“Parks and Recreation” Series Finale Review: We’ll Miss You in the Saddest Fashion

by Magdalen Silberman


Image from NBC via here.

When I first contemplated writing this review, I anticipated it consisting of little more than squealing noises and crying emojis. And if I hadn’t forced myself to write actual words, that would have been a pretty accurate representation of my feelings about the ending of Parks and Recreation. But I’ve heard expressing your feelings can be healthy, so here goes:

Discussing Season 7 of Parks and Rec with a friend last week, I realized that I had almost no sense of what would be happening in the finale. Many other seasons of the show have built up to big culminating events—Leslie’s City Council election, the Unity Concert—and this was no accident: Parks and Rec spent so much of its television life on the verge of cancellation that they frequently had to script season finales in such a way that they could serve as series finales if need be. But now that day was finally approaching and there was no Harvest Festival on the horizon, no election results to await. There were a few story threads still tantalizing us, like Ben’s campaign and the Knope-Wyatts and Ludgate-Dwyers’ impending moves to Washington, D.C., but other than that I had no idea what to expect.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that “One Last Ride” ended up resembling none of the pseudo-finales that preceded it. After all, those had already been done—this had to be something new. Built around the conceit that Leslie had gathered the whole crew together in the Parks office for one last project (fixing a broken swing) the day before she and Ben leave for D.C., the bulk of the episode is spent flashing forward to various points in each character’s’ future. Was it a little sappy? Yes. Would you be a fan of Parks and Rec if you couldn’t handle a little sap? I don’t think so. So while it may not end up as anyone’s favorite episode of the show (though what finale is?), it was a fitting send off to the characters we’ve grown to love so much over seven seasons.

So what are our favorite fictional friends up to ten, twenty, thirty years from now? Just being themselves. Donna is killing it as a real estate mogul in Seattle. Jean Ralphio is faking his own death for tax purposes and the only surprise is that he hasn’t done this earlier. Craig marries Typhoon and complains about fish. Gerry gets a stranglehold on the position of mayor and doesn’t let go—and since Pawnee is still standing when he passes away surrounded by his family on his 100th birthday, I guess he didn’t Gerry it up too bad.

April and Andy start a family, though they do it in typical April and Andy style (April donning spooky Halloween makeup upon going into labor, naming their son Jack after Jack-o’-lanterns). Tom has a rough go of it in the restaurant business, but finds success in his failures–by literally writing a best-selling book called Failure: An American Success Story, complete with his go-to picture of himself holding a tiny coffee cup on the cover.

Ron’s construction business is thriving, but he decides to walk away. And who better to ask for career guidance than Leslie Knope? After all, she loves personal crossroads. Not to mention she’s got a bit of pull in the National Parks Service, and she finds the perfect job for Ron: running the National Park in Pawnee. It seems Ron can stomach working for the—*shudder*—federal government if it means he gets to talk to bears all day.

And Leslie and Ben? They’re playing charades with Joe Biden. And doing other things, like getting honorary degrees (Leslie), being mildly successful board game creators and congressmen (Ben), and being asked to run for governor of Indiana (both of them). But the important thing is they play charades with Joe Biden. On multiple occasions.

But back to that governor of Indiana thing. Though the question of which one of them will run for the position provides one of the few actual sources of narrative tension in the episode—and a pair of remarkably symmetrical pro-con charts—it’s never really a question at all. This is Leslie’s show, and it’s Leslie’s world, and they’re all living in it. But that doesn’t make the moment where Ben decides to let her run any less sweet. Announcing her next big dream with her friends (Ann and Chris included!) gathered around her in the Parks and Recreation office, it feels like Leslie Knope is right where she belongs.

Assorted other glimpses of the future that delighted me:

  • Ron as Typhoon’s best man. The man loves his barbers.
  • Jen Barkley. Just her general existence.
  • Leslie’s continued disdain for libraries (come on, couldn’t you have named a dining hall after her or something??)
  • The Space Haystack being built around the Space Needle. In an episode that was a bit lighter on jokes than usual, that was some next level wordplay.
  • Leslie’s repeatedly announcing, “ANN’S HERE! GUYS, ANN’S HERE!”
  • Jean Ralphio and Mona Lisa harmonizing on “Tajikistan” (that’s where they’re opening their casino, obviously)
  • Leslie and Ann conspiring to make their children fall in love. Spin off about the next generation of Knope-Wyatts and Perkins-Traegers?
  • The suggestion at Gerry’s funeral via the presence of Secret-Service-y type agents that in the future, Leslie (or Ben… but let’s be real, Leslie) is President. That’s the dream, y’all.

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