Goodbye to ‘Parks and Recreation’ and America’s Greatest Town

For a series perpetually on the verge of cancellation, Parks and Recreation managed to carve out a special place in the television landscape.

Parks and Recreation
Greg Daniels and Michael Schur

Some television shows come out fully formed right out of the gate. Some take a little time to find themselves. Parks and Recreation may have had a somewhat rocky first season, but when it found its voice in its second season, there was no stopping it from becoming the best comedy on television.

What has always made Parks and Recreation more than just a collection of great bits and one-liners (though it has plenty of both) has been its impeccable characterizations. Leslie Knope is a hero – she’s loyal, ambitious, the best friend and wife that anyone could ever have, but she’s also human. Leslie’s foibles are as much a part of what makes her such an appealing character as any of her best qualities. Whether she’s browbeating her coworkers into some work task that goes above and beyond any of the city government’s expectations, or becoming obsessed with everyone liking her, Leslie is always true to herself and her ideals. She’s a feminist, a Pawnee Goddess, a waffle connoisseur, and above all, the greatest ambassador Pawnee has ever known.

Leslie is the kind of intense character that needs others around to balance her out, and Parks and Recreations is truly an ensemble, because it fully understands the importance of not only creating fleshed out characters, but also the importance of creating believable relationships between the characters. It never shies away from showing real emotion, perhaps none more eloquently than the feelings that come with strong friendships.

Indeed, friendship is at the heart of Parks and Recreation, and over seven seasons they have grown, evolved, and always remained relatable. Donna and Tom’s annual Treat Yo Self days and their mutual love for the finer things in life has bonded them in very specific (and often strange) ways. April and Andy’s relationship is so rooted in their friendship that it’s impossible to separate the two. The most seemingly opposite couple possible – Andy’s unrelenting sweetness and innocence is in direct contrast to April’s misanthropic and guarded nature – they understand and accept one another so completely that their surprise wedding so early into their relationship remains one of the best and most moving episodes of the series.

Leslie’s three most important relationships, Ben, Ann, and Ron, form the basis of much of the show’s longer-running story arcs. They all understand one another in very specific ways, yet they all play such an integral role in each other’s lives. One of Leslie’s many gifts is her ability to devote herself so completely to getting to know the people she cares about, often making her the one person that fully understands a situation and the best way to approach it.

Perhaps the central relationship in all of Parks and Recreation, Leslie and Ron’s unlikely friendship, is a perfect encapsulation of what makes the series so great. Again, they’re opposites in almost every way. Leslie is a dedicated believer in the power of government and unendingly optimistic while Ron’s anti-government beliefs and suspicious personality puts him at odds with her more often than not. Regardless, their mutual respect and genuine affection for one another overrides their differences in ways that make their improbable friendship seem a foregone conclusion.

The series has been so successful in creating the world of Pawnee (“First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity”), and all that that entails, that the revolving cast of recurring characters feel as fully formed in their own ways as the main cast. From the truly horrible Jean Ralphio to the painfully literal Perd Hapley to the vain and delusional Joan Callamezzo to Tammy Two to Dennis Feinstein to Brandi Maxxxx to Councilman Jamm to Ethel Beavers. The list goes on and on and it only reinforces just how full to bursting the Parks and Recreation universe really is.

The Parks and Recreation finalé offers glimpses into everyone’s futures, yet the connecting thread through all of them is that no matter where life took them, they always came together for the important moments. The finalé is a testament to the depth of feeling that these characters have for each other, especially since the entire season has focused on how they’ve moved on from the Parks and Recreation Department.

Despite this, the series ends back in a park after they’ve all completed one final task for the department, but before they’ve gone their separate ways. It’s a bittersweet moment that speaks to how far they’ve come, as both individuals and as a group, and how much they still have to accomplish. The final scene serves as a different starting point for these characters, yet it feels like the right place to end the show.

For a series perpetually on the verge of cancellation and relegated to mid-season replacement status more often than not, Parks and Recreation managed to carve out a special place in the television landscape. Ostensibly a workplace comedy, the series was really about friendship in all the funny and sweet, weird and mundane, emotional and uplifting ways it connects people. These characters will be missed, but the series has cemented its place in television history. Farewell, Pawnee, you beautiful tropical fish.