Tonight, one of the greatest television shows in history comes to an end. It’s not easy for a sitcom to go out on top. Either you exhaust the premise and audience until the show is a shell of its former self (The Office), or you depart the building early, leaving audiences hungry for more (Seinfeld). In the case of Parks and Recreation, it feels like the show is ending at the perfect time; it hasn’t overstayed its welcome yet, but it feels like the characters are ready to move on.
Admittedly the series got off to a bit of a rocky start—as do almost all sitcoms. The show began as a sort of spinoff of The Office, but it quickly found its own identity and settled into a groove at the start of the second season. I’d wager that Season 3 is one of the best runs of any comedy in the history of television, and the show has continued to delight and surprise up through its final handful of episodes.
In honor of the one-hour series final airing tonight on NBC, I’ve put together a brief list of reasons why this show was so special, why I’ll be sad to see it go, and ultimately why I’m thankful that it existed. Without further ado…
It seems like a funny thing to single out, but the current television climate is so saturated with cynicism that the sincerity and compassion that permeates Parks and Recreation has always been refreshing. This is a show about people who earnestly want to do good things, and a show that genuinely loves its characters and refuses to be mean just for the sake of being mean. Sure Jerry/Larry/Terry/Barry was the butt of many, many office jokes, but the bullying is made palatable by the fact that he has the best home life out of anyone on the show, and also Jim O’Heir plays the character with such bashful earnestness that you believe the guy truly doesn’t mind it a bit. He’s honestly happy to have the honor of doing menial tasks. Dammit Jerry.
Plenty of sitcoms have recurring characters, but few fleshed out their worlds as fully and as colorfully as Parks and Rec (how did I ever live without Jean-Ralphio in my life?) . The key to the townspeople of Pawnee is the glorious playfulness of the names. From Jeremy Jamm to Fielding Milton to the incomparable Ethel Beavers, the writers behind Parks and Recreation put a lot of effort into coming up with nutty names for the loony inhabitants of this oddball town, and every single one of them is magnificent. Is Shauna Malwae-Tweep the greatest name ever given to a character in the history of television? It’s quite possible.
Genuine Romantic Relationships
We all know that what happens on television isn’t real, but that doesn’t make it any less surprising when a show goes out of its way to portray romantic relationships as genuine rather than “dramatic.” Such is the case with Parks and Rec and, in particular, Leslie and Ben. This is the kind of “work couple” we’ve seen before, but the writers refused to alter the characters as people just because they got together, and also didn’t feel compelled to break them up and get them back together every 8 episodes. What a novel idea to show what actually happens when two strong, intelligent, and independent people get together! And on the other side of the same coin, we have the adorably offbeat April and Andy—maybe a littler more weird, but no less genuine.
For some reason “feminism” has become a four-letter word, but Parks and Recreation never shied away from portraying its female characters as three-dimensional human beings and, yes, feminists. From Leslie to April to Diane, Parks and Rec portrayed its female characters as confident and complex women, and it never used them as plot devices to either stir up drama or create romantic tension where none exists. Yet another thing that Parks and Rec did so well, so often, that we took for granted that it’s not “the norm” on network television.
No Parks and Recreation appreciation list would be complete without mentioning the man, the myth, the legend: Ron Swanson. It’s clear from the character’s progression that Nick Offerman was invaluable to creating the Ron Swanson we know and love, and if forced to pick out one “breakout” character from the show, it’d probably be Ron. The key to the character’s comedy was Offerman’s eagerness to surprise, as immortalized in this one glorious gif. And while Ron was a treasure trove of memorable one-liners, the character was also fully realized and emotionally impactful. He served as the Yang to Leslie’s Yin, and was at least 50% responsible for giving us one of the greatest non-romantic partnerships in recent memory.
Other delights that Parks and Recreation has gifted us with: Treat Yo’ Self, “Stop pooping,” The Cones of Dunshire, DJ Roomba, Lil’ Sebastian, Burt Macklin, Entertainment 720, Sweet ‘Ums Child Size drinks, etc. I could genuinely do this all day.
Thank you Michael Schur. Thank you Amy Poehler. Thank you cast, writers, and crew of Parks and Recreation. You have safely cemented this show as one of the best there ever was.