Delivering a satisfying series finale is not easy, and it’s even somewhat more difficult for comedies, since they have to deliver laughs along with a sentimental goodbye to the characters fans have come to love over the years. It’s like going to a surprisingly funny funeral. And thankfully, that’s exactly what the series finale of “Parks & Recreation” delivered, both literally and figuratively.
This entire season has been a jump forward into the future set in 2017, which brought some hilarious future pop culture predictions like Kevin James replacing Matt Damon as Jason Bourne and Jaden Smith starring in Hitch 2: Son of a Hitch. And the series finale amps up the future schtick to the max. While Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) utilizes every single member of her trusty parks department to grandiosely fix the small problem of a broken swing, we flash forward to see where our characters end up in the future; in some cases decades down the road.
Each flash forward is triggered by Knope literally touching each of our characters, which is only appropriate because her influence on their lives has built one of the strongest groups of friends television has ever seen. And each glimpse into the future brings the kind of lively, sometimes silly, comedy we’ve come to expect from this series. But in this hour-long farewell to Pawnee, there’s also an almost overwhelming stream of tear-jerking moments.
Everyone is accounted for in this magnificent send-off, with all our characters coming into their own even more than we’ve seen over the past seven seasons. We learn Tom (Aziz Ansari) builds a restaurant empire, but again it falls apart, leading him to write a book about success by failure. Donna (Retta) and her husband (Keegan Michael Key) have pretty much everything they want, so they decide to give back by helping their struggling education department in Seattle.
Garry (Jim O’Heir), acting as interim mayor, actually ends up getting elected to 10 consecutive terms as the real mayor, dying in his sleep after a huge Gergich party for his 100th birthday (though in true Garry fashion, his tombstone has a typo). In this flashforward, we get to see the senior versions of Leslie and Ben (Adam Scott), but we’ll get to that later.
April and Andy hit a hiccup as the former is worried about having kids, but they end up giving birth to their first kid on Halloween (their favorite holiday) and appropriately name him Bert Snakehole Ludgate Karate Dracula Macklin Demon Jack-o-Lantern Dwyer (or Jack for short). It’s so wonderful seeing this bizarre couple continue to mature and grow.
Ron loses interest in running his successful Very Good Building Co., seemingly lost without any idea of how he wants to continue his life (he’s still married to Diane but we don’t see Lucy Lawless back on screen). So Leslie helps by giving him the best Ron Swanson job: overseeing the new Pawnee National Park, where he can walk around nature, by himself, with no one to answer to but himself.
Finally, in the future, both Leslie and Ben end up being targeted to run for governor of Indiana. And after some charming debate about who should get the job, Ben surprisingly yields to his wife for the opportunity. After all, she wrote about this dream job in her kindergarten journal. It was one of the most heartstring-pulling moments of the entire finale. Then we learn that Leslie not only became governor, but lasted two terms, and even came to receive an honorary doctorate at Indiana University, though they did end up naming a damn library after her.
What’s really lovely about this finale is there’s so much camaraderie. Not only is everyone working together in the “present” of 2017, but they meet up again in 2025, at the parks department, complete with the return of Anne (Rashida Jones) and Chris (Rob Lowe). And while I maintain that this is a perfect series finale, it’s a bit of a bummer that Anne and Chris don’t get a flash forward. But since this scene is about reuniting these best friends (and it’s a flash forward in itself), it basically evens out.
Beyond these wonderful future tributes to our favorite characters, there’s also plenty of silliness to be had, especially with a flash forward for Craig (Billy Eichner) who marries Typhoon (Rodney To), who get married and grow old together. And then there’s Jean Ralphio, who gets a goodbye revealing the ultimate scheme with his sister (Jenny Slate).
And there’s even some ambiguous teases like whether or not Leslie Knope becomes president. While attending Garry’s funeral, a secret service agent comes up behind Ben and Leslie says, “It’s time to go.” He doesn’t address either of them director or use a title, so it’s up to the audience what this means, but we just know that Leslie became president.
“Parks & Recreation” started off as a rough imitation of “The Office,” but thankfully, the series came into its own with a surprising second season. And I’ll always be thankful the show got a chance to blossom, because it became one of the funniest, genuine, loving and delightful comedy series that I’ve ever had the absolute pleasure of watching. This finale is so far-removed from where this show began, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Leslie Knope, Ben Wyatt, Ron Swanson, Tom Haverford, April Ludgate, Anne Perkins, Chris Traeger, Donna Meagle and even Garry Gergich are some of the best characters to ever grace the small screen, and this finale gave them the most beautiful farewell fans could have ever imagined, showing us the kind of friends we all hope to have in life. It was perfect, and accomplished what many popular series are unable to do when the end has come. Bye-bye, Lil Sebastian.
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