Parks and Recreation is Over; Coincidentally, Joy is Also Over
There are lots of posters on the walls of my dorm room. There’s a beautiful Gone with the Wind poster; a couple of Firefly mock-ups; a poster for a short film that I directed that was designed by a good friend; one called E-Cow-Nomics that explains economic models using cows. But there are two that I get compliments on more than any others.
The first is called the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness. Two crudely photoshopped images of Ron Swanson’s head border a pyramid filled with the secrets to true greatness, everything from Friends (“One to three is sufficient”) to Deer Protein to Old Wooden Sailing Ships.
The second is Leslie Knope, the proclaimed Pawnee goddess, adorned on all sides by her own special words of wisdom. She is framed from behind with light. She is an idol. She is a beacon of hope. She is big enough to admit she is often inspired by herself. She is the protagonist of Parks and Recreation, a very special television program that meant a lot of things to a lot of people.
It feels terrible to speak about Parks in past tense. It is the first time I have ever done so. It feels unnatural. I have watched bad television shows that air midday on basic cable that tell me stories about people who have transplant surgeries where the organs won’t take. Sometimes these organs belonged to serial killers and they possess the recently surgerized and force them to kill again. This is what I fear talking about Parks and Recreation as a deceased entity will do to me. It may just break me.
Like everyone else, I caught on to this special show in the middle of its run. (Almost no one has been with this show since its inception and lived to tell the tale). During the show’s third season, Entertainment Weekly (to which I was a loyal and avid subscriber) ran a cover story about the show, proclaiming it to be the “smartest comedy on television” or the “smartest show on TV” or something equally exclamatory and true. This seemed impossible to me, both as a diehard fan of NBC’s Community and as someone who watched the pilot episode because it was on the same night as other shows I liked and turned away from it with all my might. But Entertainment Weekly had never lied to me before, so I logged on to Hulu and checked out all of the Season Three they had to offer.
The next day I drove to Best Buy and bought Season 2 on DVD.
Though it was never my absolute favorite show (that honor still goes to Community, Parks’ much more temperamental and inconsistent sibling in heartfelt ensembles), I have always admired Parks and Recreation. I would put its third season (and now its brilliant seventh) up against any other season of television in terms of pure quality and consistency. Its commitment to character as narrative is brilliant; these characters always felt like themselves in every situation, and their likes and dislikes were so ingrained and defined that they could motivate entire story arcs. The show’s commitment to optimism and showcasing the value of pure human goodness is a warm, beautiful blanket. I use its heart as constant inspiration in my writing and in my daily life, because the only way for things to get better is for people to believe that they can.
And so they did for the denizens of Pawnee, Indiana. Parks was always determined to take us on a journey. Creator and showrunner Mike Schur (one of my new idols after all the heights this show reached in its time) has long said that he would never allow a character to exit a season the same way they came in. That’s not how peoples’ lives work. And it was this commitment to growth that allowed Parks and Recreation to go out on top.
With even the best shows, concessions often have to be made for the final season or so. I love the first four years of How I Met Your Mother (and the sixth year, for the record), but the ninth, victory lap season of that show was almost unwatchable in its first half and breezily passable in its second. I am still a strident defender of the finale no matter how much everyone tells me that I’m wrong, but you could hardly ever say that the show as going out firing on all cylinders. I love Lost (and, yes, I love its finale, too), but its sixth season was remarkably spotty between some really great moments. Much of Breaking Bad’s final season was tremendous, but I found its finale flat and overly convenient (my opinion of it has worsened since my review last year).
I don’t know of any show that went out as strongly, as confidently, and with as many new ideas as Parks and Recreation. Uprooting the audience to the far-flung future of 2017 was a risky endeavor. Desperate Housewives once tried a similar maneuver to minimal effect, and what makes you think you’re better than Desperate Housewives, Parks and Recreation? But it allowed us to skip the tedium of Leslie’s pregnancy, establishing the national Parks office in Pawnee, and jump forward far enough for friendships to divide and Gryzzle to rise. They could make jokes about the future and set up new dynamics for the opening credits crew. It is an all-time great season for a show that already had one under its belt, and enough episodes between Season Two and Season Four to make up another one. Season Seven’s “Leslie and Ron” is best episode the show ever did. I feel confident enough at this point to say that outright.
I don’t know how to say goodbye to Parks and Recreation. I don’t know how to let go of Mouse Rat and Sewage Joe and Chris Traeger’s Bumbleflex. What am I going to do without Joan Callamezzo or Craig or Eagleton Ron? Where do I go without Mona Lisa Sapperstein or Greg Pikitis or Jerry/Larry/Terry/Garry? This is a show that touched a lot of people, and has become a part of our cultural lexicon in this “age of cyberspace.” Ron Swanson pictures will be reblogged and posted for years and years to come. Asking my friends if I should buy something will long be greeted with a chorus of “Treat Yo’ Self.” My college has an annual tradition of hosting a friendly game of “Know Ya Boo.” And I hope to see Instagram posts from various Galentine’s Days for years to come. The best I can do is wave goodbye to the characters I so love, played by the best damn comedic ensemble I have ever known.
Goodbye, Tom Haverford. You taught me about style and perseverance, and that noodles should actually be called “long ass rice.”
Goodbye, Chris Traeger. Your boundless positivity and easily-impressioned personality will surely help me to continue to trick my friends into thinking I am funny for years to come.
Goodbye, Ann Perkins, you beautiful, talented musk ox.
Goodbye, Donna Meagle. You loved your Mercedes, your men, and your diamonds. You married Keegan Michael-Key. You did well.
Goodbye, Jerry/Larry/Terry/Garry Gergich. They were always a little too mean to you for my taste, but you had a wonderful life in spite of them and your finale as mayor was one of a stellar finale’s most touching moments.
Goodbye, Ben Wyatt. You married Leslie Knope. You could do nothing else in your life and I would still be eternally jealous of you. You are also played by Adam Scott, so I was going to be jealous of you no matter what.
Goodbye, April Ludgate-Karate-Dwyer. Janet Snakehole is a treasure, and you always had the courage to express feelings that we all feel but never can quite get out.
Goodbye, Andy Dwyer. Ne’er-do-well cum world’s most charming oaf, you are one of television’s finest comedic creations. When Chris Pratt decided to take time off of Parks to become one of the biggest movie stars in the entire world (and it was about damn time, you incredibly talented, handsome, charming, funny man-crush of mine), his absence was felt. There was a noticeable void in Pawnee with no Andy Dwyer. He was the secret glue.
Goodbye, Ron Swanson. You are the Internet’s favorite son, a beloved charmer, and the emotional center of one of sitcom’s finest episodes. You deserve every gif.
Goodbye, Leslie Knope. You are an inspiration, an idol, and a wonderful woman. Amy Poehler may have earned her spot in popular culture by founding an improv institution, being a standout on Saturday Night Live, and writing some of the best episodes of Parks and Rec, but she will be remembered for decades to come as Leslie Knope, Pawnee’s pride and joy, even if the people in the town would never come to realize it themselves. You are why we kept coming back, and you are the heart of this great work of art. Best wishes. Truly.
So, goodbye Perd Hapley. Goodbye JJ’s diner and Dennis Feinstein. Goodbye Tammy Two and her evil library, Andy’s shoe shine stand, and the Harvest Festival. Goodbye Detlef Schrempf, Poopy the Raccoon, and Bobby Newport. Goodbye Harris Wittels. Goodbye to the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana. I will never get used to you being gone.