Well, if there’s one thing I can say that that Parks And Recreation finale failed to deliver on, it’s that it didn’t culminate in me balling my eyes out about this most beloved of sitcoms. Nope, my eyes were left firmly dry in the wake of our final moments in Pawnee, but perhaps I was expecting too much, especially if I was expecting this show to provoke such an extreme emotional reaction in this cold-hearted cynic to what was in the end just a low-rated show on a dying network. But I only expected this because this is the kind of hope Parks And Recreation delivered to me each week for the past seven seasons — the hope that a traditional workplace sitcom built around a lovable cast of characters could still work in this day age. But unprovoked tears aside, I’m really glad this show was able to go out the way it did, and even more so since the conclusion of this “little show that could” weirdly feels like a genuine end of an era, if not multiple eras.
Ok, so maybe I’m getting overly sentimental about one of my favorite shows ending with this whole “end of an era” nonsense, but Parks And Recreation does in a way feel like the last dying connection we had to the traditional network sitcom as we knew it. If not, it at least served as our last connection to the low-rated, but uniformly excellent line-up that marked NBC’s Thursday nights during the late ’00s/early ’10s that gave birth to the long departed 30 Rock and The Office, as well as it’s misfit cousin Community, which will miraculously continue to survive as a Yahoo web series apparently. But seeing as NBC’s Thursday comedy block is now officially dead, you could even look at Parks And Rec as the last connection to NBC’s tradition of smart, character-driven comedy on a Thursday night, which all started in 1982 with the immortal Cheers.
And perhaps it’s fitting that Cheers and Parks And Recreation would bookend this now-defunct era of quality sitcoms, since Parks showrunner Michael Schur and Amy Poehler have both made no secret that they’re huge Cheers fans, and the latter show has clearly modeled much of it’s spirit and tone after this classic. Also, I’ll admit that this is far from the first time I’ve compared the two shows, as when I was in film school I even had the pleasure of taking a TV writing class taught by Ken Estin, a former Cheers writer, and I remember talking to him (i.e. annoying him) about how I couldn’t understand why a show as exceptionally funny and likable as Parks And Rec wasn’t as massively popular as Cheers was. But I suppose it all comes down to the fact that Parks And Recreation aired in a time when our niche-driven culture was just starting to dilute itself further and further, and at this point it just doesn’t seem possible for a smart network sitcom to become a massive hit anymore. However, it is a little hard to complain when we did still manage to get 7 seasons (the perfect length for a sitcom IMO) with these wonderful characters who I’ll miss a lot.
But even despite the fact that Parks And Recreation never got huge ratings and even more inexplicably never garnered any Emmy wins (seriously Modern Family, go fuck yourself), for me it always felt like a communal show in the way that a Seinfeld or a Cheers was for earlier generations. Practically every one I knew (or at least knew and liked) was a Parks And Recreation fan, and it’s probably the show that I’ve recommended to more people in my life than any other. Hell, it was a show that I was even able to turn my dad onto, which in itself is a miracle because the two of us have so little in common at this point (other than our senses of humor), and yet during the year after college in which I moved back in with my parents, we had a hell of a time bonding over the machismo-infused brilliance of Ron Swanson. Also, I probably should mention that the only sitcoms my dad has ever really gotten into are The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and MASH, so by this (admittedly flawed) metric, Parks And Recreation surely will rank among the greats.
As for that finale however, even despite the fact that it didn’t get me as choked up as I thought it would, I liked it quite a bit. It seems like a lot of recent TV finales have felt stale because they’ve followed the formula of earlier sitcoms that have tried to give fond farewells to their characters in overtly sentimental ways. Parks, on the other hand, much in keeping with this season set two years in the future, dared to be somewhat unconventional by giving us a peak into these characters’ futures, while dispelling the notion that a show’s final episode is where these characters’ journeys end for us as viewers. Granted, Parks And Recreation isn’t the first show to try this tactic, nor even the first show in the last year to try this approach in its finale. Because even though all of us How I Met Your Mother fans are trying to forget, we still remember the ill-conceived HIMYM finale, which after a surprisingly solid final season, fumbled its finale by taking us years into the future, and by doing it in a way that was kind of a downer.
The Parks And Recreation finale however, managed to give us snapshots of each character’s futures, and did it in a way that focused on the quiet triumphs of growing older, while generally speaking, things pretty much seemed to work out for everybody. This is something that for me felt completely in line with what Parks And Recreation has done in the past, as it’s been a unique sitcom in its ability to move characters’ lives forward and let them follow their dreams, instead of just having them stay in the same place forever. It’s also remarkable that I’ve been as OK with this approach as I have been all these years watching Parks And Rec, because I tend to be the kind of grump that likes his sitcom characters to be as hapless and miserable as I am. However, there’s always been something about the utter likability of this cast and these characters that has always made me want them to be happy and for things to work out for them.
And what the future holds for this particular cast, I don’t know, but I’m certain there’s a whole lot of promise. After all, Parks And Recreation simultaneously was able to give the world a much-needed exposure to the unique talents of Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, and of course box office champion Chris Pratt. Not to mention giving comedy goddess and all-around amazing human-being Amy Poehler something that she can surely hang her legacy on. So I’m pretty confident that these guys will be around for a while, possibly even longer than the memory of this show, since who knows if reruns will do any favors to Parks And Rec or if the idea of a cult following for such a refreshingly uncool show is even possible. All I really know is that these lovable goofballs gave me a whole lot of laughs over the years, and for that my memories of the strange, diabetes-afflicted town of Pawnee, Indiana will always burn brighter than 5,000 candles in the wind.