[Review] - Parks And Recreation: Going To The End Of The Line...

It seemed fitting that NBC would get in one last passive aggressive knock against a series that really wasn't what it wanted and never really let itself like. After six years of a plush Thursday night timeslot, this final season got moved to Tuesdays, and on the evening of it's one hour finale, it was remanded to the ten o'clock hour, in order to make room for a two hour singing competition.It would be tempting to use this opportunity to ream NBC a new poop-shoot for their disrespectful behaviour, but I don't want to do that. It happened, and now, finally, Parks and Rec no longer belongs to NBC. they can't do anything to hurt it anymore. It wholly belongs to us, those of us who will keep it in the manner it deserves.

 If you want a good read, I suggest you head over to Uproxx, who have put together a comprehensive oral history of the show's development and creative process. For the nuts and bolts of building a show as wonderful as this, you can't get any better. As for me, this will be my opportunity to reflect on this last season, and on the series in general. Because I loved this show, these misfits and movie stars, and mustachioed emblems of glory. And now it's done, but not gone. It'll never be that. Not as long as the sun will shine..

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that, well, it's all right...

Even If They Say You're Wrong

It was Blockbuster's fault, really. Before they went belly up, I would regularly inflate my collection form their hearty offering of previous viewed materials on the cheap. And one of the items I picked up, for $6, was the one disc, season one release of Parks and Rec. I hadn't watched it during it's first run, despite being a Thursday Night NBC regular viewer. The Office, 30 Rock and My Name Is Earl (which I would be bitter about them cancelling in favour of some show starring Chevy Chase!?) were my appointment television. So I don't know why I didn't see Parks the first time around; I was certainly aware of it. Maybe it was because my feelings on The Office were beginning to sour, and talk of a spin-off didn't float my boat. Maybe it was because the cast didn't have a name-recognizable draw beyond Amy Poehler, and I've never been a fan of SNL so that wasn't much of a draw for me. So I missed it.

Everything'll Work Out Fine

And maybe if I had watched those early, rough, six episodes during the first run, I wouldn't have come back to it. Maybe the edge of mean-spiritedness that sits between the lines of those first episodes would have turned me off. Maybe what I perceived to be the worst attributes of the Office being heavily prevalent in this new show would have made me discard it entirely. But I missed it, and so, months later, I sat down and watched all six in a binge, and found something underneath the mess that appealed enough to me that I decided to tune in to the next new episode when it aired that Thursday. That episode was Practice Date, the fourth episode of season 2. And I didn't fall in love. But I new this was a different show than the one on that lone DVD. It felt different. There was no cynicism; there was heart. There was a new, happier, funnier, stronger edge to it. It felt comfortable, and weird. More than enough to make me tune in the next week, and every week after that (the Christmas hiatus allowed me to catch up on the three episodes I had missed, and I would never miss another). Then The Possum aired, and I knew that I was in love. That suddenly, this series was my favourite of all the comedies on TV at that point. It wouldn't be until the next season that I understood that it would be one of my favourite sitcoms ever.

Doing The Best You Can

Season three is likely the best season of Parks' run, and that is down to a few factors. First and most obviously, the addition of the Ben and Chris characters revitalized a show that needed to shirk off the last remaining vestiges of it's former self. they offered loving conflict, which is probably the best way to describe the series in general. Their addition seemed to pull the show tighter together, and showcased the series' best quality: it was about friends, no matter what (More on this in a minute). Second, season three has the strongest run of consecutive episodes in the series, starting with the premiere and running through to Soulmates, a 10 episodes stretch of top line, untouchable comedy, whose A and B plots work in perfect harmony and who never waste a minute, moment, or laugh. This run contains my two favourite episodes, Flu Season and Camping, flush out the characters of Donna and Jerry more deeply, see Andy and April get to together permanently, and bring in a lot of the recurring elements that made Pawnee a character in it's own right.

Remember To Live And Let Live

It is not an original thought to say that the only valid comparison to Parks and Rec is the Simpsons in it's prime.And not just because of Pawnee, but very much because of Pawnee. The writers on this show were able to create a living, breathing cauldron of weirdness that I very much wish was a real place. I can understand Leslie's fanatical love for her home town. If you haven't, you really should pick up her book, published in the real world, about the history of Pawnee. It speaks to the depth of detail that the writers put into every little facet of this town, both for the sake of a laugh line, but also in a way that never made anything feel outrageously unrealistic. Whether it was a rampant raccoon infestation, or a communal hatred of libraries, or the sheer insanity of it's occupants (the Joans, Perds, and public meeting speakers), Pawnee felt both cartoonishly overblown, yet somehow more grounded and welcoming that real cities. It had a vibrant, self contained existence. Like Springfield, it had an infinite quantity of landmarks, temperate zones, big city installations and small town values, egotistical big fish in a sociologically disturbed little pond, and a recurring cast of characters that made it feel less like a manufactured joke and more like a home. Familiar faces, understood dynamics, and an overwhelming feeling that the more things change, the more they will remain the same.

If You Got Someone To Love

What makes Parks stand out against all others is the genuine love inherent to the series. It was as pure a romantic comedy as anything that might have that label applied to it. And not because it was about will-they-won't-they, Friends-style romances. It skewed against those hard, and for the most part, the characters had only one or two romantic partnerships before settling into loving, stable and loyal relationships. It was about love of all kinds, and Leslie was the filter through which the audience learned how to fall in love with all these people. We loved Pawnee, despite it's flaws, because she did. We loved her friends, despite their weirdness, because Leslie could only love them wholly and completely. A show built around the optimistic concept of not letting politics and professional missteps and personal failures destroy you, when you are surrounded by people who you love, and love you back. It wasn't unconditional love, and the writers understood that no relationship is without work, and suffer occasionally. It wasn't cookie cutter love. It felt earned.

You Still Got Something To Say

Season 6 could have been the last. The build up, the ending, the promise that these people would continue after the series stopped rolling was all there. Creatively, season 6 felt a little limp. I think the writers were a little tired, and perhaps a little hesitant to start building towards something, as they did in the earlier season, being uncertain if it would ever pay off. Last year, I would have said that the show was ready to end. This season felt like an extended "where are they now" sequence that usually plays over the credits of films, and then they went and made the finale an hour long one of those. This season was rocky. At times, it felt like the writers were trying to have their cake and eat it to. The front half, with Leslie campaigning for the establishment of a National Park, felt like a natural extension and enhancement of what the series had been. The back half felt like the writers getting in as much development as possible. Ben running for congress could have been a whole series. April's job search could have been a whole season. Tom's romance could have been a whole season. Because of the limited episode run, it was nice to see all this stuff happening for these characters, but they didn't have enough real estate to properly cover them (Ben's race especially, which got one spectacular episode, and then fade completely into the background as a given that he'd win). I appreciate that we got one final bit of time with these people, but at times, it felt a bit like things were rushing towards an ending that didn't need to be rushed towards.

You Had Me At Meat Tornado

Then there is Ron. I make no secret of my love of Ron Swanson. He is likely the reason I stuck with the series in those early days. He is certainly my favourite character. And that is because he speaks, not to me, but through me. It was that rare, beautiful moment when you are watching a show, and a character appears that makes you pause, then search for listening devices in the light fixtures. Ron and I are very much alike. We share ideologies, personalities, interests, hobbies, and opinions on meat and politics. And that helped, as it felt like I had a horse in the race. Ron helped me integrate into this series, into this community, and into these relationships. I viewed the series through Ron's eyes, as I'm sure others viewed it through Ben's, or Tom's, or Jerry's. And it is easy to go on about his manliness, or his badassery, or the lusciousness of his facial hair. But Ron, and no character, was a caricature. they had depth. They experienced growth. That they were their own kind of weird made them interesting. Ron Swanson is my spirit animal, because he lived the way he wanted, loved the way he did, and knew the worth of a good pound of ground chuck.

NBC doesn't own Parks and Rec anymore, we do. We will keep it alive. Because as the finale made perfectly, protractedly clear, this isn't an end. These people will go on, in their own way, and we can visit Pawnee anytime we want. I didn't get emotional during the finale, because unlike other series, who end, and get relegated to the subbasement of my mind, a fiction I shared for a while and have memories of from time to time. Parks and Rec will continue to be a part of my life, as much as the Simpsons or the other things that deeply matter to me. As beautiful as Ron paddling his canoe out into the wild blue yonder was, we'll always be able to return to that shore with him, to a time and a place where there are good deals on crows and friends are waiting.

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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