May 11, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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If NBC’s Thursday night sitcoms were a movie about college roommates, The Office would be the one who doesn’t study or do the work but still gets better grades than anyone else, 30 Rock would be the teacher’s pet, Community the stoner who’s either going to end up as a temp or a billionaire.  PARKS AND RECREATION would be the one everyone forgets to invite to parties, but who gets the first phone call whenever someone is in trouble, and who’s remembered with the most affection.

Tonight’s season finale, written and directed by series co-creator Michael Schur, had all these qualities.  Since unlike most of its ilk, the episode resolved rather than just introducing a cliffhanger, we’ll take a page-break and issue a SPOILER ALERT before discussing the results of the vote for Pawnee, Indiana’s city council.

Assuming Parks comes back next season (c’mon, NBC–just renew it!), the show will be somewhat different.  Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is now a member of the Pawnee city council, after suffering through not just an ordinary election night count, but an instant recount when the first total had her behind Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) by 21 votes, luckily within the margin for automatic retallying.  Even worse, her best friend in the world Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) provided a little extra torture by making her think for a minute that she’d still lost.  But in the end, right prevailed over likable stupidity–although it was damn close–and that means less of Leslie at Parks & Rec.  Plus her romantic life is getting complicated again, because as usual she did the right thing and encouraged the love of her life, Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) to take the job in Washington he was offered.

But assuming NBC comes through, it’s easy to believe it’ll all work out in the end.  Parks & Recreation has become the most heartfelt comedy on television, certainly the only one that could conclude its season with a completely sincere, non-smart alecky speech about belief in government, friendship and the electoral process.  It’s a show that thrives on grace notes, like the moment in the voting booth when Leslie is overcome with emotion as she casts her own vote, or the chart Andy and April (Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza) make to show the places they might move if they need to change identities because April has lost all the department’s files (not to worry), and high up on the possibilities (but never mentioned in the dialogue) is Winterfell.

 It’s hard to remember now that Parks started as a show about what a fool Leslie was to think she could ever accomplish anything, and how the loafers in the department ridiculed her for her over-eager efforts.  It took most of the first season to realize that the show Parks wanted to be was the reverse, a hopeful, Capraesque fantasy about friends who’d take a bullet for each other.  As is often the case, in tonight’s episode that was best shown by a scene between  Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson, one of TV’s great comic creations, and Leslie, at a moment when she needed a boost.  Their relationship has risen to the level of Mary Richards and Lou Grant, and there is no higher comparison than that.

Parks & Recreation isn’t always the laugh-out-loudest comedy on television (although tonight’s election machine that issued candy bar vouchers for Bobby voters, and demanded a revote for Leslie’s, was hilarious), but it’s the warmest and most lovable, written and performed superbly (with Poehler leading, but not dominating, the ensemble) week in and week out.  In the sequel to that college movie, Parks may not be the richest or most celebrated alumnus, but it’s the one everyone most wants to see again at the reunion.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."