Parks and Recreation’s Final Season Was Not Its Greatest Ever
Tonight is the series finale of one of my favorite shows of all time, Parks and Recreation. Yesterday, Wired online posted this article by Eric Thurm: Why Parks and Recreation’s Final Season Was its Best Ever
I agree with the article that the 2-years jump executed by the final season was a good decision, creatively, allowing us to skip over both Leslie’s pregnancy and early baby years, and the adjustment period for her National Parks Service job. I also agree “Leslie and Ron” was the strongest episode of the season thusfar. And then we part ways.
The article opines that the season is a winner because it proves that change is happy and inevitable.
That’s what this last season of Parks and Rec has realized—it’s a celebration of beginnings in addition to endings, of the idea that there are always possibilities, even if those end up leading you back to the same people (kind of like a wedding!). … All the show needed to end on a high note was to allow all of its characters the chance to renew their vows.
The show has always embraced change, not just in this last season, but more importantly, the article overlooks a key point: the beginnings and opportunities that have been offered to these characters this season have vaulted the show far past its celebrated idealism, straight into la-la fantasyland. The show, always generous and warm, but also always grounded in a recognizable reality, has turned into the last moments of Grease, when Sandy and Danny’s car just takes off and flies into the air.
One example is the egregious acceleration of relationships. Most of the characters were paired already—Donna married a guy called Joe this season, but the show wisely introduced him last season so that we could assume their courtship unfolded normally during the two-year jump. But… In this Previously.TV writeup, writer Mark Blankenship complains about several developments in the final season (I agree pretty much on every count), taking note of Tom’s whirlwind courtship with Lucy. I like his description of the character having been “airlifted in” to facilitate Tom’s happy ending. This is nearly literally what happened—she was an ex-girlfriend of Tom’s (for a couple episodes in the third season) whom he missed, so this season he tracked her down in Chicago, lured her back to Pawnee with a job at his restaurant, waited for her relationship with her boyfriend in Chicago to fail due to distance, then made his move. Within two episodes they were ENGAGED. I know this show improbably got away with marrying off April and Andy in the same month they became a couple: that worked because of the way they wrote the characters and the way the actors played them. But a show should only get one of those. Tom and Lucy are cute, but this development wasn’t even close to earned. Why couldn’t the show have just let them be happily dating at the end? That’s enough.
Now let’s talk about the characters’ jobs. Careers were always fluid on this show, from Ann being hired as Pawnee’s Director of Public Health, to Chris and Ben pingponging around the City Management infrastructure, to Tom launching his THIRD small business in as many years last season. But this season things have really spiraled out of control.
Craig (played by Billy Eichner, whose dramatic yelling is still funny to me after a couple of seasons) may be the worst example: last season, he got hired as the sommelier for Tom’s restaurant and as far as we’ve seen is still acting in this capacity. He has also apparently succeeded Ron as Director of Pawnee’s Parks and Recreation. And in what I’m sure is ample free time, he acted as Donna’s wedding planner. (Why not create a wedding planner character for the episode? Or bring back one of Pawnee’s million weird townies to do this? It makes literally no sense.)
Or maybe Andy is the worst example. Again at Previously.TV, Tara Ariano wrote about his improbable career path last year, but we have to update that: this year Andy’s built his children’s birthday party performer character Johnny Karate into a public access show that he writes directs/edits/stars in/etc. (and which all of his terribly busy friends, including the City Manager, guest star on because why not); Andy is somehow also a crucial member of Leslie’s National Parks Service team (this despite his being a big dumb dog of a dude).
Or maybe Ben is the worst example! He left his position in the Pawnee government because of his relationship with Leslie. He ran political campaigns for a minute, then he was going to be an accountant, then he was overseeing the charitable donations of a candy company, then suddenly his past scandal didn’t make a difference anymore and he was offered the position of City Manager? Even though he was married to Leslie by that point, making the conflict of interest official and legal? And now he’s running for Congress because that’s not an enormous leap from his current employment, or anything.
Oh, also Jerry just became mayor for no reason.
I could probably handle all this nonsense, but the last straw for me was April and an episode called “Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington.” In this, what may become my least favorite episode of one of my favorite shows ever (previous un-favorite: Season 3’s “Indianapolis”), almost the entire cast of characters bends over backwards to try and secure a perfect career for the chronically-discontented April. This includes Ben (who, again, should be busier as the City Manager), Andy, and Ron visiting an accounting firm, hearing about a consulting job, pitching April for the job, deflecting when the hiring manager asks what April’s degree is—because whatever she studied is clearly not relevant to the position—and instead insisting that the absent lady will be excellent at the job because she is “brilliant” (debatable) and it sounds perfect (perfect not for her skill set, but simply for her laundry list of job wants).
They are doing this entirely without her input or consent, because she has traveled to Washington D.C. with Leslie. While there, April confesses to Leslie that she doesn’t want to work with her at the Parks Service anymore, so Leslie brings her to a federal department which offers job counseling. April is so inspired by her sitdown with the counselor, she decides that career counseling is her true calling. (The show forgot, apparently, that April once declared that her true passion was animals—that she really wanted to go to veterinary school, until she didn’t want to anymore, and then she was doing fine running Animal Control from inside Pawnee’s Parks & Rec department.) The revelation seems straight out of left field, but that doesn’t even matter so much as the fact that literally as soon as April decides this is the job she wants to do, she gets the opportunity to go ahead and do it.
Maybe this is because I am currently looking for permanent work myself. I finished a degree in December. I’m not unemployed—I work 50 hours a week right now, only at two disposable, part-time jobs. And here’s what I know, in my current state: despite being amply prepared with both degrees and experience, for the job that I want, no version of that job has yet been handed to me. I have sat for some legitimate interviews (which I secured by looking at job offerings on websites, and then applying for them) and not been given the jobs because other candidates turned out to be better for them.
The idea that April decides in her own head that a certain career track within a certain government department is ideal for her—and then, due to apparently nothing more than Leslie’s urging, the department offers her this job—is infuriating to me. Who said they even had an opening? What about her education or her past work makes her qualified to jump into this job now? The federal government doesn’t have unlimited funds to just create a new salary and benefits package for some cranky waif coming in off the street. More practically, how does she know that she can live on the salary that they can offer her (D.C. being one of the most expensive cities in America)? How does she know her husband wants to move to D.C. with her? Didn’t they literally just buy a house in Pawnee? None of this matters.
Here’s the thing: Parks and Recreation is ending. Its finale airs tonight. They want all of the characters to enjoy excellent happy-ending situations and the season has thus worked at a breakneck pace to land everyone where the show wants them to finish up. I love these characters. I should want them to all end by being happy. I just hate that such a smart show is pushing so hard. This isn’t a victory lap. The show is panting as it crosses the finish line.
(I do love this show, though. Maybe later I will write a post about the ten best episodes of the show!)