April 25, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Parks & Recreation”


After 6 seasons, PARKS & RECREATION is still the most reliably lovable show on network television–maybe on all of TV.  No other series wears its heart on its sleeve as genuinely as Parks, and no ensemble provides more joyful fun than its cast.  The Season 6 finale, written by Co-Executive Producer Alan Yang and Producer Aisha Muharrar, and directed by series co-creator Michael Schur, was also a reminder of how elegantly crafted the series is in its low-key, seemingly unassuming way.

Given the show’s always-shaky ratings, there’s never been a season when Parks was a sure thing to return the following year, and almost every season finale has had to be put together in such a way that it could serve as a series finale if necessary.  This season, Schur and his fellow writers figured out a clever way to have their finale cake and eat it too, much as Leslie (Amy Poehler) did when she realized she could have her National Parks Service job but still live in Pawnee.  The bulk of the Parks one-hour finale brought a satisfying end to many of the storylines of the season and even, in some case, longer:  Leslie’s decision to take the Parks Service job, Tom (Aziz Ansari) triumphantly opening his restaurant after a false start, Ben (Adam Scott) discovering that his Cones of Dunshire game had become a viral hit (and thanks to his adoring fans at the accounting firm who can never quite get him to sign on as a colleague, even retaining the copyright), Andy’s (Chris Pratt) new side career as children’s party singer Johnny Karate, and Ron (Nick Offerman) voluntarily outing himself as jazz saxophonist Duke Silver as part of the Pawnee/Eagleton Unity Concert, a sign to his new family of how far he’s come in embracing a more socialized existence.

If the season–and the series–had ended with the all-star tribute to L’il Sebastian that included Ginuwine, Letters to Cleo, The Decembrists and Yo LaTengo, Tom’s success, and Leslie’s move of the Midwest Parks Service office from Chicago up to the 3rd floor of Pawnee City Hall that Ron’s been burnishing all season, it would have been a fitting conclusion.  The finale also found room for a location trip to San Francisco in the first half-hour, a cameo from Michelle Obama–at the sight of whom Poehler delivered a fabulous rendition of Leslie overcome with starstruck awe–and fan-service returns of Megan Mullaly’s Tammy 2, Lucy Lawless as Ron’s current wife, and the various crazy Sapersteins played by Ben Schwartz, Jenny Slate and Henry Winkler.

Imaginatively, though, the show leaped forward in its final minute to set up Season 7–3 years in the future.  Much was deliberately left vague, but there was a Parks Service crisis in South Dakota, Leslie and Ben’s triplets were walking around, Andy had his arm in a sling, and an employee played by none other than Jon Hamm was being fired by Leslie for 3 years of work that made Terry aka Jerry aka Larry (Jim O’Heir) look good in comparison.

Time jumps aren’t unusual anymore in season finales and premieres, but they’re rarely used in sitcoms.  In this case, it provides a chance for Parks to move beyond some of the blahs that 6 years of consecutive storytelling had inevitably started to uncover.  We were long past the point where any conflict between the characters had much weight, because they all clearly loved each other to death, and everyone’s traits had become comfortable to the point of predictability:  Ron’s gruff good-heartedness, April’s (Aubrey Plaza) tart and reluctant growth as an individual, Andy’s goofiness, etc.  The revelation that Leslie and Ben weren’t just pregnant but expecting triplets felt a wee bit desperate, and the final scene’s decision to jump all the way past the sitcom cliches of pregnancy, birth, and babyhood was a relief.

This may not have been the freshest season of Parks & Recreation, but every episode was well worth watching.  The somewhat dangerous introduction of Billy Eichner’s Craig into the cast, his hyper screaming schtick a source of laughter very different from what the rest of the characters do, turned out to be handled beautifully, with just the right amount of him so that he never became a mere gimmick.  Leslie’s removal from the Pawnee City Council and the departure of Ann (Rashida Jones) and Chris (Rob Lowe) may not have been as emotionally meaningful to most viewers as they were for the show’s writers and the other characters, but the actors, most particularly Poehler, made it all work.

The word is that next season, officially or not, will be Parks & Recreation‘s last, and while that’s been the word for almost every season since it’s been on, after 7 years a cast and writing staff become awfully expensive, and with more than enough episodes already available for syndication, at some point continuing to produce more half-hours stops being cost-effective.  So this really could be the end (although given NBC’s continuing sitcom woes, it also might not be).  If it is, it’s a gift to fans that thanks to this season’s finale, next year’s developments can be awaited with eagerness rather than mere fond familiarity.  For at least one more go-round, we can’t wait to see what they’ve got planned.


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."