The final season of Parks and Rec begins with a friendship on the rocks, more Jon Hamm, and a glimpse into a strange future.
You did and said exactly what I thought you would do and say, and that is oddly comforting.
When Parks began back in 2009, struggling out of the gate as a sister series to The Office, the only star it could bank on was beloved Saturday Night Live alum Amy Poehler. But even she wasn’t enough to bring the ratings to a respectable level, and the show staved off cancellation by the skin of its teeth year after year after year. Multiple times, producer Mike Schur and his team had to write what could serve as the series’s “Final Episode” — the finales of seasons 4, 5, and Leslie & Ben’s wedding halfway through Season 6 — and each time, NBC decided to keep it around. Parks had generated more than enough critical goodwill to justify its existence, and everything else the network tried to program had failed, so why not?
Yet even the greatest shows — and this is one — have their natural end dates, and last season saw the well beginning to run dry. Yet the stock of the performers has never been higher: Poehler just wrapped up her third stint co-hosting the Golden Globes; Nick Offerman has become his own stone-faced brand; Aubrey Plaza is an indie film queen; and Chris Pratt, the new America’s Sweetheart, had a year that dwarfed them all. So it was perhaps with this in mind that NBC granted Schur one last season to wrap things up. Last season’s “Moving Up” became the first season finale in several years that didn’t have to serve as a series finale, and the producers capitalized by tacking a three-year time jump onto the end, irrigating the ground for fresh ideas and infinite possibilities. Also, we wouldn’t have to deal with Leslie Knope giving birth and dealing with infants, so it’s a win-win.
Last night’s double episode (the first of six before the one-hour finale) served to catch us up on what the characters have been up to for the past three years, and lay the pipe for the big, emotional changes to come. Let’s run it down:
- Leslie is still working at the National Parks Service, and killing it, while Ben in his tenure as City Manager has brought Pawnee into the 21st Century by getting tech startup Gryzzl to use the city as a beta test site. Free wi-fi for all!
- Ron has gone into the private sector, starting the “VERY GOOD BUILDING AND DEVELOPMENT COMPANY,” but at the cost of he and Leslie’s friendship. Not just because he stopped working for the government, but because his job as a developer is in direct competition–and conflict–with Leslie’s. A reference to something called “Morningstar” is the key, and I assume we’ll find out about that a later date.
- Tom is a “mogul” now, wearing natty velvet suits and appearing in various forms of media. Tommy’s Bistro — something I’m still not fully on board with — is apparently a huge success.
- April is in Leslie’s old job, and is doing well if not exactly loving it. Andy has a TV show as his alter ego “Johnny Karate,” where child ninjas beat up “mailman”
Gerry LarryBarry on a regular basis. (“I said my real name is Gary, and they said ‘Who cares?’ It’s a fun group!”)
- Donna’s getting married (to Keegan-Michael Key!) She’s using Shia LaBeouf’s line of dresses!
The first episode, “2017,” started with a mini-bombshell: the Newport family is putting hundreds of acres of land up for sale. Leslie wants to turn it into a national park, but has to go up against “stupid garbage head doodoo face” Ron and Gryzzl, who want to turn it into a shopping center and are prepared to offer $90 million dollars for it. Leslie, on the other hand, has “the most powerful currency in America: a blind, stubborn belief that what I am doing is 100% right!”
But that’s probably not going to be enough, especially when she finds out that Tom and Donna have allied with Ron, because they’ll get something out of the deal. She can’t even persuade the Wamapokes to donate money to the federal government so it can use the land! (I mean, what gives?) So tensions boil over with Ron; they push each other into a giant cake, non-apologize to each other (Ron: “I am sorry I attended a public event”), and both make their bids to Ms. Newport and the ever growing law firm of Fwar, Dips, Winshares, Gritt, Babip, Pecota, Vorp & Eckstein. (Mike Schur used to run a baseball website.) Leslie offers, instead of $90 million, $0 million (“I have to say, that’s one of the lower ones we’ve seen,”) but she can also offer the opportunity to name the Newport National Park, and remain a part of the fabric of Pawnee. So in the end, her’s and Ron’s are the only bids left standing, and both sides have declared war on each other.
Ben’s time in this episode is relatively brief, even though he’s getting a banquet thrown in his honor. Tom volunteers to give Ben’s introduction, but true to form, only talks about himself (“I’m pretty amazing at being humble.”) Ben is understandably furious, but Tom tells him later that he did have a speech written, but couldn’t read it because it made him too emotional. He ends up reading it just for Ben, and they both sob uncontrollably. It’s cute, but Tom is kind of insufferable in the future.
Meanwhile, the Dwyer-Ludgates are horrified to discover that they have become boring old people — they’re planning their whole week out instead of being spontaneous and weird, and wine makes April sleepy. They try to shake things up at the gala, but it doesn’t feel right…and then, spontaneously, they visit and decide to buy a decrepit old house (and former holding tank for people working a doll’s head assembly line) overseen by Werner Herzog (!). Terrible idea? Sure. But now they know they’re still capable of following terrible ideas, and love each other all the more.
“Ron and Jammy”
One of Parks‘s greatest strengths as a series (other than my man Perd Hapley) is showing how people who are diametrically opposed can work well together, and even be friends. I’d be hard-pressed to name a better platonic, man-woman relationship on a sitcom than Leslie & Ron, with her starry-eyed liberal idealism, and his gruff, handcrafted, gold-hoarding libertarianism. They rarely see eye to eye on political decisions, but they have always had each others’ backs — until now, when Ron has apparently crossed a bridge too far. I have no doubt that they’ll work things out sooner rather than later, but it’s a fun (if temporary) change in the show’s dynamic, and gives Poehler and Offerman some new colors to play with. (“In my experience with buttfaces, you are one.”)
But even Leslie & Ron’s blood feud must be put aside for the sake of one man’s soul, even if that one man is Councilman Jeremy Jamm. At first, he’s just the swing vote in a council decision about whether to zone the Newport land for commercial use, but the moment we learn that Tammy 2 (welcome back, Megan Mullally) has taken Jamm in her clutches and broken him, Ron and Leslie briefly join forces to do the right thing. I’m not sure Jon Glaser has ever been funnier than in his scene with Leslie in the diner: “I’m better now! Sure, I’m depressed and constantly sick, and nothing brings me joy…look at that! More hair came out!”
Ron brings Jamm to his cabin for some tough love, and it’s with unbridled glee that we see Leslie dish out some abuse that Jamm has sorely deserved, spraying him with Tammy’s perfume and smacking him in the face. Ron gives Jamm an iron-forged chastity belt, and he and Leslie role-play a bit, allowing Amy Poehler to show off a killer Megan Mullally impression. (Ron’s reponse: “This gambit has failed! Why don’t you feed yourself to the snakes!”) In the end, Jamm is saved from a life of forced mustache growing and meat consumption, and not even Tammy stripping naked in the middle of the library can turn Jamm from the straight and narrow. He abstains from the council vote, leaving Ron and Leslie’s land fight at a stalemate.
Elsewhere: as Joan Calamezzo gets her star on the Pawnee walk of fame (after a slow-motion meltdown and rehab stint, fodder for her ninth memoir Game of Joans), April sees Joan’s continued confidence and passion and decides her own “insides are dying.” What is April passionate about? Does she even like her job? If living under a bridge and asking people riddles isn’t an option, what is? She takes a cue from Ben and goes to check out her “dream job” when she was ten years old — a mortician’s office, naturally, where a uncomfortably sunny mortician only succeeds in making that sound weird and lame, too. (“People are dying to get in!”) April may not know what’s next for her, but Ben gets a hug for his support.
Finally, all of the marriage proposals happening at Tommy’s Bistro are making Mr. Haverford feel lovesick. Fortunately, his restaurant is getting good press, and former flame Lucy (Natalie Morales) has sent him a Gryzzletext! With Andy in tow, Tom taxis off to Chicago (a $450 fare), where the two serendipitously run into each other. (I’ll allow it.) Tom asks Lucy to manage his restaurant, and she says that sounds great…she just needs to check with her boyfriend. Oh. Tom, through gritted teeth: “Everything worked out exactly as I hoped!” Me too, Tommy. Me, too.
Odds and Ends:
- Jon Hamm will be hanging at Subway, if anyone needs him! Werner Herzog, meanwhile, is moving closer to Disney World.
- “That tuxedo makes you look like a sexy orchestra conductor.”
- “When has Tommy ever let you down?” “…Constantly.”
- “You’ve seen my weiner, you know how dumb it looks!”
- “My son sells these on Etsy. He is a huge disappointment.”
- “Looks like the chastity belt was inside you all along.”
- Ben’s rising panic in the mortuary was a thing of beauty. All that was missing was the flop sweat, and it was just like he was back on live TV.
- April, on Joan: “I hope she’s my real mom.”
- The Chicago plot was great for Andy, who thought he was either in “The Big Apple” or “Beantown.” He was present enough to cover for Tom as to why they were there (“I have a job interview!”), but not that well (“…With the Chicago Bulls!”)
- IN THE YEAR 2017…Motion-activated hologram tablets! A Jason Bourne reboot starring Kevin James! The Cubs just won the World Series! (Okay, that last one’s just trolling, Mike Schur.)