A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“What makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people you love.”
“When we worked here together we fought, scratched, and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better. That’s what public service is all about. Small, incremental change, every day.”
– Leslie Knope-Wyatt
Parks and Recreation came to a close tonight and it was the perfect ending to our journey in Pawnee, played beautifully at the end to The Traveling Wilburys’ “End of the Line”. As we watched our characters stand together for one last time, Ben asks Leslie if she’s ready. “I’m ready,” Leslie says with the appropriate amount of confidence we’ve come to expect from our favorite politician of all time. I’m not ready to completely say good-bye to Pawnee and its beloved host of characters, but in hindsight I don’t really have to. They will always be there (Netflix or otherwise), fastidious in their support to be the best people in fiction. I stand by this and I doubt I will ever waver from this point, but if everyone in the world was half as decent as the Parks and Recreation department of Pawnee, Indiana, the world would be a much better place. Parks and Rec’s ultimate triumph might very well be the intricate blend of hilarity, emotion, and biting satire that it brought to the table. There are plenty of series about how dark and awful politics are and they certainly have their own place. Watching Frank and Claire Underwood manipulate the heck out of people on House of Cards is a lot of fun, but the inherent darkness of that show can at times be rather off-putting. By contrast, Parks has never shied away from recognizing the shortcomings of government and how often the influence of special interests can drawn out the voices and recognizing how the apathy of voters can translate into ineffective leadership. But Parks never lost its heart. It never lost its unwavering faith that there are good public servants out there who care more about their jobs than their own petty interests while being as flawed as any human being would expect them to be. That pesky, wonderful optimism is what truly never allowed Parks to be anything but incredibly special in our hearts.
One Last Ride turned out to be quite the fascinating roller coaster, following their characters into random points of the future, even giving us a glimpse at what we assume are President Leslie Knope-Wyatt’s Secret Service detail. The jumping around various timelines at first glance might seem to completely jarring, but the decision to do so via Leslie gives the episode a framing deceive that allows it to truly work. As co-creator Michael Schur noted, that was a great touch because Leslie has truly done more for all of these people than anyone else in their entire lives. For her to be the narrative glue in this final stretch makes complete sense because what the finale of Parks does ultimately more than anything else is swerve as validation to Leslie’s pronouncement that the small, incremental moments of kindness are what truly allow this world to shine. If she hadn’t committed herself to those small, beautiful moments of kindness and generosity that really are unparalleled (and frequently make me think of myself as a sincerely unflattering human being in comparison to her), the relationships she cherishes the most would never have developed and these moments of emotional catharsis wouldn’t exist. And who wants to live in that kind of world? To make the ending even more bittersweet, those moments of emotional catharsis work because of how well they mesh with their respective characters. In perfect Parks tradition, everyone gets a hopeful ending, even if the journey there isn’t exactly what they had assumed it would be.
The finale begins with the team in the Parks and Recreation Department, accepting the a last hooray of a task with repairing a broken swing “Because when we used to work here, we helped people.” It’s an easy job enough with Ron’s okay enough, nay, perfect craftsmanship but symbolically for the team to finish their time together at a park is pretty great. But before they get to that final portrait, we take a journey through each character’s trajectory. Donna is leaving swankily with her husband Joe after making killings on the real estate market. Joe is bemoaning all of the cuts to public education and that puts an idea into Donna’s mind. She gives a quick call to April, joining her new commission and the foundation where April works together into a new education venture “Teach Yo’Self”. Going nonprofit is a new adventure for Donna, but lest Tom fret too much, that doesn’t mean she’s losing sight of herself. She’s still fiercely independent, savvy, and wears some sweet diamond watches. Tom seizes an opportunity to expand Tom’s Bistro into a franchise but blows it not out of stupidity, but because America ran out of beef. Tom being Tom, he claws back with Lucy and his friends by his side by becoming a well-dressed, bestselling author of Failure: An American Success Story. His book’s key motto: Don’t become a Garry. Speaking of Garry, he claws out of that coffee pot and is basically re-elected to the mayoral seat until he dies at the age of 100, surrounded by his incredible family on his birthday. Despite getting his name wrong on the tombstone, Garry did go out on a perfect, completely happy note. Maybe being a Garry isn’t that bad, after all, right? Right?
April and Andy in 2022 are back as Bert Macklin and Janet Snakehole (this show really gets its audience), but behind the fun and hilarity there’s a quiet desire from Andy to actually have children. April is hesitant and even though she asks Leslie for advice, for once Leslie doesn’t have the answers in store for her. It’s up to April and Andy, after all. Astutely enough, April is giving birth on Halloween in full makeup in Pawnee. Their son was born into the world and thankfully for his future, his parents ended up picking the name Jack Ludgate-Dwyer over other hilarious but potentially traumatizing names. April and Andy have always been the beating heart of Parks and Rec, their adorable but ridiculous marriage serving as a coupling truly equal, truly made for each other. Like all of the great couples this show has given us, April and Andy have always understood what it meant to be there for each other and be each other’s true equals. The show also brings back key supporting characters, who get some great little moments to wrap up their story lines themselves. Craig marries Typhoon in a sweet little ceremony with Ron as the best man. Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa are as ridiculous and crazy as ever, the former almost pulling off his fake death/insurance scam after a semi-sweet moment with Leslie. Councilman Jamm brings a creepy painting of Leslie, unknowingly destined for a future at Benihana’s. Shawna, after once again objecting to Leslie’s proposed headline, finds herself abandoned at the altar. Bobby Newport arrives on the scene and five hours later, Shawna Maelwae-Tweep is married into the Sweetums family. After a pretty messy life, that’s a pretty sweet story ending.
Ron’s story begins with him retiring as the chairman of the financially viable Very Good corporation. He felt as if he had accomplished quite a bit with his company and after diversifying his portfolio (by buying 51% of the Lagavulin Distillery, something that is solid and dependable), he wants to do something else that makes his existence more worthwhile. With a perfect family, he had completed that chapter of his life as well and who better to help him with his goals than the woman who loves personal crossroads, Leslie Knope. She accepts the job of the Director of Pawnee National Park on his behalf and his quiet “Thank you” alone nearly brought me to tears. Him rowing out into the lake with “Buddy” playing in the background was absolutely perfect, a quiet, calm ending to one of the most beloved characters in television history. As beloved characters go, Leslie and Ben are both offered the chance to run for Governor of Indiana. But before Leslie can say anything, Ben announces to the entire group that has at last come back together that she is running for the governorship as the pit song plays in the background. The look Leslie gives him right then and there is by far one of the most wonderful, heartwarming moments I’ve ever seen. None of its quiet power is lost, even when Leslie pushes Ben aside to hug Ann Perkins. Everyone gathers for one quiet moment in a park where the camera clicks their group photo and the screen fades to black. Parks and Recreation ended just as perfectly as any series should: with enough satisfaction that still leaves you wanting just a bit more. There’s plenty left for the audience to chew on, however, with the prospect of Ann’s and Leslie’s children falling in love (Ann tells Leslie that it’ll only work if she disapproves, but of course Leslie gives her daughter an enthusiastic reaction) and most mysteriously, the Secret Service detail when Leslie and Ben are attending Garry’s funeral. But despite the endings and the promises of the future, there isn’t anything that can replace the void left behind by Parks and Recreation and the wonderful, eccentric characters that inhabited the world of Pawnee and beyond. More than any other show, Parks showed us that despite all of the hatred, greed, and corruption clouding so much of humanity, there is still hope for a better world. We have to work hard to keep that hope going, that is true. But if we can be a bit more kinder, thoughtful, and selfless, there is plenty of reason to believe that there is a golden future ahead for all of us; for darkness can only be kept at bay with the bonds of friendship and love. Good-bye, Parks, you beautiful, tropical fish crossed with a opalescent tree-shark. We will miss you greatly.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Any perfect day includes crying uncontrollably.”
+Ben has a back-up flight
+The Walk Down Memory Lane
+Garry and Leslie’s pod coffee machine song
+“Five points for Hufflepuff!” Garry is in Hufflepuff. That makes sense.
+Return of the scrapbooks
+“Technically, I kicked them out.”
+The Space Needle & the Haystack
+In 2023, there is a Middle Korea and schools don’t teach math anymore.
+With Donna’s mention of a trip to the Amazon, she should get her own travel show spinoff
+“I’ll wear that little red thing.”
+April is “Satan’s little niece” on Donna’s phone
+The callback to Venezuela
+Leslie’s description of Craig: “Dedicated, intense, insane.”
+Craig can sing
+Jean-Ralphio brand of wine? No, thank you. But good for him.
+Ethel went digital, folks
+April mentions creepy people and the
+“That is a beautiful sentiment.”
+“Make love to me you fool, you animal.”
+The Starlord cameo
+April refusing to play Cones of Dunshire
+Speaking of which, Cones of Dunshire has a sequel: Winds of Tremorrah, which critics have hailed as “punishingly intricate”
+Sandra D O’Connor and The Lamplighter
+“Take one of our kids, we don’t need all three.”
+Kids are the opposites of parents, according to April.
+“You’re a team.”
+Andy using the monologue from Taken to get Dr. Saperstein to change his son’s birthday from Nov. 1st to Oct. 31st
+“I’m assuming he’s my godchild.”
+Tom and his headphones
+The Don’t be Suspicious dance
+“Country is trending calzone.”
+Ron’s cabin and Leslie’s gift basket
+Tom’s movie ideas: 10 Fast 10 Furious: Tokyo Drift 3, Sniper Race Delta: Beijing Inferno
+Ron telling Tom to make something he’s proud of, as it will have his name on it
+The cut between the most powerful man in Pawnee to Gary was perfect
+Leslie and Gary shaking hands
+Massive write-in campaign for Mayor Gergich
+Councilwoman Brandi Maxx swearing in Mayor Gergich for the 4th time
+The line about the entrenched powers who hold all the cards
+Garry honored with the Notary Society’s Highest Honor with a 21-stamp salute
+“I just wanna give you gum forever.”
+“Don’t be a stranger.”
+“Don’t get emotional Vaughn, you’re embarrassing yourself.”
+“This city reeks of swampland and government overreach.”
+Ron recognizing his mistakes in not always approaching Leslie earlier
+“We have been workplace proximity acquaintances for many years
+“Your qualifications… You’re Ron Swanson!”
+Joe and Jill Biden cameos
+Kindergarten dream journal
+Leslie hating Broccoli
+“Welcome Back Leslie!”
+Leslie ate the pills because they were delicious
+The sequel to Tom’s book: Failure 2.0: Failing the Fail
+“Your kids are surprisingly awesome.”
+Leslie is the Master of the Metaphor
+Jack has a strong handshake, Ron approves
+“I am out of your league .”
+“What? I stopped listening.”
+Ann and Chris moving back to Pawnee
+Ben getting Tom on his quiz
+“You want to leave this to chance?”
+Leslie’s coin in the Smithsonian because, why not?
+“Tom’s Bistro is back under original management, friends & family discount is three percent.”
+Leslie gets an Honorary Doctorate, but she’s annoyed that the University named their library after her
+“Yeah, that’s about right.”
+“That’s a good idea, Garry had a good idea!”
+Sergeant Thunderfist, M.D.
+We agree with Donna: Macklin’s the hottest
+The show’s touching tribute to Harris Wittels with a quiet proclamation of “We love you, Harris” as the show bows out
*NOTE: The producer’s cut of the finale is on NBC.com
Title: One Last Ride
Written By: Michael Schur & Amy Poehler
Directed By: Michael Schur
Image Courtesy: Geek Binge