Tag Archives: Parks and Recreation

On Finales

So Parks and Recreation ended a few weeks ago bringing an end to a particularly great show that I got into far too late. The finale was especially wonderful, elegantly tying a bow on seven years of stories.

Rather than having some big hoorah, though, the episode has the former Parks Department take on an utterly inconsequential task (getting a swing in a park fixed) before going their separate ways. With the whole season serving as an effective wrap up to the current proceedings, there was no need for there to be a big artificially succinct Final Big Moment. Instead, Parks makes fixing the dumb swing matter by flashing forward with each character to see where they are in the future.

Parks is far from the first; How I Met Your Mother did it in their finale first year. I’ve talked about my many qualms with it narratively, but it was a structurally solid technique. We got some closure on characters and know what Ted ended up doing, even if it went against everything that’d been built up thus far. But Parks goes further and arguably does it better by going to several different spots in the future for each main character (and even some lesser ones). We find out many of the key points events happens to them in the years afterwards. Some of their bigger decisions are prefaced with vignettes showing off key character moments and their growth. At the end of it all there’s this strong sense of resolution.

If anything, Parks errs on telling us almost too much. It seems nearly as if we know everything that happens to these characters in the future. Little is left to the imagination, we know Andy and April have kids, we know Ron ends up happily in charge of a National Park, and we know that either Leslie or Ben became president. By the time the finale ends we’re left knowing that we’ve heard just about all the stories there is to tell about these people.

Which makes me wonder what we want out of a finale to a show. There’s something fun about an ending that implies the adventure continues: look at Serenity (effectively the finale to Firefly) which has since spawned a couple comics, or even Chuck which remains open-ended enough for more to happen. But an ending like Lost’s which firmly closes the door on anything else isn’t bad either. So what makes an ending satisfying?

I think closure is what really matters. The ending of Serenity left a few balls up in the air while still resolving some subplots, like Simon and Kaylee’s romance and what happened to River. But even though we knew Mal wasn’t quite out of the woods and that the crew as a whole were a little worse for the wear, we’ve got this sense of finality. This adventure is over; even if there’s more to come, for now the major issues are resolved.

What’s important is that the ending fits the story. Firefly’s works so well because the show has always been bittersweet. Lost is fundamentally mythic and Chuck was always about a romance and family. Parks’ fits because the show’s format has always been a little meta, so showing what happens ten to forty years down the line isn’t out of place. Lost couldn’t have Parks’ ending and it couldn’t be the other way round either.

It’s hard to get endings right. Don Quixote’s ending allowed for some guy to write a sequel, so when Cervantes wrote an actual sequel he had Don Quixote die at the end so no one would write another allowing him to have the final word on his knight errant. How I Met Your Mother undid (at least) a season’s worth of character development with its finale so even though we knew what happened to the characters we felt a little cheated out of our investment. Parks and Recreation had its cake and ate it too; we know that things work out for everyone in their own way, and we’re okay with that. We’re invited to fill in the blanks (is Leslie or Ben president?), but we’re told things are alright. And that’s good enough.

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Leslie Knope: Friends, Family, Feminism

I’ve recently begun watching Parks and Recreation, and by recently begun I mean about five seasons in two weeks. The miracle of Netflix.

In any case, the show’s fantastic and I lack any sort of Netflix Binger’s Remorse (and wanna get caught up as soon as I can). One of the reasons it’s so great is its bucking of typical sitcom trends.Parks and Rec isn’t a mean show. Whereas a lot of other sitcoms, including the prior one with Greg Daniel’s name attached: The Office, create their comedic situations through conflict between the main characters, much of Parks’ humor comes from the outside. Thus in The Office you’d have one character trying to con over the other, to much amusement. The Big Bang Theory thrives on the rest of the group trying to get one over Sheldon. The Parks Department, however, is always a team. Sure, there will be parts where they compete, but it’s never malicious. They’re a team, a team against the frustrating citizens of Pawnee, the snooty residents of Eagleton, and other departments in their government.

This teamwork lends the characters a strong sense of family. Now, this isn’t there from the beginning, rather they grow into it — and their roles in said makeshift family — over the seasons. And here’s another thing Parks does that most sitcoms don’t: they let their characters change and develop. All of the main cast is surprisingly well rounded. Sure, some seem one note at first, but as the show progresses we get to know them more and find facets of them we would never have expected. When the gruff Ron shows that he cares, or as Chris grows less self-obsessed they feel more rounded and we can really watch their bonds form. It makes them feel more real.

Neither are the characters forced to remain professionally stagnant. Leslie doesn’t stay the deputy director of the Parks Department, instead the writers let her career progress. See, it’s a risky move, they’ve proved that the bunch of co-workers interacting works, but they’re willing to go past that formula (which also shows in the developing characters). Tom too ends up leaving the Parks Department and tries his hand at entrepreneurship. It’d be easy for a recurring joke to be his constant failures. Instead, we see Tom try his hand, and yes, we do see Tom fail, but we also see Tom make changes to his approach and outlook in order to eventually succeed. It’s refreshing and really cool to see happen in a sitcom.

Parks and Recreation is an inherently political show, albeit on the scale of the local city government of a small town in Indiana. Leslie Knope is very obviously a feminist. Yet the show doesn’t preach it at you. Rather, we see Leslie combatting sexism in the often very out of date systems of Pawnee. For example, Leslie’s approach to the very male gallery of councilmen isn’t to become disheartened renounce it as an Evil Symbol of The Patriarchy, rather she wants to change things by being the first woman on the board. Feminism in Parks is an active thing. There’s no lecturing and posturing about feminism about it, instead we see why we need it and what can be done. Furthermore, the show doesn’t get caught up in its hubris: Leslie may spout rhetoric on occasion, but she isn’t on some sort of a pedestal. She’s not perfect because of her beliefs, rather, she’s a relatively normal, multifaceted human being.

So yes, Parks and Recreation is such a refreshing show. I’d seen bits of it prior, but now I’m finally sitting down and blasting through it. It’s a great show, and I want more shows like it.

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