“Parks and Recreation” just wrapped up its sixth season. I did my annual interview with Mike Schur about what happened, and I have a review of the finale coming up just as soon as I click through a slideshow of “American Music Awards” sideboob fails…
The natural inclination with an episode like “Moving Up” is to talk early, often, and perhaps only, about the very last minute, where the show jumped forward three years in time, showing us a well-established National Parks office in Pawnee, Leslie and Ben's triplets as adorable little kids, Garry Gergich now being referred to as Terry, and surprise guest star Jon Hamm as an incompetent National Parks employee being fired after three years of misadventures that we will likely never see.
And we'll get to that, sure. But there was so much else to “Moving Up,” which essentially played as Schur and company bringing the version of the show that we know so well to a close. We got a big trip to San Francisco, with Leslie meeting yet another of her idols in Michelle Obama(*) – leading to one of the most delightfully frantic reactions Amy Poehler has gotten to play as Leslie – the triumphant return of The Cones of Dunshire (with Ben's accountant groupies even ensuring that he owns the copyright), the successful launch of Tom's Bistro, a popular Unity concert featuring terrific musical guests (including Ben getting to share a moment with Kay Hanley from Letters to Cleo), an all-star rendition of “Bye Bye, Lil Sebastian” (complete with Tupac-style hologram!), Ron outing himself as Duke Silver to the people of Pawnee because his new family has changed him so much, and Leslie taking the job with National Parks – and being instantly celebrated by her friends, who care more about her success than about the possibility of losing her.
(*) As I usually do whenever a real political figure appears on the show, let me remind you of the blog's No Politics rule. You can talk about Leslie's reaction to the First Lady, whether Mrs. Obama was more or less natural on camera than Joe Biden or Newt Gingrich, etc., but that's as far as that goes. Thank you for your time.
It is, essentially, the “Parks and Recreation” series finale, even though the show will be back next year, with all of the remaining castmembers as a part of it. (So not even like the med school season of “Scrubs.”) And it's probably something the show had to do, regardless of what crazy direction Schur and company attempted to go in next. As we've talked about a lot this season, “Parks” is still a fun show and at times (“London,” “The Cones of Dunshire,” “Anniversaries”) capable of being every bit as great as it was at its peak. But there are only so many stories you can tell about this specific set of characters in this specific set-up – even if everyone seemed to change job titles every 8 or 9 episodes – before those stories begin to feel tired, or in some cases, annoying. (Leslie going crazy and badgering people to get what she wants, for instance, was once charming, but I think the show has hit its limit on that particular kind of story.)
Having Leslie convince Grant to move the Midwest office to Pawnee – a solution that most of us were probably expecting, since it would speak poorly of the show's view of Leslie if she turned it down, and since it wouldn't be plausible to move all of the existing characters to Chicago (Ron's giggling reaction to Leslie's offer pretty much explained that) – might on its own be enough to shake things up enough for this bonus seventh season, which will likely be the final one. And the arrival of Leslie and Ben's triplets could have added new material, even if it's familiar sitcom fodder and the kind that often isn't received well by fans of shows that didn't start out being about parents and their kids. But we'd still have a lot of the other characters in the same professional and emotional places that didn't so much point a way forward as provide the audience with satisfying closure.
Jumping ahead three years isn't going to undo that. I don't expect Ron to have backslid on the evolution he went through after falling for Diane, and it's clear that Andy has not gotten any smarter in the last three years, even if he's an acceptable babysitter so long as he has April around to supervise. But it allows for some big changes that won't seem jarring because we understand that so much time has passed(**). The characters can be in different jobs – Jerry's the only one we know for sure works with Leslie in National Parks, and Ben could be in that tuxedo for an event related to Leslie or whatever he's been up to downstairs – can be in new relationships (or maybe deeper into relationships; could Donna have settled down with Joe perhaps?), can be interested in different things as they've gotten just a bit older. And that'll provide fresh material on top of the very different challenges Leslie faces working as a small fish in the giant pond that is the federal government rather than her days splashing around the little (polluted) waters of Pawnee.
(**) It also very cleverly avoids the most physically draining portion of parenthood for Leslie and Ben, allowing the kids to be featured in stories where appropriate, without making Leslie into someone who starts talking like Craig because she hasn't slept in 18 months.
The device isn't as novel as it seemed when “Battlestar Galactica” did it eight years ago (and in our interview, Schur cites that one as his specific inspiration). And there's no guarantee it'll really jumpstart the show, as opposed to just giving us the same character quirks, but three years in the future. But I like the idea of trying. And I liked how the rest of “Moving Up” functioned as a love letter to the show we've gotten to enjoy to this point, with so many familiar faces returning (along with a few new ones like Blake Anderson from “Workaholics” as the barefoot guy who now owns a third of the Portland Trailblazers), with happy endings for so many people (Tom even makes peace of a sort with Dr. Saperstein), and with Ben Wyatt still utterly baffled by this town's obsession with that tiny horse.
Had this been the actual conclusion to the series – on a show that has had to potentially end itself many, many times before – it would have been an awfully satisfying final note. But I'm glad we're not done with Leslie Knope just yet, and I'm eager to see what she and the gang are up to in the far-off era of 2017.
Some other thoughts:
* I did not expect it to become a running gag that April utters something dark and possibly Satanic whenever she's asked to do a hands-in with her colleagues, but it's never not funny.
* Ron Effing Swanson in a nutshell, explaining why he smashed one of the chairs he was building for Tom's Bistro: “It was too perfect. It looked machine made.” Well, either that line or his plan to buy the booth selling “fried sausage quilts.”
* In general, Jerry gets a bad rap from his colleagues, but he does occasionally screw things up on a massive level, and having dog anus photos placed into the restaurant menus almost certainly is the worst thing he's ever done. His punishment fits the crime, as he'll have to apply a salve to that anus every hour for the rest of the dog's life.
* Andy running amok in San Francisco was a treat, particularly the bit where he sends the skateboard down the hill on its own.
* A few episodes ago, Andy mentions that he's booked a Night Ranger cover band called Bobby Knight Ranger, and they appear as a reality here, played by the members of Yo La Tengo. Definitely a better get than Jamm's boasting of having the bass player from a Warrant cover band.
* Schur says that there was originally a lot more of Tammy 2 in the finale, including a whole subplot where Ron and Diane (aka “Ron's friend”) contrive to get her to kiss Jamm. The NBC press site also has a photo of more Ben/Kay Hanley interaction at the afterparty. I know the Jamm/Tammy stuff, at least, will be in the extended producers' cut that goes up on NBC.com tomorrow.
* Poor Barney the accountant. Ben always has to break his heart.
* Note that one of Saperstein's side businesses is a dry cleaning transactional holding company, which is what Ben was trying to talk Tom into doing before he jumped on the restaurant idea. Also, Saperstein knows all about great Italian food; he's been to Dallas!
* One thing that will be lost in the three-year gap, unless Schur intends to do lots of flashbacks, is seeing how far Andy and April go with their plan to divorce just so they can get married again. Clearly, they are together in 2017, which is at it should be.
* “Speak for yourself! I once got into a cab that Kyra Sedgwick was getting out of!” Now that is how you use Craig, show.
* So Leslie fires Ed for being more incompetent than Jerry, Don Draper is in a mess of professional trouble on “Mad Men”… at what point should I be worried about Jon Hamm's character's job prospects in “Million Dollar Arm”?
So go read the Schur interview and then tell me: what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org