Friends, Pawneeans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to praise Parks and Recreation, but definitely not to bury it (because I intend to rewatch it over and over again on Netflix, forever). For seven seasons, Parks has been surprisingly, ridiculously, sublimely funny but also (like its leading character) fundamentally earnest and kind and human. “We do it because we get the chance to work hard at work worth doing, alongside a team of people who we love,” Leslie said tonight. She was talking about public service, but it’s also the motivating ethos of the show and, one suspects, the lived experience of the people who created it week after week, year after year. Work one loves done well with friends—on face it doesn’t sound like the nut of a half-hour comedy, but man, they made it sing.
At the top of this finale, a man comes in to ask the Parks Department to repair a broken swing, interrupting Leslie’s exhaustive Walk Through Memory Lane (and cutting Garry’s musical coffeepot bit). The broken swing is a bit of a MacGuffin, its main purpose getting Leslie together with all the various cast members so we can get to the real meat of the episode. Each pairing leads to a flash-forward in time to the future lives of each of the ensemble, because Parks loves us and it wants us to feel satisfied by this finale. The season began with a risky and ultimately rewarding time jump of three years; it’s a satisfying narrative symmetry to end with these glimpses into the future. So we’re going to break this recap down by character. Parks and Recreation, this is your future life.
Donna Meagle in Seattle, 2023
Donna and Joe are living in a beautiful home, going on Donna and Joe Adventure Quests (Middle Korea is beautiful), and still digging each other, especially Donna in that red thing. Regal Meagle Realty is booming thanks to Seattle’s irrational and speedy homebuyers (thanks, caffeine and legal THC!). But Joe’s school has cut math—the whole subject. Guess America’s over that whole “we need to excel at science and technology” thing. Donna decides to take some of her real estate cash and create a foundation for teachers to run afterschool programs, with the help of April Ludgate-Dwyer a.k.a. Satan’s Niece. It’s called Teach Yo Self. This is so much better than fine leather goods.
April and Andy in D.C., 2022
Team Ludgate-Dwyer is established in the nation’s capitol, still role-playing Burt Macklin and Janet Snakehole. But there’s trouble in paradise—as Andy says, “I want to put a babe in you, Babe.” April digs the bodily horrors of pregnancy, but can’t get on board with the actual baby aspect of it. A heart to heart with Sandra Dee O’Connor (Leslie) sways her. A year later, April’s in labor, wearing ghoul makeup and listening to the Monster Mash. Dr. Saperstein delivers a healthy Burt Snakehole Ludgate Karate Dracula Macklin Demon Jack O’Lantern Dwyer—Jack for short.
Tom Haverford in Pawnee, 2019
One of Indiana’s top mogul’s is planning another expansion, launching 20 Tom’s Bistro’s across the country in the next five years. He loses everything—he had to sell his pocket square collection!—through no fault of his own. Instead of just watching his self-made documentary of his failures, Tom creates success from the ashes of his failure. Specifically becoming the bestselling author of Failure: An American Success Story.
Garry Gergich in Pawnee, 2017 through 2048
Interim mayor Garry gets officially elected to the post thanks to overwhelming write-in votes. City Council President (and still-working adult film actress) Brandi Maxxxx swears him in to his fourth term. Councilman Morris swears him in to his 10th term. He dies shortly after his 100th birthday party, holding the hand of a still-incredibly-fit Gayle, and is honored by the Notary Society with a 21-stamp salute. Truly a life well lived. R.I.P. Garry Girgich.
Ron Swanson in Pawnee, 2022
Very Good Building and Development Co. survives the financial crisis that sank Tom’s empire, leading Ron to resign his chairmanship, leaving the company in the stewardship of Lon and Vaughn Swanson. His family is growing up and he owns a controlling interest in Lagavulin, but Ron wants more from life. As always, his closest workplace-proximity acquaintance is there to help. The relationship between Leslie and Ron has always been the heart of this show. Their genuine fondness and respect for each other, despite occasional personality clashes and ideological differences, has informed the whole shape of the show. In 2022, she gets one last chance to help him out, putting him in charge of the Pawnee National Park. “You’d work outside. You’d talk to bears.” Sounds perfect.
Jean Ralphio Saperstein (and Mona Lisa Saperstein) in Pawnee, 2022
Alas, our favorite serial insurance fraudster’s persistent love for Leslie Knope will have to go unrequited. While Leslie wishes him a long and happy life, our flash-forward is to his funeral, with a tight shot on his tombstone as his favorite song plays, “Bend Over” by Lil John, featuring Tyga. Never fear, JRS is not dead, just faking it. He and Mona Lisa are taking the insurance payout and starting a casino in Tajikistan.
Craig in Pawnee, 2019 and beyond
Even Craig gets a flash-forward! Two years later, he’s doing a little lounge singing at Tom’s Bistro when hair-dresser extraordinaire Typhoon sends him a glass of wine and an encouraging look from the bar. Cut to their wedding, best man Ron Swanson hands over the rings. And then again jump again to the distant future, as the elderly couple celebrates their anniversary on a terrifying clear-sided future-plane.
Leslie and Ben in D.C. and Pawnee, 2025
The Knope-Wyatts have embraced life in D.C., becoming regular visitors at the home of famed Knope crush Joe Biden. Ben did become a Congressman. Leslie worked happily in the department of the interior. All is bliss until both halves of the power couple are approached to run for governor of Indiana. They go back to Pawnee to get perspective.
The entire crew reunites in the old Parks Department—including that opalescent treeshark Ann Perkins and husband Chris Traeger! Everyone catches up over champagne as the strains of Mouse Rat plays gently in the background. Leslie and Ann want their kids to fall in love. April is pregnant again. Donna is fully in on the charity, but still buying bling. Tom’s writing a second book. Ben decides Leslie should be the candidate—she did write about being gov. in her kindergarten dream journal. Flash-forward one last time to 2035 to Leslie receiving an honorary doctorate from Indiana University and the “honor” of getting her name put on a library, as her friends watch from the audience.
Farewell, Pawnee. We’ll miss you in the saddest fashion.
The ending of Parks was always going to be bittersweet, but it has been presaged by a true tragedy. On February 19, executive producer—and writer, and actor—Harris Wittels passed away at the age of 30. Here is a compilation of his many appearances on Parks, as one half of the hilariously incompetent Animal Control unit and disgruntled citizen at the public hearings. Many of the Parks & Rec crew have written or tweeted remembrances of Wittels as a superior jokesmith and human being. Aziz Ansari’s tumblr eulogy is excellent, and you can also read one on our website from Jim O’Heir.
Notes and Jokes:
- So we see Leslie in 2048 at Garry’s funeral with what is clearly some form of Secret Service/bodyguards. And in her speech at Indiana University in 2035 she says she’s moving on to her next big project. What’re we betting? President?
- The Legend of Donna Meagle gets a load of new chapters this week spanning past and future, including that she was in En Vogue (and technically kicked the rest of them out), DJ’d a boat party in Venezuela, came in ninth in Italy’s Got Talent, was on a NASCAR pit crew, and started the door-knocker earrings trend.
- The Cones of Dunshire sequel Winds of Tremorrah is “punishingly intricate.” (And it’s the ninth-highest selling multiplayer figurine-based strategy fantasy sequel game in history.)
- Leslie Han Solo’s Jean Ralphio!!!!
- What a Swansonian dilemma: A steak dinner, but with several members of the House Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs. The solution: Steak to go.
- Do we think Nick Offerman made the canoe Lucky Boy? He definitely made that canoe. Right?
- Tom’s book identified seven very familiar successful personalities—and a Garry.
- Chris rocks what I can only assume is the latest version of a Fitbit.
Life in 2017/2019/20—eff it, The Future: There’s so much future in this episode! They’re building a Space Haystack around Seattle’s Space Needle. America had another economic crisis and ran out of beef. Bill Belichick has upgraded from robots to alien football players.