Friends, Parks and Recreation ended last night. This warm, hilarious show about small government and public servants who actually serve went out not with a bang- but with a sweet, nostalgic fizz not unlike The Colbert Report’s excellent finale last December.
The year, I remind you, is 2017. On Leslie Knope’s last day of work in the titular department, a man comes in to request a swingset be fixed. That’s it. Nothing life changing. As she exchanges heartfelt words with each member of the main cast, the camera freezes on each gesture and tells us what became of Tom, Donna, Jean Ralphio, Andy and April, Garry/Jerry, Ron, and of course, Ben and Leslie. I might have liked to see more of what became of Ann and Chris, but what we did see was wonderful. The small story about one broken swing exists solely as a plot device for the clip-show style of the rest of the episode, but seldom does that device work so well as it did last night.
The endings for the characters never denied who they were, and rewarded their virtues without making them pay too dearly for their flaws. Garry’s ending, even with a misspelled tombstone, was heartwarming. A dear, optimistic man dying on his hundredth birthday, surrounded by the people he loved, who clearly loved him dearly. Tom’s resourceful nature and neverending tenacity are rewarded, even when fate deals him a bad hand. April and Andy grow up without maturing, as baby Jack’s incredibly long full name implies. Everyone evolves but never changes.
Parks and Recreation was wry, but never cynical. In a world of Breaking Bads and Game of Thrones, a world where even in comedies like The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men rely on insulting and undermining each other, Parks dared to be kind. It dared to be gentle and sweet and believe that people could really be good to each other. Instead of finding the humor in nastiness, it found the humor in love and devotion. We laughed with them, not at them- except maybe for Garry.
By the time Leslie Knope said her last line: “I’m ready,” I was, too. I loved Parks and Recreation, and I’m happy it got to go out on its own terms. NBC didn’t do the show justice cramming all of its episodes into a few weeks, but I’m grateful we got this last season to say farewell. For me, two words started the waterworks: “Ann’s here.” The sheer joy and emotion in Poehler’s voice sold the moment, and I was happy to see all of these wonderful people together in one place one last time, too.
How I Met Your Mother writers, take note: This is how a sitcom finale is done. Realistic, cathartic, and respectful of the characters, their world, and the fans. I leave you with one of the most basic moments of Parks and Recreation, celebrating unity and mini horses.