With only one hour to go, it’s time to start saying goodbye.
Today has been the best day of my life, and that’s saying something — I once found a rock that looked like Santa Claus.
While watching last night’s episodes — the antepenultimate and penultimate — it finally began to hit me that the show I love so much is about to end, and I’m not ready. This last season, thanks in part to NBC’s double-dipping scheduling strategy, has gone by in a blur, but each episode has had its own unique tone and standout moments as Michael Schur & Company bring seven years of adventures in Pawnee to a close. But no episode in the series’s history may have been stranger than “The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show,” a meta bottle episode that took place within the confines of Andy Dwyer’s final appearance as his beloved children’s character.
The moment I realized that the episode was all-in on the Johnny Karate gimmick — sometime between the credits and the first fake commercial break — I started giggling uncontrollably; it’s the kind of structural exercise Parks has rarely taken, leaving it to its more fleet-footed brethren like 30 Rock (“Queen of Jordan,” anyone?) or Community, who have made one-off weirdness their bread and butter. The “mockumentary” structure that has served Parks so well is still limiting in its own way, and its tropes have been relied on less and less as the years have gone on. But coming this late in the final season, the series had an opportunity to go for broke with its well-established characters, and Parks doesn’t miss a single beat.
I could spend hundreds of words just listing out the tiny details that make up the “amazing trainwreck” of “Johnny Karate,” but I’ll save most of those for the bullet points. And even with all the rampant silliness, the episode still had an emotional core: April’s new job is leading her and Andy to Washington, D.C. (the “capital of the entire world,” and home of the Smithsonian Mental Institution), but she’s devastated by the thought of pulling Andy away from a job he loves and does so well. The final episode of the Johnny Karate Show is a quest to find Johnny’s stolen guitar — while ticking off the usual boxes, like “Make Something,” “Learn Something,” and sic the junior ninja on hapless mailman Barry — but it climaxes in that studio back room: Andy, ever the giant puppy dog, assures an emotional April that everything will be fine, that he will be fine, and will certainly find something awesome to do in D.C. Maybe there’s another pit he can fall into!
After that, it’s time for Andy to get a send-off the best way Leslie (who has taken over the show) knows how: raising his karate uniform to the rafters as Donna and Ron (as Duke Silver) perform “Kung-Fu Fighting.” Everyone’s here: Lord Edgar Covington (Peter Serafinowicz!), who literally knights Andy (and Ben, in a state of complete, nerdy shock); the Pawnee police commissioner, who honors longtime crimefighter Burt Macklin, FBI by giving Andy a police badge; pro wrestler JOHN CENA(?!), here to get dunked in a tank; and, yes, Andy’s heroic three-legged dog, Champion. It’s sweet, it’s funny, and it’s everything Parks does well. The feels are getting stronger and stronger.
In “Two Funerals” the show returned to earth, even as characters continue to leave it (in more ways than one). Leslie’s promotion has gone through, Donna & Joe are moving to Seattle, and Gerry is finally retiring (though no one cares), but the biggest story is outside of our core cast: Mayor Walter Gunderson has died. Often referenced but never actually seen, Mike Schur has been open about his attempts to land Bill Murray to cameo in the role — and it took the end of the show, and the death of the character, to miraculously make it happen. BILL MURRAY! I know!!!
Gunderson’s memorial service is an off-beat, twist-y affair; after Ben plays a video Gunderson taped before his death (“If there is credit, I’ll take it…if there’s blame, it’s your fault,”) Ethel Beavers walks away with the entire scene, giving an uncomfortably honest account of their torrid, decades-long affair. “Goodnight, you animal,” she says as she kisses Gunderson’s cold forehead. But this show of affection has inspired Leslie to inspire Tom (returning after taking the last three episodes off — he was in New York with Lucy, apparently) to finally propose, a challenge Tom accepts, provided he can do it via an elaborate, Mission: Impossible-style video, a challenge Leslie accepts.
Meanwhile, Ron gets terrible news: his longtime barber, Salvatore, has also passed away. Ron nearly faints, and is overcome (by Ron’s standards) with grief: “The three most important people in a man’s life are his barber, his butcher, and his lover.” (Andy: “Was he killed by a younger, stronger barber?”) After leaving a $10 bill in Salvatore’s casket (though he’ll collect the change from the man’s wife, as Ron does not believe in tipping), he is comforted by Donna, who — trust her — introduces him to her stylist friend Typhoon. Surprisingly, the staunchly masculine Swanson and his gay new barber hit it off: “Please, talk more about how you hate Europe and bicycles!” It’s delightful to consider Ron’s future, both as one of the few characters who will be remaining in Pawnee at series’s end, and in Typhoon’s chair, changing incrementally, bonding over a shared hatred of Europe.
All of Leslie and Tom’s work filming his spy movie (including destroying a display at an actual jewelry store) gets thrown out the window at the last minute, as Tom instead elects to propose in a simpler, more authentic way: a plate of pancakes, a daisy, and a playing card. Lucy may have few character traits besides “Tom’s girlfriend” and “Natalie Morales is cool,” but the pair are a great match; even Jean-Ralphio can’t help but get misty as he and Leslie watch the proposal from afar. One by one, each character is reaching the end of their story.
And finally, Ben and April’s search for an interim mayor brings them through the usual suspects of Pawnee notables: Bobby Newport, who can’t take the job because he’s about to go into space (if he could just borrow $600,000), Joan Calamezzo and Dr. Saperstein, who simply pass on the offer, and The Douche, who — as usual — shows traces of the normal, intelligent dude within, but not for long. April suggests that Ben take the job himself, as redemption for “Ice Town,” and he nearly does — until he gets a better idea.
Since the beginning of the series, no character has been more unjustly put-upon than Gerry Gergich. Some of that was his own clumsiness and mistake-prone tenure at the Parks department, but after a while, it was clear that his role was to simply be the office pinata, however deserved. Schur (and Jim O’Heir) compensated for this by always giving Gerry a sunny, “just happy to be here” attitude, and an impossibly beautiful family, but even Ben — a longtime Gerry defender — was shown to have a breaking point. So it’s a joyous image, indeed, to see the guy who has been the butt end (sometimes literally) of so many jokes get carried in a litter by Roman Centurions, to a hot air balloon that rises into the sky, as the new Interim Mayor waves to a crowd that truly adores him. Who knows? Maybe the gig will be more permanent than the title suggests.
Next week, it all ends. I’m not ready.
Odds and Ends:
- Where do you start with the Johnny Karate show? Perd doing the voiceover, moonlighting from his gig as a TV judge (or is it the other way around?) April’s tarantula? (“It’s time for one of our favorite segments: ‘Loose Animal in the Studio!'”) Carpenter Ron? (“How are you doing today?” “My contract is very specific — I do not have to answer that question.”) Ben as “Professor Smartbrain,” forever interrupted by the Boring Buzzer?
- The fake ads were especially genius. Ron’s: “Hire Very Good Building Company for your construction needs. Or do not. I am not a beggar.” The Wamapoke Casino: “Slowly taking our money back from white people, one quarter at a time.” Paunch Burger: “Put it in your body, or you’re a nerd!”
- Ben, muttering “Winter Is Coming” as he gets knighted: you know he’d demand you title him Ser Ben.
- A final Mouse Rat appearance, in a “Behind the Music”-esque special: “I guess you could say…Dave Matthews was doing what we were doing.”
- We finally learned Burt Macklin’s middle name: Tyrannosaurus.
- “I come to you tonight with good news…is not something I’ll be saying right now.”
- Great gag: the SIGN-TOLOGIST store, and Leslie’s emphatic declaration that the owner wouldn’t be wearing that gold watch if it weren’t for her constant business.
- “Why are you like this?” “PILLLLLLLS, BABY!”
- Still more cameos: Mona Lisa (what a piece of work)! Eagleton Ron! But there are still two characters yet to appear this season, and they’re named “Ann” and “Chris”…
- IN THE YEAR 2017…According to Donna “The Chief” Meagle, there’s a hard-won peace in Iraq, and Shia LeBeouf has really “found his calling” as a ring designer. I’ll let you judge which of these is less believable.