[This is a review of the Parks and Recreation series finale. There will be SPOILERS]
In April 2009, NBC’s Parks and Recreation began as an underdog Office “spinoff” that was simply trying to escape the shadow of its similarly-styled network counterpart and stand on its own two legs. With a cast of mostly unknowns, it clumsily stumbled out of the gate on those wobbly legs; however, it wasn’t long before Parks found its footing, its groove, its heart, its voice and its viewers.
Coming into its final episode last night, fittingly titled “One Last Ride”, Parks and Rec had established itself as one of the past decade’s best television sitcoms. And with its last episode, it delivered a sweet, sincere and very satisfying ending for those who had fallen in love with the charming inhabitants of Pawnee, Indiana.
As expected, the culmination of the show’s six-year, seven-season and 125-episode run went for the heartstrings – even more so than the laughs – but seemed to hit all the right notes. By portraying moments of compassion, honest friendship, true love and genuine, good-spirited fun, the episode accomplished what many Parks and Rec episodes do – and what many other shows try and fail to do. It made us care about the characters and their relationships with one another, while celebrating their successes with them. And as far as sitcom finales go, I think that’s all we can ask.
Sure, you could call the finale’s methods and its message about the importance of lasting friendships sappy and conventional, but the episode’s structure will definitely make it memorable. Using a simple main story thread that has old department members coming together in 2017 to fix a park swing intercut with a series of flash-forwards outlining each character’s future, the episode gave fans both the full final happy picture and a fitting ending to each of their individual stories. Best of all, it goes about its business without being too heavy-handed, and earns all of its emotional moments.
Of course, those beautiful moments pay off emotionally because of the past work the series has put in carefully drawing its characters and establishing powerful, lasting bonds between them. At this point, fans are invested in and can’t help but root for these characters. So, when Donna moves to Seattle with the love of her life; when Tom ironically writes a best-selling book about his entrepreneurial failings; when Jerry/Garry/Terry serves 10 terms as the mayor of Pawnee and lives to be 100 with his perfect family; when April and Andy become parents for the first time; when Ron cashes in his wealth of gold for a majority stake in his favorite Scotch whiskey distillery; and when Leslie becomes the Governor of Indiana after finally establishing a national park in Pawnee (which Ron agrees to oversee), we are filled with joy that our friends have made it and can take solace in knowing that they will live happily ever after following this long goodbye.
Many will also be comforted to simply see the gang back together – including Chris and Anne for the first time since season 6. While much of season 7 saw the tightly-knit ensemble fragment off into more personal story arcs involving the emotional and professional progression of the main characters, the finale brought everyone back together – albeit briefly – for one seemingly menial task. Of course, that task becomes much more meaningful when you consider the emotional impact of what ends up being the last time they reunite for many years.
While the character moments and the reunion certainly feel good now, the road leading up to the finale was a little bumpier. Not only did the truncated 13-episode “Farewell Season” – as NBC branded it – threaten to potentially cheapen the show’s legacy by simply rushing to the finish line, but some episodes in it – including “The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show” – only inched the final story arcs along, appearing to be fairly inconsequential with just a handful of episodes remaining.
Fortunately, any final season missteps were rectified and redeemed in the final few episodes by the one thing that has always buoyed the series: its well-defined characters. Up until the very end, viewers could count on laughs as well as heartfelt moments coming from Ron’s stubbornness, Leslie’s unrelenting drive and positivity, Andy’s child-like fascinations, April’s apathetic approach to everything and Tom’s bold style and swagger – and of course, the always entertaining dynamics of the entire mixture of personalities.
A lot of credit for the finale and the success of the series as a whole should also go to the writers. Quippy dialogue, multi-layered jokes and creative callbacks marked Parks and Recreation‘s signature brand of comedy: a brand cooked up in the writer’s room by some of the best in the business, including writer/producer/actor Harris Wittels (whom the comedy world tragically lost earlier this month at the age of 30). Like the series, Wittels will certainly be remembered for having a unique comedic voice in the world of the network sitcom, where such a thing isn’t always easy to come by.
After the impressive and spectacular season 6 finale, many Parks fans were calling for the series to call it quits on such a high note, while others begged for one more full season. What they received was ultimately a half-season that – at the outset – felt like a self-congratulatory victory lap, but turned into the heartfelt farewell the network kept promising. While it didn’t deliver a ton of laughs, it showed plenty of heart and executed a proper send-off for what will go down as one of the strongest network sitcoms in recent history. We have to say thank you to Parks and Recreation for the laughs and the memories. Goodbye, Pawnee. You will be missed.
What did you think of the Parks and Recreation series finale? Let us know in the comments! You can watch the S4 gag reel below: