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'Parks and Recreation' post-mortem: All eight cast members and co-creator Michael Schur break down the finale

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Ben Cohen/NBC

[SPOILER ALERT: Exit this post immediately if you have not watched “One Last Ride,” the series finale of Parks and Recreation. You are in grave danger of being a Garry and ruining the end of the show for yourself.]

Ready or not, you have reached the end of Parks and Recreation.

NBC’s much-loved, ever-optimistic local-government comedy underdog joined Li’l Sebastian in that big stable in the sky on Tuesday night after wrapping up seven seasons of town meetings and waffle worshipping with an ambitious, sweeping, emotional series finale. Written by co-creator Michael Schur and Amy Poehler, the hourlong send-off was brimming with milestones and surprises—birth! wedding! funerals (one real and one for insurance money)! job promotion! Chris and Ann! 100-year-old Garry!—as we flash-forwarded to points ahead in the lives of Leslie Knope (Poehler) and her workplace-proximity associates, while back in the current future of 2017, they executed one last little throwback chore: fixing a swing for the guy who got stuck on a slide in the show’s first episode. “Amy and I just wanted to feel like we put the correct final punctuation mark on the sentence we’ve been writing since 2008,” Schur sums up to EW.

How did Schur and his writers come to create something akin to a comedy version of the Six Feet Under finale (although that show’s future peeks focused solely on character deaths)? “I liked the flash-forwards because we could show a little glimpse of everyone’s life, just a small slice of each of their futures, because this cast demands such individual attention,” he explains. “They were all so good, I wanted to give each of them his or her own spotlight.” The episode was also designed to showcase the two different scopes of stories that the show told over the years. “The main idea of the show from the beginning was: It’s where the rubber meets the road, it’s government and politics at the level of, ‘My intersection needs a stop sign. How do I get that accomplished?’ But then the show has also done these big gigantic episodes like the Harvest Festival, the Unity Concert and Election Night. So we wanted to incorporate both ideas, the very small, minute tiny little things that happen in a community on a week-to-week basis and also the larger scope that the show has taken on at times. We ended one episode with a gigantic airplane shot of this massive festival that Leslie put together. It’s a big swing.” 

Here, all eight members of the cast step up to the plate and tell EW.com what they thought of that sentimental time-skipping send-off. Treat yo’ self to their insights and opinions below.

AMY POEHLER (Leslie Knope, who served two terms as governor of Indiana and was given an honorary doctorate from Indiana University, where a library was named after her, much to her consternation)

On the conceit of the finale

“For people who care about the characters, the finale is a way of saying thank you for caring about them. It’s a way of saying like you, we want to keep them in our minds and our hearts, and like you, we wish we could know what would happen to them. And also for fans of comedy, it’s just a fun comedic device to jump forward and see how things change. I think it represents in a bigger way what our show has always done, which is the writing was always never afraid to take really big swings… I love the satisfaction of seeing what happens to a lot of people’s lives. I laughed so hard at so many things. I love the randomness of who we decided to follow, like “Oh, we’re going to find out what happened to Shauna Malwae-Tweep?” [Flash-forwards for Malwae-Tweep and Councilman Jamm, along with other scenes, were cut from the broadcast version because of time constraints, but they will be featured in the Producer’s Cut, which is about 10 minutes longer and available on NBC.com Wednesday.] When Mike told me we were going to do all these big and small jumps, I was just thrilled. It feels like our show, which is nice. Endings are hard. And we talked a lot. There were times when things got a little concept-y. We pulled things back because it was getting maybe a little too complex, and we just got back to: ‘What do you really want to see when your show’s ending?’ And it’s the cast together, talking. Sometimes people forget that. They’re like, ‘It has to be all these new characters and it has to be a big thing and we have to put them in an environment they’re not used to being in.’”

On Ron’s understated moment with Leslie at the lake when she gives him the Pawnee National Park job

“I love the simple way that Leslie and Ron say ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome,’ which feels like honestly what the show is leading up to, which is; ‘Thank you, Leslie.’ ‘You’re welcome, Ron.'”

On working (again) with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden

“We got to film it in the Vice Presidential residence, which is amazing and beautiful and cool. It’s funny to work with the Vice President when he’s a recurring character and be like, ‘Remember last time when you did this? Do that again.’ I remember sending a video message to Joe Biden’s granddaughter. What was cool was the Vice President’s granddaughter really like the show. A nice thing about our show is that the people that [guest-starred would] say, ‘My 16-year-old kid or niece…’— a lot of times we had help with young people being like, ‘You should do that show! It’s really cool!’”

On the decision to leave Leslie’s professional fate vague after she served as governor 

“There’s a sense that she’s going to be growing and changing, and Ben will be along her side and they’ll be switching back and forth as couples do with who’s going to be the primary caregiver, who’s going to go do this thing, and how we’re going to make it work. We didn’t really want to wrap it up in a bow because it isn’t quite our show.”

On what she personally imagines for Leslie’s future

“I’d rather not say. I have an idea of what happens, but I would rather the audience have a minute to guess instead of me telling them. There’s such a cool feeling of ownership about that character, so many people come up to me and talk about how much they like her and how Leslie speaks to them, so I’d like to hear how people would respond to the finale and what they would think, rather than me telling me them what I think or what they should think.”

On the final moments of the episode

“I love the very last scene—[series co-creator Michael] Schur and I talked about it a lot. And I love Leslie’s last words. [Ben] says, ‘Are you ready, babe?’ and she says ‘Yeah. I’m ready.’ I love that it feels like we happen to be jumping off the train of watching the show but that maybe the characters are still hanging out. (laughs) I like that feeling, like there’s a parallel universe where the characters are all together. Because that’s what I always thought of with all the shows that I liked, that they still were there, around, even when we didn’t get to see them on TV.”

ADAM SCOTT (Ben Wyatt, who became a congressman and created the ninth highest-selling multiplayer figurine-based strategy fantasy sequel game in history)

On the conceit of the finale

“I loved that it’s just epic. It covers such a swath of time. I loved that we got to see everyone’s life play out and that everyone’s happy. It has a dollop of the Six Feet Under finale, except that you get to go in and actually live the stories a bit more with all the characters. I was so moved when I read it.”

On Ben stepping aside to let Leslie run for governor

“I thought it was very Ben— it was great. I thought it was the only move to make. Indiana is her home, it’s her passion, so I think she does deserve it more and Ben knows that. I think he’s going to have a really successful political career. Why rush it?”

On the show not revealing Leslie’s ultimate professional fate

 “It’s so much more interesting than saying she’s… whatever. I could see her becoming President. Why not? We have Secret Service with us at Jerry’s funeral, but who knows why? I think it’s really, really cool that it was left a little vague.”

NICK OFFERMAN (Ron Swanson, who resigned as head of the Very Good Building & Development Co., bought a 51 percent stake in Lagavulin, and became the superintendent of Pawnee National Park)

On the finale

“That script is the greatest gift to us who make the show and hopefully to the audience who loves the show. The cleverest guy writing television [Schur] has written you a 27-course meal that is incredibly delicious and full of surprises… I found it infinitely moving. It’s just a nicely played-out pastiche of our eight characters’ lives that leaves me feeling very hopeful. There’s no pat ending but instead it has the sloppiness of real life— it has victories and losses, but above all, it has pluck. And so when we fall down, we get up and laugh at our scraped knee and continue getting kissed and eating cheeseburgers.”

On Ron being hired by Leslie to run the park

“I was so grateful. I mean, there’s nothing I love more than going to a beautiful location, be it a lake or the woods or just a park and shooting. The emotional peak of the scene is Ron looking around astonished, he’s been Leslie Knoped the hardest he’s ever been Leslie Knoped. He goes to Leslie and says, ‘I’ve got a problem, I want to be useful. That’s a new thing for me. I’m uncomfortable, help me. I’ve made the mistake of not consulting you before and I don’t intend to make that mistake again.’ And she f—ing hands him a national park (laughs) and says ‘Here, paddle your canoe, walk around by yourself in this park, that’s your job.’ And oh boy! Whoa Nellie! I had to look at Leslie and say, ‘Thank you, Leslie.’ And Mike even did me the favor of writing the stage direction ‘very small’ before the line ‘Thank you, Leslie.’ I was rehearsing it the night before, and I’m in the park, talking to these rangers, the crew was there in my head, and I’m saying, ‘What are you telling me, Mike, by saying ‘very small’? And I did the scene sitting in my living room and I did it very small and I said, ‘You son of a bitch!’ For Ron, it’s the biggest thing by far that he has had to say in 125 episodes, and Mike told me to do it very small, knowing how greatly that would compound its impact. I was saying ‘Thank you, Leslie,’ and then I would think ‘Thank you, Amy,’ and I would think ‘Thank you, Mike, thank you, Morgan [Sackett, executive producer], thank you, Dean [Holland, director].’ I felt like I was the show saying thank you to everybody… Mike allowed me the equivalent of saying thank you to the universe—thank you to my parents for giving birth to me and thank you to Mother Nature for making me, so that I could stand here and say thank you to Leslie for giving me her final gift.”

AUBREY PLAZA (April Ludgate, who gave birth while dressed as a zombie to her first child, Burt Snakehole Ludgate Karate Dracula Macklin Demon Jack O’Lantern Dwyer—Jack for short)

On the time jumps

“I think it’s kind of genius that Mike decided to do time cuts [to the] future because comedies don’t normally do that. And it is super satisfying as an audience to see all the characters in the future and to get a glimpse of what’s happening to them. Also it just allows for so many ridiculous jokes to happen. And I think it’s so awesome how they heightened it to the point where Garry’s 100 and he’s dead. I mean, it’s just amazing that we’re at Garry’s funeral—Larry, Jerry, whatever the f— his name is’s funeral at the end. That is so satisfying.”

On April’s initial reluctance to have kids

“I thought that was really smart. Andy and April don’t have many relationship problems. Their relationship is always pretty solid, which is also rare for television. They’re super in love and the comedy comes out of how much fun they have together and not the drama of whether they’re going to stay together. Throughout the series she’s very decisive and very confident and mature about that kind of stuff, so to have her be on the fence about it was kind of interesting. I always wanted to [have a kid on the show] and I’m glad that they decided to. When you have two people that are such a good couple, it’s like all you want is for them to create a person out of the love that they have for each other. And so much comedy could come from Andy and April having a kid, they’re so weird. And you can see that in the delivery room. You just get a little hint of the future of them as parents.”

On April’s zombie birthing scene

“I might do that in my real life. I might steal that because I think that’s pretty genius. And I just love that the Fonz delivered my baby. There’s no one better. That was pretty perfect.”

CHRIS PRATT (Andy Dwyer, who became a dad and debuted a new character Sergeant Thunderfist, M.D.)

On the finale

“This is going to go down as one of those all-time finales, like a Cheers.  Every great show that’s ended, some of them have been underwhelming endings and some of them have been amazing, and all of them are talked about.  This one will be talked about a lot.”

On the chance for the writers to end the show on their own terms, as opposed to network cancellation

“You get a great send-off for these characters that you love. The writers have done a fabulous job of making a great episode of TV and a finale that’s worthy of the fans and of the show. The finale definitely does the series justice, and I’m just so grateful that they were given the opportunity to write what they knew what would be a series finale. With a show like this, characters that you love this much, it’s going to live on for so long on different mediums, it’s important to have an ending. And the best way to do that is to know that you’re writing the ending, and they did know that. It’s nice.”

On the fact that Andy’s job status is not addressed

“I really liked that you don’t exactly know what Andy’s up to. Because I don’t think Andy is somebody whose happiness is ever going to be rooted in what he’s doing as his career. He’s not that kind of guy. As long as he’s with April, he’ll be happy. I love that they have children and I just see him having fun raising kids and supporting April as she does whatever she does. I just love that they’re together.”

On April’s initial reluctance to have kids

“Because they almost play as one character—they’re just so glued at the hip—it’s kind of nice that there’s a tiny bit of a conflict. Aubrey and I looked at each other and were like, ‘Oh my god, we’re actually acting here!’ She doesn’t want to have kids and he does—there’s a little bit of emotion there and that was really nice to play. And then, of course, they end up having kids and it’s great, so I liked where that ended up.”

AZIZ ANSARI (Tom Haverford, who failed at franchising Tom’s Bistro, commissioned a documentary about it, and then rebuilt himself as a best-selling author/self-help guru with Failure: An American Success Story

On the time jumps

“When I read it I was like, ‘Wow, this is a really ambitious, cool thing.’ It’s a big swing and I think it works. It’s cool to see where all these characters end up and all the stuff with the aging was just so incredible— the makeup team just killed it. And it’s a nice way to bring resolution to all these characters. I think if I watch the show, I would be pretty psyched to see where every character ended up, where the path took them.”

On Tom turning failure into a career boost

“I thought that was great. And even filming the scenes I got the kind of emotional ride that Tom got, just going from being super excited, tanking, sitting on the couch (laughs), it’s a funny rollercoaster to go on… I like that he had one more failure even after he figured it out but then he still picked himself up and figured it out.”

RETTA (Donna Meagle, who moved to Seattle with Joe, finished 9th in Italy’s Got Talent, and started Teach Yo’ Self Education Foundation)

On the finale

“I’m very satisfied. I feel like they’re giving us—the actors, the characters and the fans—a good goodbye… I suspect that everyone who loves the show will get closure, I’ve watched stuff where I’m like, ‘What? This is how you’re ending?’ And I feel like this particular finale, people will be able to sit back and marinate and enjoy knowing what happened to everyone. I think people will be surprised at how different the characters turned out in the end, but how perfect. I don’t think they would expect the choices that they make to make them happy but they do.”

On Donna’s relationship with Joe (Keegan-Michael Key)

“I was totally satisfied with [Donna] settling in with this guy but him totally being down with her crazy-ass lifestyle and the fact that she’s just got to be out there, she’s got to be everywhere….I felt very satisfied. I liked that she’s settled in—she didn’t change her personality but settled in.”

JIM O’HEIR (Jerry/Larry/Terry/Garry Gergich, who served ten terms as Mayor of Pawnee)

On the finale

“I was completely satisfied, and I would say I cried four different times reading that script.”

On Jerry dying at home happy with his family at age 100, after serving all those terms as Mayor

“When I got the script I was nervous because you don’t know—we all have our own little things about our characters and the other characters who we love. And I felt they nailed it. People say to me, ‘If you could write Jerry’s ending, what would you come up with’?’ And I said, ‘It was written. I can’t come up with anything better than what was written.’ It was the perfect ending. He had the perfect life. As much as maybe you wouldn’t look at it [like that] at work, ultimately he had the perfect life. To make him the mayor of the town for the rest of his days is just so lovely and so amazing.”

On his name being spelled wrong on the gravestone

“Absolute genius. And then for Amy to go, ‘Yeah, that’s about right.’ It’s perfect. It’s absolutely perfect.”

For more on Leslie’s ultimate fate, click here.