February 25, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Parks & Recreation”


The final hour of PARKS & RECREATION was more conceptual than one might have expected, in a way that made it feel more like an epilogue than a conclusion.  Written by series co-creator/showrunner Michael Schur and star/producer Amy Poehler, and directed by Schur, it was an omnibus of flash-forwards, advancing the action as much as three decades from the present (which, thanks to last season’s time jump, was already in 2017), and in keeping with the optimistic nature of Parks from (nearly) the very start, giving every character a happy ending.

The result had less emotional punch than some of Parks‘ previous season finales, several of which were constructed so they could also serve as series finales, given the show’s everpresent status on NBC’s bubble, and even than this season’s fantastic two-hander “Leslie and Ron”  episode that confined Leslie Knope (Poehler) and Ron Swanson (the indelible Nick Offerman) in a single room for most of its half-hour.  This was more of an affectionate celebration than a catharsis, its segments linked by each character’s future being presented after he or she was literally touched by Leslie Knope (Poehler), who of course had touched all of them from the start.  That’s not to say that the hour failed to deliver its share of perfect, characteristic moments:  Leslie pushing aside all the friends in her way when she realized that Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), her personal North Star, was in the room; April (Aubrey Plaza) putting on zombie make-up after she’d begun to go into labor on Halloween (and naming her new son Jack O’Lantern); Gerry (Jim O’Heir) commemorating his 100th birthday surrounded by his supernaturally beautiful wife (Christie Brinkley) and the generations of his beloved family; Ron abruptly deciding to resign from his successful furniture company in the middle of a board meeting.  There was even a sly hint or two that Leslie, who we see as a two-term governor of Indiana, may have moved on by Gerry’s 100th year to an even more august position–one that brings with it Secret Service protection.

For all its laughs, no work of popular entertainment in decades has taken the American dream, and principles of government, self-sacrifice, generosity and public service, more seriously than Parks & Recreation, and the final episode, structured around Leslie leading her team for one more tiny, important piece of community support before they all left Pawnee–fixing a local swing–reinforced that message.  Perhaps the best moments in the entire hour were the silent ones where Ben (Adam Scott), who had also been approached about running for governor, made the decision that Leslie should be the candidate, and Leslie acknowledged the love that went into that decision.  These had an emotional richness–and the history of Parks is filled with them–that transcend the concept of “situation comedy”.

Parks & Recreation is itself as inspirational as its own world-view.  NBC had badly wanted Schur and co-creator Greg Daniels to come up with a spin-off of The Office, and although they rejected that idea, the first 6-episode season of Parks was a misconceived attempt to duplicate The Office‘s tone, with Leslie Knope as the Parks Department’s Michael Scott.  By Season 2, although the characters and basic situation remained mostly the same, the show had turned 180 degrees, with humor based not on mockery and sarcasm but on community and ideals. Add to that one of the greatest ensemble casts any situation comedy will ever see (I haven’t even mentioned Aziz Ansari, or Retta, or newly-minted movie star Chris Pratt, who turned dopiness into a lovable art form), and the show never stopped soaring after that.  Except in the ratings, of course, where it never measured up to The Office, and was treated by its network mostly as an afterthought.  (The last laugh, though, belonged to Parks, which has been NBC’s highest rated comedy this season.)

All these stars will be back, in movies or on TV, although they’ll always carry these characters with them, and Michael Schur already has Brooklyn Nine-Nine on the air, but the likes of this combination of talent won’t soon be seen again.  Television was richer for Parks‘ existence, and we’re all a little poorer for its absence.


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."