“Parks and Recreation”: Leslie, I always loved you

What Parks and Recreation did this year was magical. For as long as I’ve watched the show, an ominous cancellation cloud always seemed to hang over it. Would it be back next year or wouldn’t it? Even I questioned if it should get a seventh season. I wasn’t happy that Pawnee was recalling Leslie Knope from the city council. But when she got an offer from the National Parks Service, I thought creator Michael Schur and Co. found a perfect exit strategy. But they had other plans, as long as NBC granted the show another year.

“Unity Concert” was a dynamite finale to season six, but I wasn’t thrilled about the three-year jump in time thrown in at the end or the triplets that came with it. I only realized later, after re-watching an episode where Will Arnett guest stars, that the triplets had been foreshadowed by “The Set Up” from season two. Moreover, the season seven previews with all the drones and advanced technology made what was coming look questionable at best. Had I remembered how brilliant Parks became after a slow first season — dragged by an ill-fitting city manager by Paul Schneider — I shouldn’t have been so surprised how good this season was.

Parks used this season like a beautiful sequel. They jumped ahead to find their characters at new points in their lives, resulting in oodles of new stories. Instead of being a show taking its last breaths, Parks was still comfortably at its best. Even at the closing, I feel like this show could last for at least another year. It almost feels like it deserves one this time, to draw out Ben’s congressional campaign, to further explore April and Andy’s future, to give us a wedding planned by and for the luxury-loving Tom Haverford. Instead, it packed a lot of new ideas into a few weeks and ended its run atop the summit of television, bursting at the seams with millions of fans like me begging for more episodes.

One of the reasons it’s so hard to say goodbye to this show is because I loved spending time with the characters. There isn’t a character on Parks that I wouldn’t want to watch on a spin-off, especially April and Andy who created the sweetest love story and the most fun couple you could imagine. I always wanted to see the Dwyers have a kid because I always felt like April wanted one, and I’m so happy they had one. Leslie’s bubbly enthusiasm, passion and love will be dearly missed forever and never replaced. Tom’s larger-than-life personality, Ron’s manliness, Donna’s swagger, Garry’s accidents, all made Parks so special.

Pawnee was a character all to itself. All it was is a small Indiana town with a charming parks department, but the characters made it feel like the biggest city in the world. Parks was never afraid to make Pawnee into something it wasn’t. It had exclusive clubs, the best waffles in the world, pioneering businesses, the whole lot. The way the characters interacted inside of this world made it seem like the best place on earth, and I’d love to visit/move there if it existed. More importantly, the characters loved their little town, which made us love it, too. No job offers or other cities were ever bigger and better, unless maybe you ask Garry about Muncie.

Parks has always been a challenging show for me to write about. Every episode was so enjoyable and packed full of outstanding content. So recapping it episode by episode felt impossible. On one hand, I’m in love with the show, so I felt like I wasn’t doing it justice through my writing. On the other hand, I didn’t even want to write about it sometimes because I just wanted to enjoy it.

It’s no surprise the series finale was the same. Parks used Leslie Knope’s touch as a device to flash into the future to show what each character becomes. It’s a lot to digest, and there are a lot of dates to follow, but it’s happy endings all around. So what happens to our great friends between two and eight years down the road?

  • Donna conquers the Seattle real estate market and eventually goes not for profit. She stays close with Satan’s Niece (April) and lives a life of luxury.
  • Garry gets elected mayor for real, and then gets elected 10 more times and lives until he’s 100. Gayle doesn’t age one bit.
  • The stock market crashes and Tom’s Bistro goes by the wayside. Tom produces a documentary about his failures and then writes a book about them. “Failure: An American Success Story” becomes an international best seller and by 2025, he’s planning his follow-up book. He and Lucy are a happily married couple.
  • April and Andy finally have a kid (!!!) and name him after all of their alter egos (The finale wouldn’t be perfect if Burt Macklin and Janet Snakehole didn’t make a quick comeback). By 2025, there’s another bun in the oven. I’m not sure what Andy does in D.C., but at the ultimate Pawnee reunion, Mouse Rat is definitely on the stereo in the background.
  • Ron leaves the Very Good Construction Company at its peak, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, but Leslie gifts him the supervisory job for the Pawnee National Park (which looks amazing, by the way). He has a happy family. His eldest daughter has been accepted to Stanford and he promised he and Diane are very proud although we finish without any trace of her this season.
  • Ben wins the congressional bid. They play charades with the Bidens. And they play major roles in helping the rest of the characters throughout their lives. One of the touching takeaways from the finale was that this group sticks together despite the distance. There are many visits back to Pawnee, especially to support Tom and Garry.

But the biggie here is how it all ends. Leslie is going to run for governor of Indiana and she’s going to get it, with multiple re-elections. She’ll receive an honorary doctorate from Indiana University, where Chris is the director of admissions, and have the library named after here (which she’s not so pleased about).

Big picture, it’s all coming full circle for Parks and it shows how far Leslie has come. She showed her generosity in will Ben to run for governor instead, but it wouldn’t have been as fitting of an end if Ben wouldn’t have volunteered Leslie in front of everyone, because this was Leslie’s ride. This was her adventure that all of us — viewers and characters — were a part of. It all started with her wanting to build a park and it ended with her ready to go on her next set of adventures as she says, “I’m ready,” with a big smile. We smile for Leslie, knowing what’s ahead for her.

It’s an all-time great comedy featuring one of the best lead characters of all time. Leslie Knope is literally the best person you could ever meet. The ensemble is also one of the best. It launched Aziz Ansari, Aubrey Plaza and most-recently Chris Pratt out of the stratosphere and into super stardom. Ron Swanson has turned into a cult figure as much as anybody else. Treat Yo Self might as well be a revolution. It would’ve been impossible to predict Parks meteoric rise six or seven years ago, but now it’s difficult to imagine a world without it.

So long Parks, you magnificent masterpiece.

I will miss you.

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