Parks and Recreation ends its seven season run on Tuesday night, which means that we are losing one of the greatest, funniest, and warmest sitcoms to ever grace our television screens. I remember first seeing previews for the show all those years ago and thinking, “well that’s not gonna be very good. It’s just an Office rip off with Amy Poehler.” And indeed, that’s what it was for its first six episodes. There were glimmers of the show it would become but they were few and far between. Season two improved things considerably as the show found its own footing and fully embraced its quirky characters. But it wasn’t until Mark Brendanawicz was kicked to the curb (remember him? I honestly forgot about him until I sat down to right this) and Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger were added to the main cast that Parks and Rec became something special. It still shouldn’t have worked as well as it did though. For a short time, it was part of the best comedy line-up we’d seen in years yet had no business being as good it’s fellow shows. The Office had more cringe inducing humor, 30 Rock was more satirical, and Community was edgier. Parks and Rec was, at it’s core, basically a show about nice people doing nice things. Sure, it would throw in some satire here and there, toss in a conflict or two, leave us on the edge of our seat occasionally, but mostly we just liked hanging out with these characters. We liked them because they were funny, because they were relatable, because they cared about each other, and because they tried their damnedest to make the small town of Pawnee, Indiana a better place. It’s one of the only shows I’ve ever seen where I can’t point to a weak link in the cast. They all served a purpose and all brought something different to the table. And the show itself was so sincere, so earnest, so from the heart that even when story lines seemed desperate (Tom and Ann dating) we didn’t mind too much. I miss The Office, I miss 30 Rock, I miss the show that Community used to be, but I already miss Parks and Rec most of all.
In an attempt to hold off the tears that will inevitably pour down my face once the series finale airs, here is my list of the things that we’ll miss the most about the Parks department of Pawnee, Indiana. This was a very hard list to compile, harder than any I’ve written, because there’s so much to cover. You’ll have to forgive me then since I’m only going to dedicate this paragraph to the supporting characters. If I gave each of them their own section this post would be a novel. So let me just say, with apologies to Jean-Ralphio, Perd Hapley, Dennis Feinstein, Joan Callamezzo, Councilman Jamm, Criag Middlebrooks, Tammy Two, Mona Lisa, The Douche, Ted, and a whole bunch of others that I don’t have time to name, that Parks and Rec had some of the best side-players in the history of TV. I will miss all of you but especially Jean-Ralphio and Perd Hapley. If anyone proposes a spin off about either of those two, I would be on that shit like white on rice. Ya Heard? with Perd should replace The Daily Show. Anyway, I’m getting carried away with myself. Here are the main things we’ll miss.
Everything About Jerry/Terry/Larry/Gary Gergich
Every sitcom needs a lovable idiot and I can’t think of one more lovable or idiotic than Jim O’Heir’s Jerry Gergich. On any other sitcom, the way the other characters ranked on him would seem mean. But Jerry was so good-natured , so clueless that the other character’s taunts never seemed too offensive. This was partly due to the fact that they were usually right. Jerry was the guy who could mess up anything in any way and he frequently did. He lost Lil Sebastian, had a Fart Attack, nearly ruined Chris’ proposal to Ann by almost choking to death, and advocated for the use of comic sans. Hell, he couldn’t even retire properly. And meager accomplishments made him so happy, like when his co-workers accidentally started calling him by his real name. And yet for all his mistakes, idiotic choices, and unwanted pieces of advice, you couldn’t help but love the oaf. I’ll be the first to admit I got a little choked up when Ben named him interim mayor of Pawnee. Damnit Jerry.
Everything About Donna Meagle
Relegated to a few one-liners and quips during the first couple seasons, Retta’s Donna Meagle eventually became one of the strongest presences on the show. I think this is mostly because the writers simply started to let Retta be herself. No character was able to shut the others down so quickly. Like the rest of the cast though, she was also warm and wise, frequently telling people exactly what they needed to hear whether they knew it or not. Her constant use of social media provided some of the show’s biggest laughs, particularly when she live-tweeted the Death Canoe film series during Halloween. “Shame you got that manicure, you about to get CUT-UP! #midnightbackstrokeonlywhitefolk.” Classic.
Everything About Ann Perkins
I know, I know, Ann Perkins has been gone for a while but I couldn’t leave her or Chris Traeger off this list. Rashida Jones had one of the hardest roles on the show. She wasn’t as whacked or quirky as the other characters but you know what? We needed a straight-man/woman. She pulled off the part perfectly. Some of the best moments were her silent reactions to Leslie’s more insane ideas. Then there was the myriad of methods she used to calm Leslie down. She figured out that waffles were always a good idea long before Ben Wyatt ever did. Her troubled love life provided some great moments and her relationship with Chris was always touching without ever becoming annoying. The show struggled a bit after she and Chris left. The three year time jump provided a much needed boost of creativity but I don’t know how much longer that would have lasted. It’s a smart move to end it now and not drag it on for two more lifeless seasons that leave a bad taste about the whole run in our mouths ala The Office. Ending things not long after two of the main characters left shows that the writers know when it’s time to say goodbye. Chris and Ann will be back for the finale and, while I can’t wait to see them both, I know they’ll make saying goodbye that much more difficult.
Everything About Chris Traeger
Every department in the world has a Chris Traeger. We all know one. That perpetually happy guy who manages to find the good in everything, the guy who takes his health so seriously it embarrasses and shames you, the guy who has a litany of new age slogans and ideas that make you scratch your head while wondering if there isn’t something to them. Thing is though, in real life most of us can’t stand that guy. That wasn’t the case with Chris. His perpetually upbeat personality was ‘literally’ hilarious and provided a nice counter-balance to the ever grumbling Ron Swanson. It was also fun to see him become angry or confused because he was so unfamiliar with those emotions. Thank god the writers saw how great he was and decided to keep him around for four seasons instead of his originally intended six episodes. I don’t want to live in a world where I didn’t get to watch him lose a burger cook-off to Ron Swanson.
Everything About Tom Haverford
I’m tempted to just list all of Tom’s original names for food (‘chicken parmesan is chicky-chicky parm-parm’) and leave it at that cuz that would perfectly sum up everything that made him great but I should actually say a few things of my own. Aziz Ansari took what would have been an utterly reprehensible character on any other show and somehow made him into a hilarious celebration/critique of people whose entire lives are defined by pop culture. We all know one of those too. Tom’s values were always questionable to say the least. Even Andy was wary of him. He spent money he didn’t have on things that didn’t matter, treated every woman he ever met like a sex toy, and could barely get through a day without having at least some presence on social media. Hell, even his girlfriend Lucy (and future fiancee) said this about him when he introduced her to his friends: “You know him right? So I don’t have to apologize for him.” And yet, we rooted for Tom every step of the way. He knew the odds were stacked against him but still trudged forward with his absurd business plans anyway. Entertainment 720 was a low point (for him, not for us) but he eventually made it with Tom’s Bistro. Also, like all the characters, he gradually revealed himself to be a sweet, romantic man with a big heart. His proposal to Lucy last week was one of the sweetest moments in a show almost entirely made up of sweet moments.
Everything About Ben Wyatt
I’ve heard a few people call Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt one of the weaker characters and I’m baffled by that. How do you have a problem with a guy who worships Game of Thrones and spends his free time creating wonderful games like ‘The Cones of Dunshire’? Yes, Ben was often the straight man but Parks and Rec needed characters like that (see Ann) and Adam Scott’s deadpan reactions were frequently funnier than the jokes that preceded them. Beyond that though, and at the risk of sounding sappy, his pure, unadulterated love for Leslie Knope was what let him warm his way into our hearts. Their romance didn’t have as many conflicts as Jim and Pam’s or Ross and Rachel’s but you know what? I liked their romance better. For the very reason that it never got bogged down in bullshit. They met, fell in love, went through an obnoxious but hilarious trial, got engaged, got married, and lived happily ever after. Once they were allowed to be a couple, the show simply let them be a couple. There were no nonsensical external conflicts or pointless problems between the two of them. They were just allowed to be two people who loved each other unconditionally. It’s rare for a show to have such confidence in its writing, characters, and audience.
On a side note, I hope that accounting firm that Ben quit three or four times finally hires someone of his caliber in the finale. They won’t though. And I’m sure they’ll be okay with that. After all, they’ve got ‘The Cones of Dunshire’.
Everything About Andy Dwyer
Earlier I referred to Jerry Gergich as the lovable idiot of Parks and Recreation. That was wrong. I should have referred to him as the lovable nebbish because Andy Dwyer is the true lovable idiot. Seriously, how did Chris Pratt make such a moron into such a brilliant character? Like Chris Traeger, he was only supposed to be in a few episodes and yet the thought of Parks and Rec without Andy is absolutely horrifying. If there’s no Andy, there’s no Bert Macklin. There’s also no Johnny Karate, no Mouse Rat, no Lil Sebastian tribute song, no lines like, “I tried to make Ramen in the coffee pot and I broke everything”, and no touching romance between him and April Ludgate. Can you even comprehend what the show would have been without him? I can’t. Andy was the most good natured imbecile on the planet and we loved him no matter what he was doing, be it making sandwiches out of skittles and starbursts or shooting Ben Wyatt with a marshmallow hand gun. And let’s not forget how sweet this boy could be. Remember when April told him she loved him and he said, “that’s awesome-sauce”? We scolded him until he later explained to her, “I love you too. That’s what makes the sauce so awesome.” AWWWWW. Just AWWWWW. There’s nothing else to say. Except maybe, “Macklin, you son of a bitch.”
Everything About April Ludgate
These next two are going to be a bit personal for me. Honestly, I’d like to tell you I’m more like Ron Swanson but that ain’t true. I may admire him more but I have a little more in common with Aubrey Plaza’s April Ludgate. Like her, I’m directionless, I hate people, I hate doing things, I like to think of myself as ‘half-wolf’, I think everything is stupid, I hate being hugged, and I’d like to kill you in your sleep. Or would I? You never quite know with April. And that’s one of the many things that made her so compelling. She represented the angry monster in all of us that just wants to lash out and destroy the world. Ron Swanson said it best when she left his office for a little while: “I need to find someone to fill in for April. Now I know I’m not going to find someone who’s both aggressively mean and apathetic. April really is the whole package.” Beyond that though, April also represented the bitter teenager in all of us struggling to find a purpose. She found one in Andy but then needed something more. Last week, she finally decided that she would make a career out of helping directionless teenagers find their calling. May seem odd that such a hateful person would end up being a source of guidance for young people but it makes perfect sense for April. She knows what it’s like to stare at a desk all day and want to do nothing but stab it. If a career counselor like her had come to my high school, I may have actually listened to what she had to say.
Everything About Ron Swanson
Ah, Ron. You’re my hero. You really are. You were the thing that kept me watching during this show’s weak first episodes. I saw in you a man after my own heart. A man who believes in privacy, who has no use for government, who thinks eggs and bacon is the greatest meal in the world, who believes that ‘skim milk is water that’s lying about being milk’, who loves burgers, meat, free speech, and cares nothing at all for most people on this earth. Those you do care for though…well, you protect and defend them like no other man does. Remember when you drove like a madman to the children’s concert to warn Leslie of the threat she was facing? Remember when you fixed everyone’s problems at the Harvest festival despite your desire to sit on a bench and read a book about old boats? No matter how much you rant and roar, you’re a man who is fiercely loyal to his friends, who picks them up when they’re down, and who tells them what they need to hear. You’re an inspiration to all of us Ron. And I’ll be putting the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness on my wall as soon as it arrives in the mail. I’ll be picking it up in a box at the post office though cuz I don’t want anyone to know where I live. You taught me well.
As a final note, Leslie and Ron was perhaps the finest episode of the entire series. It presented us with two characters who couldn’t be more different while highlighting how they both need and love each other. We’d always wondered how they worked together so well despite their conflicting world views. Leslie and Ron gave us the answer: they each make the other one want to be a better person.
Everything About Leslie Knope
At long last, we come to the lynchpin for all these other characters. Leslie Knope was a unique protagonist for a number of reasons. Most main characters go through a major change over the course of the series. Walter White went from Mr. Chips to Scarface. Then again, that’s a drama and it’s unfair to compare it to a sitcom. But look at Michael Scott on The Office. He went from a self-absorded, egotistical asshole to a much less self-absorded, less egotistical, kind hearted soul. What about Community’s Jeff Winger? That man we saw in the pilot is very different from the man we saw at the end of Season 5. And what about the entire cast of Friends? Aren’t they all radically different at the end compared to how they were at the beginning? That’s usually the way it goes. But that wasn’t the case with Leslie Knope. She’s been pretty much the same since episode one: a strong, intelligent, independent, caring woman filled with bold ideas and ambitious dreams. She may have gone through a lot of changes but never changed much herself. And that’s FINE. She didn’t need to change. Instead, she acted as the change agent for everyone else. Every character on Parks and Rec was improved simply by having known her. Was there ever a moment where we doubted her? Even when she got kicked out of office, we knew she wouldn’t be kept down for long. Because that’s Leslie Knope. She’ll have her way no matter what. Because she cares so much about people, because she believes in humanity, because she will forever fight to make a difference, and because she knows that waffles are the best breakfast food. Every episode of Parks and Rec hung on Amy Poehler’s shoulders and she carried the burden like a champ. You would never have liked the side characters as much as you did if it weren’t for her. She guided us through the mad world of Pawnee and made us want to stay there forever.
So what will we miss most about Parks and Recreation? Well, I think that’s actually pretty easy to figure out: everything. We’ll miss every single thing about this wonderful, hilarious, surreal, and touching half hour of television. It started out as nothing and eventually became the most heart-warming sitcom of all time. I’m glad it’s ending on a high note but am still very sad to see it go. I’m sure that all fans feel the same way and acknowledge that the gif below sums up exactly what we will be doing Wednesday morning.
Goodbye Parks and Rec. And thank you to all involved. I loved every second.