a child, breeching the agreement he and April had made about family. After seeking Leslie’s advice, April flashes forward to 2023 when she (dressed as a zombie, natch) gives birth to a little boy. The comedy here comes from Andy’s continued lack of maturity, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. The mere process of naming their son becomes a brief epic mashup of Halloween and Bert Macklin-riffs. They finally settle on Jack. Jack Dwyer. And that’s perfect.
In 2019, Tom (Aziz Ansari) decides to franchise Tom’s Bistro based on solid projections and the approval of his friends. Unfortunately, he franchises just before the stock market tanks, credit dries up, and the US runs out of beef. Bankrupt but thanks to Lucy’s encouragement, Tom moves on to his next venture – or next fifty ventures – before writing “Failure,” a self-help book based on archetypes developed through the Parks and Recreation cast.
In 2022, a successul Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) decides to resign from his Very Good Construction Company. At a “personal crossroads,” he seeks the advice of Leslie to help identify what he’d like to work on next. The plot of Pawnee land that Leslie saved earlier this season (nearly destroying their friendship in the process) became a beautiful national park, which Leslie offers to Ron to run. Despite the threat of working for the Federal Government again, Ron accepts the job, thanking Leslie for returning purpose to his life. My personal favorite moment of the episode took place when Ron paddled out to the middle of the national park’s lake with a broad, uncharacteristic smile on his face. In a boat that he most likely built by hand. Flawless.
There are a few throw-away moments to catch us up with some recurring favorites. In 2019, Craig (Billy Eichner) croons beautifully (who knew the abrasively hilarious Eichner could sing so well?) marries Typhoon, Ron Swanson’s flamboyant stylist. In 2022, Jean-Ralphio fakes his death to split the insurance money with his sister. He is caught fleeing his funeral by the rabbi conducting the service.
And Garry (Jim O’Heir), formally elected mayor multiple times, lives to be 100 years old, enormously overweight and still married to an apparently ageless Gail (Christie Brinkley). He dies on his 100th birthday, and we are treated to the anti-spectacle of his funeral.
Finally bringing together the future storyline in 2025, Leslie and Ben attend a dinner with Vice President Joe and Jill Biden. During the dinner, Leslie is approached to run for governor of Indiana. In a somewhat hackneyed turn of events, Jen Barkley (Kathryn Hahn) approaches Ben to run for the same position. Of course, Leslie whiteboards the pros and cons over who runs for the official seat without reaching a decision.
A week later, they revisit Pawnee, and Ben arranges a surprise reunion for Leslie, complete with Ann (Rashida Jones) and Chris (Rob Lowe). I didn’t realize how much I’d missed these two. The gang continues to mingle and share updates on their lives. April is pregnant again. Ann and Leslie are hatching a plot to marry their kids together. Tom has written another successful book. After sharing the good times with their friends, Leslie and Ben decide to leave the ultimate decision to the flip of a coin (the anti-Leslie Knope thing to do). Seeing Leslie would rather do this than dominate his career, Ben decides to step aside and let Leslie run.
As we close the flash forward, Leslie is governor of Indiana and gives a touching commencement speech about the value of doing what you love and doing it with people that you love. Of course, she’s disappointed when Indiana University names only the library after her. Typical Knope.
Back in 2017, the group finishes the swing repair and takes a group photo. The final words of the series are spoken by Leslie Knope, “I’m ready.” She’s ready to leave Pawnee. She’s ready to move her life forward. She’s ready for the future.
But the saddest thing to me was how I really wasn’t ready to say goodbye to this great show. The finale may have been shorter on laughs than the typical episode, but as a fan from the show since its beginning, it was the perfect way to say goodbye. I will miss this cast and will certainly look forward to their individual successes in future ventures.
But they will never be this great again. Goodbye Parks and Recreation. You will be missed.