[Warning: Spoilers for Parks and Recreation S6 Episode 22.]
In hindsight, capping this trans-formative season of Parks and Recreation with a three year time jump seems pitch perfect. Following the departure of Anne and Chris, Leslie's struggle to re-acclimate after her unceremonious exit from the City Council, and the big life changes faced by nearly all the characters (sorry Jerry/Larry/Terry), NBC's little sitcom that could might have started to feel like it was chasing its own tale if it didn't do something big en route to next season. But will Parks and Recreation, with its suddenly new energy, come to a close next year?
In a new interview, Parks and Recreation showrunner Mike Schur talks frankly about how next year will "likely" be the show's last, while also letting on that there isn't a set exit strategy for the show in his mind yet.
"It’s fairly likely that next year will be the last. The natural rhythm of the show and the big creative jump we take at the end of this season certainly suggests that we’re moving in that direction. [...]
"Chunks of it are mapped out. We have signposts and stuff, but other parts are wide-open and are very much up in the air. I’m sure that some of the chunks that we felt are mapped out are going to change. We just have a general idea of what is going on in the world, and we have some general ideas for what happens to those people over the course of this future season, but until we really get back in the room, I’d really prefer not to try to commit to anything too soon. It just sort of like shuts up creativity. … I have an idea for the final image, the final scene and the final image of the show, and I have no idea whether that’ll be the final image or not."
While Schur and the other writers aren't fully locked in on a way to close the series when that time comes, Schur does admit in the interview that a lot of the bigger developments in the back end of this past season - Leslie's pregnancy and new job, Tom's restaurant - were a part of the puzzle leading to the show's end when there were questions about whether this season would be it. Luckily, though, a meeting with NBC and assurances that the show would be renewed changed the landscape, allowing Schur and the writers to concoct the time jump.
As for if that large missing chunk of time will be filled in via flashback next season, Schur seems to have an interest in going back - but only a little:
"The majority of the season is going to take place in that time period, and that is allowing for certainly the possibility of episodes that fill in certain gaps that go back in time a little bit. That, who knows, go forward in time. Now we’ve established this as a possibility. But we’re not going to see Leslie pregnant for the whole year, we’re not going to see her give birth. The whole season is not going to be about filling in those gaps — the main action of the season will take place in that slightly futurescape. We may go back and see a couple of things here and there of what happened in the interim, but we’re not faking you out. This is a real shift for the show in terms of when it takes place."
As is often the case with these bold time jumps, there seems to be an immediate sense that as a viewer who has been invested in watching these characters inch forward that we have lost something. It would have been cool to see Leslie build her National Parks Department office into the well oiled (Jon Hamm aside) machine that it seems to be or see her and Ben deal with pregnancy and the first days of parenthood - but while we won't likely see that, this move does allow the show to pay-off (in a grand and un-yielding way) the journey of these characters after some of the struggles that they have encountered.
If the first half of this season was about humbling Leslie Knope and showing her a brick wall and the second half was about re-focusing her, this next season is clearly going to show her flourishing and having her cake and eating it too. Same for Tom, who scraped for so long to attain what his idea of success was before finding a new definition. On and on, from Ron to Donna to April, all of these characters have realized that what they thought they wanted, at one point or another, isn't quite the perfect thing that they wound up attaining and this next season should allow us all to watch as these characters enjoy that.
Is that a bit sappy and wistful? Perhaps, but it's a sitcom and there is a poetry to that message in that it is as hopeful as this show has always been in its best moments.
Parks and Recreation will return for its 7th season in the fall of 2014 on NBC.