TV Review- Parks and Recreation: "One Last Ride" (Series Finale)
The Network's Fledging Comedy Reaches So Many Highs In Its Finale By Capitalizing On A Perfect Series That Has Been Consistent From Start To Finish
Wow, as I sit here smiling and reveling in the awesomeness that was the "Parks and Recreation" series finale I think to myself that it is hard to believe that this series almost never made it past its first season. Amy Poehler's heroine protagonist was initially derided for being too ditsy as she was portrayed as clueless yet likeable. The producers took this to note and in Parks and Rec's sophomore season, there was a noticeable revamp to her character which broadened her appeal and silenced her critics. In that time, media pundits the world over compared the show to its close cousin, the U.S version of "The Office" but, by the end of its 1st season, it became an entirely different animal and struck out on its own in a vibrant and unique way. Amy Poehler, who had a very successful run prior to this as one half of SNL's "Weekend Update" duo along with her good friend and close collaborator Tina Fey, helped to conceive the show with creators and show runners Greg Daniels and Michael Schur as the antidote to the monotonous and tone-deaf laugh track sitcoms like "Two And A Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory." Her recipe - witty, snappy writing delivered and performed by very seasoned sketch comedy actors that centered around what a small, ragtag crew with noble intentions can do for big government. It is the underdog story a'la Bad News Bears but spun in a zany direction. In her case, the Parks Dept. in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana, set the stage for wonderful and fully-fleshed characterization, meaningful interplay, and an adept take on real-world issues that still face us everyday. For Poehler's last time out, she co-wrote the one hour finale aptly titled "One Last Ride" and produced it as a high-flying sendoff to some of TV's most beloved and quotable characters.
At the end of last season, Parks and Rec truly attempted something visionary and, admittedly, very risky. It fast forwarded several years to 2017 and began to introduce subtle sci-fi elements like holographic phones (John McCain had one!), big tech corporations (in the series it was unveiled as Gryzzl, a tech giant run by pot smoking, new-age millennial hipsters) and drone at-home package delivery services with the intention of seeing how the changes Leslie Knope and her crew attempted to enact took shape. It was daring and, to a lot people's surprise, made perfect sense for the evolutionary growth of the show and what had taken previously. Characters came and went throughout the shows seven seasons (exeunt Rob Lowe's Chris and Rashida Jones's Ann) but the chemistry of the core group that stuck around became more inventive and inseparable as each episode passed.
So, that brings me to this series finale. They say that parting is such sweet sorrow, and for this show that statement couldn't ring more true. However, Poehler and the show creators wisely didn't get all melancholic on us in this final hour (Six Feet Under, anyone?) but instead offered a thorough glimpse into the characters' lives as they unfolded well past 2017. Each and every character pretty much has a happy end but it isn't overly-saccharine like you'd expect a tear-jerker to be. While the jokes didn't come as fast and furiously as they do on a normal Parks and Rec episode, what substituted for balls-to-the-wall comedy was the concluding narrative threads that bound us to these characters from day one and really made you wish you knew them in real-life. For one, lovable buffoon Gary Gergich becomes Pawnee mayor and is re-elected in landslide victories 10 consecutive times. Asiz Ansari's Tom Haverford nearly loses all of his wealth as an entrepreneur but regains it back and goes on to even more prosperity as a well-published best-selling self-help book author. Donna is finally married and also wealthy and successful and still sticks to the mantra "Treat Yo'self", a running gag throughout the show's recent seasons between her and Tom. Nick Offerman's Ron gets to take over the National Parks Service as Leslie makes her swift exit and hands it over to him at a time when he faced, for one of the few times he wasn't sure of what to do, a deeply personal crisis. To chart the relationship of Leslie and Ron is something meteoric as early on they started as enemies then developed into kindred spirits with opposing viewpoints and ways of leadership and finally back to frenemies and finally respected colleagues again. It was one of the highlights of this episode. Then there's a game of charades with Joe Biden, and of course Ann and Chris make respectable cameos at a Pawnee reunion in 2023.
I think most viewers went in to this thinking, how on Earth can Poehler & Co. make a satisfying ending that lives up to the perfection that came before? Perhaps echoing other showrunners like Vince Gilligan, Alan Ball and David Simon ("The Wire") who faced a similar dilemma when their shows were nearing their inevitable ends. Gilligan's chosen solution was to stay in the universe and carve out an entirely different show in its place: "Better Call Saul" which is even more refined than its predecessor has ever been. Ball went on to create and adapt the "True Blood" book for HBO and Simon is in talks for a Marcus Garvey biopic. To say I am sad to see these characters ship off is an understatement. They are some of the most lived-in people that any show, especially a prime time comedy, has ever conceived. Not for a second did they feel like impersonations of government officials but really like coworkers you may have had in your life or know of people who worked for federal agencies might have known. Parks and Rec mixed its subversive brand of comedy with worthwhile backstory that gave each and every character (even bit players like Ron Swanson's psychotic ex-wife Tammy and Tom's loony best friend Jean-Ralphio) three-dimensionality. And, most astonishingly, each of them had their own unique lingo that made them even more distinguished. Like George R.R Martin had created Dothraki in GoT, the writers had a real ear for making an already diverse and large ensemble even more memorable through language.
Will we ever get another show quite like Parks and Rec? In this viewer's mind, it's highly unlikely. As this show bids a fond farewell, we really have no current crop of comedies to fill its gaping footprint. The only one that may at least help us get our fix is the Andy Samberg (also of SNL) lead-vehicle "Brooklyn Nine-Nine", now nearing its third season that is co-created by 1/2 of Parks and Rec's creators Michael Schur. It has a similar sensibility especially on the production end and contains a good portion of the out-there and original humor that Parks and Rec brought to its A-Game every time. One thing is for certain: the team behind this show has more than earned their stripes and can finally rest their laurels. It is without a doubt that this series will forever bless everyone's careers as star Chris Pratt is already making plenty of progress in movies. It is only a matter of time before the rest of his former castmates really blow up. This is Burt Macklin, signing out.