May 3, 2013



Like the famous tortoise, PARKS & RECREATION has hung in there long enough to become the highest-rated (all-but-certainly) returning sitcom on NBC’s air.  That is, admittedly, a low bar, but it’s still a triumph for a show that’s been at risk of cancellation more or less since it came on the air.  Parks & Rec has gotten there through sheer heartwarming lovableness–it’s the feel-best show on television–which made tonight’s slightly dour season 5 finale a bit off-key.

The episode, written by series creator Michael Schur and directed by Dean Holland, had Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) celebrating her first year on the Pawnee City Counsel and Founders Day by hosting an “Are You Better Off?” public forum.  To her shock, just about every speaker attacked her for something she’d accomplished this year (only the local pornographers were happy), and the issue escalated when her foes announced that they would be bringing a motion to recall her from office.  This provided a sort of cliffhanger for the season, but for a show that specializes in warm and fuzzy, it was an odd choice of plot twist.  Happily, the rest of the episode had the sort of sweet looniness that the series does best, as Andy (Chris Pratt), having discovered a positive pregnancy test at Ron’s (Nick Offerman) cabin after a staff meeting there, adopted his alter-ego of Bert Macklin, FBI agent, and investigated Leslie, Ann (Rashida Jones), Donna (Retta), Mona-Lisa (Jenny Slate), the out-and-out insane girlfriend of Tom (Aziz Ansari), and Andy’s own wife April (Aubrey Plaza).  The fakeout ending was that the mother-to-be was actually Ron’s girlfriend Diane (Lucy Lawless), a wonderfully promising storyline for next season.  Other set-ups for Season 6 had April being accepted to veterinary school, and Tom’s successful Rent-a-Swag store facing competition from an unnamed figure who tried to buy him out this week.

This season was more uneven than most, partly because when it started, Schur and the other writers didn’t know how many episodes they’d have.  That caused them to air the emotional heart of the season as episodes 13-14 back in February, the wonderful 2-parter that included the wedding of Leslie and Ben (Adam Scott), an hour of television you just wanted to hug.  Parks & Rec couldn’t really top that, and the rest of the season, to the extent it centered on anything, featured Ann’s search for a sperm donor for the baby she wants to have, which ended up as a full-blown (re-)romance with Chris (Rob Lowe)–amusing and charming, but without the heavy emotion of the Leslie/Ben union.

Despite the touches of inconsistency, there was plenty to cherish about Season 5.  Widening the scope of the show to include Leslie’s political battles, especially against the obnoxious Councilman Jamm (Jon Glaser) has worked out well.  Mona-Lisa is an inspired comic nightmare, and exactly the kind of cool chick (by Pawnee’s standards) who would make Tom putty in her hands.  Any episode that features Jerry and the dichotomy between his incessant office abuse and his perfect home life is one to cherish, and the one devoted to his retirement (he was back in his new role as “intern” tonight) was hilarious.  It was great to see Rashida Jones finally handed a meaty storyline that let her be more than the office straight woman.  Likewise, April’s gradual maturing, a lovely throughline for the show since its start, was ramped up very satisfyingly this season.

Although certainly Amy Poehler is the anchor of Parks & Rec, she’s surrounded by a spectacular ensemble cast, any of whom can and do take the focus in a given episode.  It’s a tribute to the actors and the writing staff that there isn’t a character on the show who’s undeveloped or lacking in nuance, and that’s what gives an episode like the wedding its enormous impact.  Networks constantly ask that series have “aspirational” moments, but Parks & Rec is one of the few shows that can make them heartfelt.

It’s a pleasure not to have to worry about the status of Parks & Rec as next year’s schedules are being readied.  Even with the occasional misstep, it’s one of the most reliably funny and pleasing shows on the air, and in a way it’s perfect justice for these ordinary citizens of Pawnee to be at the top of NBC’s very small hill.


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."