The ‘Parks And Recreation’ Finale Was Hokey And Ridiculous And Totally Perfect
Goodbye Leslie, you opalescent tree shark.
This is a recap of the final episode of Parks and Recreation. Spoiler alert.
Giving a series a satisfying ending is never easy, but in the case of Parks and Rec it’s damn near impossible. After being on our screens for an impressive six years, the cult favourite is now safely among the ranks of network royalty like The Office (which had a running time of eight years), Seinfeld (nine years) and Friends (ten years), and as such, there was enormous pressure on the final episode — and the entire seventh season — to deliver the goods.
But what is the perfect way to end a sitcom? There’s no satisfaction to be had by solving the puzzles or finally learning the fate of Walter White; we’re not hankering to find the Yellow King. In fact, it’s just the opposite. More than anything else, Parks and Rec — a show about the everyday workings of local government in a small town — was about the mundane. And because of this, all that really matters is the people.
This final episode was already set up with all the usual hallmarks of Things Really Ending. With Craig the final familiar face in the Parks department, the gang have all moved on to bigger and brighter things. Leslie is the Director of the National Parks Service, Ben is running for Congress, Tom is engaged to Lucy and, like Ron, has found a profession that really suits him, Donna is newly married, April has found a new career and is starting fresh in Washington with Andy. Also, in one of the show’s most inspired moments, Garry is now the Mayor.
Though much of season seven lacked the energy and ingenuity of earlier seasons, it did not disappoint with plot and everything was geared towards this ending. There was going to be a loving embrace and a sentimental close-up of the Parks Department door; maybe even a sentimental reflection of How We All Ended Up Here.
But, while the Parks finale flirted with all of these ideas, it ultimately delivered something new and much more satisfying. “Forget about these old stories,” Leslie told everyone within the first three minutes. “Let’s make a new one.”
And with those few words, the entire episode became a bizarre version of the epilogue from Harry Potter.
Instead of resting on each of the planned paths the season had set up for each character, Parks took us on a journey of everyone’s life ‘beyond the show’. Shooting from the already established future of 2017 to between 2019 and 2048, we saw Ben and Leslie’s ambition leading them to even larger political arenas, another career change for Tom and Ron, a more co-operative and generous version of Donna, a surprisingly successful tenure as Mayor for Garry, and a complex side plot about family life for April and Andy.
It’s a bold decision.
Firstly, this is a lot to pack into an hour of television and there’s the risk of each plot line feeling rushed or insincere. Add to that the fact that my eyes were already rolling to the back of my head during this last season whenever anyone mentioned drones or holograms or awkwardly picked up a transparent Gryzzl device and it all feels a little too Back To The Future 2.
Also, it’s difficult to pull off without being incredibly hokey. Flash-forwards are more often than not essentially an exercise in navel-gazing; a kind of reverse nostalgia that deal in the big questions and inject extra weight into the preceding events. Who are we? Where are we going? What did it all mean?
While this is the well-worn terrain of all sitcom finales — even the characters of Seinfeld were forced into court-mandated introspection — it felt especially relevant in the episodic structure of last night’s episode. To be honest, all the purposeful arm touching and hand holding didn’t do it any favours either.
But there are also a number of reasons why this was the perfect way to end it.
Firstly, the characters of Parks and Rec just mean too much to us. It was weird enough when Ann and Chris drifted off into the abyss with the promise of a new and mysterious life; we simply couldn’t handle that happening to the entire cast.
“To me, the finales that have made me the happiest … were the ones where I felt like I could imagine what happened to everybody after the credits rolled,” said co-creator Michael Schur.
As such, the episode gave us an unprecedented sense of closure; but it didn’t gift us a fairytale ending. Tom’s business fails. Ron, the most self-possessed person in existence, has to entirely reassess what he wants out of life. Even the birth of April and Andy’s child is mired with serious problems.
For me at least, it’s this sense of complexity in each storyline which is the final episode’s saving grace.
The whole thing may be rife with overt sentimentality in its construction, contents and overarching themes — everyone unites to build a swing and Leslie delivers a speech about teamwork and unity; I get it — but it’s easily supported by its web of exceptional and relatable characters. Though they’ve proven themselves increasingly absurd over the past six years, the whole Parks crew has always had a wholesome undercurrent of sincerity and compassion which has made them incredibly endearing; these are the people who invented an entirely new dialect of in-jokes and made both Joe Biden and Genuwine cool again.
Frankly, they’ve earned the right to be a little sappy.