AMONG the excitement of a new year in television with Better Call Saul, True Detective Season 2, and Marvel Studios’ loud and increasingly crowded stable of TV properties there is a hint (or for many, myself included, a huge sense) of sadness as Parks and Recreation approaches the end of its seventh and final season, the final episode aired on February 24th. Since 2009, the show has been a constant source of joy to millions of viewers, becoming the sleeper hit of NBC’s comedy output in the 2010’s. Thanks in no small part to Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, the public servant who didn’t know how to stop serving. The finale arrived with poignancy, after the death of Harris Wittels, the show’s co-executive producer, the week before its airing. His loss has brought the cast and crew together as a family, one that has brought dozens of wonderful stories to the screen over the years:
Season 2, Episode 2: The Stakeout
In Parks’ second season the show began to find its feet and its characters. After his popularity in the first season, Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) takes up residence in one of Pawnee’s many construction pits, where a special kind of plant happens to be growing. Leslie and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) scope out the pit, only for Tom to be mistakenly arrested by Dave, Louis CK’s homely Indiana cop and Leslie’s first romantic interest.
Season 3, Episode 16: Li’l Sebastian
The Season 3 finale features the lavish funeral of Pawnee’s most famous citizen, the miniature horse Li’l Sebastian. After saving Leslie’s ambitious Harvest Festival earlier in the year with his appearance, the 25-year old equine icon finally succumbs to his many, many illnesses. While Leslie and Ben (Adam Scott) address the will-they won’t-they that has been in the background all season, the town mourns, and Andy (Chris Pratt) is tasked with creating a song ‘5000 times better than “Candle In The Wind”’; he does not disappoint.
Season 4, Episode 14: Operation Ann
One of the most satisfying things about Parks and Rec, and perhaps about all life, ever, is Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). Behind the grumpy, hairy exterior, a childlike glee is often masked. Good woodworking and breakfast food can bring this out and so too can riddles; in this Valentine’s Day episode, Ron takes charge of Leslie’s hugely convoluted scavenger hunt, while the superhuman health nut and optimistic Chris (Rob Lowe) DJs a couples dance after a breakup, with spectacularly depressing results.
Season 2, Episode 8: Ron and Tammy: Part II
The relationship between Ron and his second ex-wife, the horrifying, librarian femme fatale Tammy “Two” Swanson (Megan Mullaly) is made all the funnier by the fact that she and Nick Offerman are husband and wife in real life. It’s hard to imagine any other way two actors performing they way they do in this episode, as they reunite for three nights of (terrifying) passion. This episode features one of Parks’ most bizarre and hilarious running jokes; that for some reason, despite being devoted to public service, Leslie hates nothing more than libraries.
Season 4, Episode 22: Win, Lose or Draw
Season Four’s finale is the culmination of the ‘Knope 2012’ storyline, Leslie’s inspiring and at times disastrous run for City Council against the richer, better connected Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd). The campaign is Parks’ only season-length storyline, and the tension that has led up to this episode makes House of Cards look like Bear in the Big Blue (White) House.
Season 5, Episode 10: Two Parties
Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe left Parks during the sixth season and it felt like something was missing straight away. With Ann gone Leslie has lost a best friend, and with Chris Traeger gone an unparalleled energy left with him. In this episode, Ben’s bachelor party, organised by Chris, turns into one for all five of the guys, taking them to steakhouses and and finally to the home of the Indianapolis Colts, all while Leslie’s love of government gets the better of her at her bachelorette party. The next morning, Chris is awarded the enormous trophy for “Best Man”; of Ben’s wedding, and also the world.
Season 6, Episode 1: London
The forty-minute opener to Season Six finds the Parks department across the Atlantic so Leslie can receive an international award. Conveniently, looking significantly more buff than before, Chris Pratt was already in the capital, filming Guardians of the Galaxy. Pawnee’s citizens, never satisfied with her unstoppable desire to make her town better, are not happy with Leslie’s success. Meanwhile, while Ron is an outspoken opponent to many things, especially Europe, he is nevertheless taken on a solo adventure up to the remote Lagavulin distillery in Scotland, a beautifully recognised scene that ends with him reciting Burns on a cliffside. Tearjerking.
Season 7, Episode 12: One Last Ride
The central conceit of Parks’ seventh season is that we find ourselves three years into Pawnee’s future. Leslie is finding success with the National Parks Service, and is navigating a slightly unnerving vision of 2017, in which holographic Skype calls take up entire living rooms, drones are everywhere, and corporate data-mining is commonplace. In this last visit to the town that the show’s producers and the best comedic cast on television have made their own over six years, the conceit is taken even further, taking us to as late a year as 2048 to see what their lives will be like after they have all gone their separate ways. It’s a little silly, but Parks always was. It was the Little Show That Could, and was full of hope right til the end. “One Last Ride” ties Parks and Recreation up in a neat little bow, that is then signed in triplicate by Leslie Knope.