‘Parks and Recreation’ ends on trademark sentimentality

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‘Parks and Recreation’ ends on trademark sentimentality

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As the saying goes, all great things must come to an end, and after seven years, “Parks and Recreation” came to an end.

As much as I will miss getting to spend time each week with Leslie, Ron, Ben, April and all the rest of the Parks and Rec gang, there may be nothing better than seeing characters you love get such a satisfying and complete ending to their stories. The “Parks and Recreation” series finale was a bittersweet affair, to be sure. But unlike some sitcom’s finales (I’m looking at you, “How I Met Your Mother”), Parks and Rec knew exactly the kind of story they were telling and the kind of ending the audience wanted to see. It delivered that and more in the show’s final hour.

The final two episodes’ structures deviated from the show’s standard procedure. They used flash-forwards to various points in the future, intercut with scenes from 2017 on that last day in Pawnee before the Parks and Rec gang is separated. The structure was disjointed at times, the transitions between past and present a bit awkward. But as a whole, this structure gave the show the ability to delve into the future lives of all the major characters, a wonderfully entertaining way of wrapping up the stories of such a large group of characters.

Compared to the rest of the season, the episode “One Last Ride” isn’t full of jokes. Ironically, the one thing Parks and Rec did so well, balancing the funny with the sentimental, was off-balance in this episode. But if any episode was going to cake on the sentiment, I would prefer it to be this one. The jokes were certainly there, sprinkled sparingly throughout the hour. However, more often than laughing I found myself simply smiling in gleeful admiration or just at how the episode displayed so beautifully that, through all the crazy shenanigans, these characters genuinely care about each other.

If there were criticism, it would be that things wrapped up too nicely for these characters. We see flash-forwards for all the major personalities, with the special additions of Craig and Jean-Ralphio (whose flash-forwards were thankfully short and sweet). Donna is now married and a successful real-estate agent and started a foundation with April’s help. April still works at the foundation and she and Andy have one son (named Jack after Jack O’ Lantern), with another on the way.

Ron, after getting career advice and help from Leslie, gets his dream job as the new superintendent of the Pawnee National Park. Tom writes a self-help book after Tom’s Bistro goes belly up and becomes a successful motivational speaker. Gary is mayor of Pawnee almost as long as Gunderson was, and dies happily at 100-years-old, surrounded by innumerable family members. And Leslie and Ben are deftly balancing their lives as successful politicians, Leslie a two- term governor of Indiana (and possibly the 2048 President of the United States?) and Ben a Congressman, with their lives as parents and friends.

In fact, the future shows all of the characters able to balance a robust professional life with a satisfying personal life, including each’s ability to stay connected to the other people from their old Parks and Rec days. Sure, this may be a far-fetched, idealistic ending for these characters, but Parks and Rec was never in the business of giving its audience a shot of the horrors of reality (at least if it wasn’t wrapped up in a joke).

At its heart, this show was about showing the deep and irrefutable authenticity of human connections within its own unique fantasy world. The fantastical reality displayed in the final episode (and in the show in general) works so well because at its core it is true to the characters and what they each want out of their lives.

As much as Tom would espouse its benefits, I don’t want to watch a series finale and see the characters fail or be miserable. To be honest, I wouldn’t want to see them even a little bit unhappy. That may be reality, but it doesn’t have to be, and it certainly wasn’t Parks and Rec’s reality. Parks and Rec was never a show that argued against the value and rewards of endless optimism and hard work, and I am more than grateful that it wasn’t that show in its final hour.

The reunion scene in the Parks Department office, with the whole gang back together including Ann, Chris and their kids, was so simple and yet had the feeling of being a final, monumental display of the unbreakable connection these characters made with each other. No matter how far apart their lives would take them, they would always come together to support one another.

Like with the ending of any great show, the world will be dimmer for a time without it. But with such a satisfying and well done ending to a show as heartfelt and genuine as “Parks and Recreation,” it’s difficult to have any complaints.

 

 

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