Parks and Recreation was one of my favorite shows on TV for the seven years it was on. Leslie Knope and her cohorts at the Pawnee Parks Department were an endearing bunch of goofballs, and I definitely formed a strong parasocial relationship with the lot of them. The series finale aired on Tuesday, and it wrapped up the series with humor and emotion befitting one of the best shows NBC has ever produced.
Series finale spoilers ahoy!
The one-hour finale feels like an extended epilogue more than a proper episode of the show. A frame story of the gang banding together to do one last menial Parks Department task (fixing a broken swing) sets the stage for flash forwards to see what the major characters are doing over the next fifty years.
Some of the flash forwards are played for laughs, while others are genuinely touching. The main cast all get flash forwards, as well as Craig (who is now running the Pawnee Parks Department) and, surprisingly, Jean-Ralphio, who has always been my favorite supporting character, hands down.
Andy and April’s flash forward is probably the most emotional. The couple, now successfully established in DC, are considering having kids. Andy’s all for it, of course, in his typical brash puppy dog way, but April is apprehensive. Of course it’s encouraging words from Ben and Leslie that push them in the right direction, and soon enough April’s giving birth in Halloween makeup while the Monster Mash plays. Oh-so-fitting.
Garry’s plot is the most ebulliently happy of the bunch. After becoming interim mayor for two months in the previous episode, it’s revealed that Garry was formally elected to the position thanks to a massive write-in campaign. He proves so unexpectedly popular that he’s re-elected for at least ten terms, and dies on his 100th birthday surrounded by children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and his wife, Gayle, who still looks amazing, as Ben points out.
Ron’s flash forward was the most disappointing for me. Him becoming Superintendent of the new national park just outside Pawnee was a nice career move for his character, and it makes sense for him to resign from Very Good Building Co. after accomplishing all he set out to do. My problem is that we didn’t see Dianne or his family at all. Dianne has been noticeably absent from the show since Season 6. She showed up in the finale of last season, but didn’t appear at all in Season 7. I guess Lucy Lawless is an expensive get, but I was sad not to see her in the finale, or Ron’s mom, for that matter. At least we got to meet his three brothers, Don, Lon, and Von.
Jean-Ralphio’s flash-forward was the funniest of the bunch by far. Ben Schwartz slays me everytime he’s on screen, and this was no exception. Faking his own death so he and Mona Lisa can scam the insurance money and open a casino in Tajikistan is the perfect send-off for him. And of course, they bungle it by singing a celebratory song too loudly at his own funeral and attracting the attention of the angry rabbi presiding. His admission of his love for Leslie back in 2017 is kind of sweet too, in a really bizarre and creepy way. I always knew what to expect from you, Mr. Saperstein, and you never failed to disappoint.
Of course, Leslie and Ben’s future is the centerpiece of the finale. After both are approached about running for governor of Indiana, they gather the whole Parks Department gang back together to decide which of them should run. Ann and Chris make a surprise appearance, which is fitting: it wouldn’t have been right to end the show without them. In the end, Ben makes the decision for everyone, announcing that Leslie will fulfill one of her childhood dreams by running for governor. Flash forward a decade or so, and we see her accepting an honorary doctorate after two terms as Indiana governor. Later, at Garry’s funeral, Ben and Leslie are looking healthy, if gray, in 2048, and some secret servicemen are flanking them and announcing when it’s time to go. Is the implication that one of them became president? I guess we’ll never know.
The finale was a fitting sendoff for our favorite characters, and it was fun seeing how all of their lives play out. In some ways it was disappointing, since all the vignettes were by nature short, and we didn’t get to spend as much time with each character as I would have liked. Still, the creators gave us what we wanted, which was a chance to follow the lives of our TV friends to their natural conclusion. In a perfect world, Parks and Recreation would never stop airing, but all good things must come to an end. The series finale was funny, touching, and ultimately bittersweet, a satisfying way to end a fantastic show.