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How Rare Is It For A Long-Running Sitcom To Still Be As Great As ‘Parks And Recreation’ Is?

By 01.20.14

Over the weekend, NBC unofficially renewed Parks and Recreation for a seventh season. No other details have been revealed yet, like for how many episodes and when, but by May of next year we should have 134 episodes to marathon treat ourselves to. Considering Parks‘ middling first season, this is an amazing accomplishment; it’s that much more impressive when you consider the show hasn’t suffered from any creative droughts, like, say, The Office did around season five. It’s still firing on all cylinders, if showing a little bit of its age (the future departure of increasingly lost-at-sea Chris and Ann will help smooth things out), but you could play “London” alongside “Galentine’s Day,” and the only major difference is Andy’s weight.

That’s because the writers have taken the Cheers model to heart, and rarely betrayed their characters. Michael Schur & Co. won’t sell out everything we know about April for a cheap joke, like The Simpsons has done with Homer in later seasons. Parks is first-and-foremost about the characters, then the gag. Speaking of Cheers and The Simpsons: I was curious to see where other classic sitcoms were when they reached the conclusion of season seven. There’s no guarantee Parks will end then — Amy’s hoping for at least 200 episodes, and she practically runs NBC now — but if it does, it’ll go out on a creative high few sitcoms have been able to match.

30 Rock — “Last Lunch”

It’s generally accepted that season four is 30 Rock‘s worst, but the show came back strong in season five, and continued to be excellent right up until the end. Unlike Parks, 30 Rock for the most part cared less about the person telling the joke and more about the joke itself, but things got a little too silly in season four. “Last Lunch,” and all of season seven, works because it was still joke-heavy, but Liz, Jack, and Jenna gradually became real characters, not JUST real-life cartoons, and that paid dividends for the adoption storyline.

Cheers — “The Visiting Lecher”

Cheers is the gold standard for long-running sitcoms — and all live-action sitcoms — but by season seven…everything was still pretty darn great. After Shelley Long left following season five, Cheers pulled a mini-Archer and heavily rebooted, bringing in Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca and making the show less a romantic-comedy than a workplace sitcom. This is an interesting option for Parks: Leslie isn’t quite as clearly defined as the main character anymore, but if she gets her out-of-Pawnee job, could Schur give the supposed-secondary characters even more screen time? Chris Pratt’s about to be a huge star — maybe something with April and Andy?

The Cosby Show — “Theo and the Kids”

The Cosby Show was massive by the end of season seven, cast-wise. More and more characters were being shuffled in and out of the Huxtable household; it’s not as distracting as it could have been, but the show lost a bit of its sharpness, and wasn’t as strong as its earlier seasons. Rather than replacing Chris and Ann, Parks should leave their spots in the opening credits blank, and instead tighten the focus on the existing characters. Like Champion.

Curb Your Enthusiasm — “Seinfeld”

Doesn’t quite count — it’s much easier to do 10 episodes a season whenever you want to — but Curb is a rare comedy that’s actually gotten better the longer it’s been on. The last two seasons might be the two best.

Frasier — “Something Borrowed, Someone Blue”

A great episode in a very good season, but not one that Parks has to worry about pulling off, or even can: save for Tom, everyone who wants to be romantically paired off has been romantically paired off. Unless Tom plays the Niles to Tatiana Maslany’s Daphne, in which case, BE LIKE FRASIER.

How I Met Your Mother — “The Magician’s Code”

At the end of “The Magician’s Code,” Barney proposes to Quinn, but in a flash-forward, we see that he eventually marries Robin. For many, Robin and Barney getting together was the beginning of the end of How I Met; there’s the dreaded love triangle factor, of course, but it also resembles what Friends did, with Joey, Ross, and Rachel. (For what it’s worth, Friends season seven ended with “The One with Monica and Chandler’s Wedding.”)

The Office — “Search Committee”

Or, three episodes after “Goodbye, Michael.” Don’t let Amy Poehler leave.

Roseanne — “Sherwood Schwartz: A Loving Tribute”

Also, don’t let April be visited by the ghosts of TGIF past. Please.

Scrubs — “My Princess”

“My Princess” was the final episode of Scrubs before it moved to ABC, and an entire season after “My Point of No Return,” the first of the show’s three series finale. (There’s also “My Finale” in season eight and the actual finale, “Our Thanks,” in season nine.) The lesson Parks can learn here: know where you’re going before you get there. Easier said than done, but Schur should know going into season seven if it’s going to be Parks last hurrah. Otherwise, you’ve got a never-ending third Lord of the Rings situation to deal with.

Seinfeld — “The Invitations”

“The Invitations” was Larry David’s final episode as showrunner. It’s also the most Larry David of Larry David episodes, with George “accidentally” killing Susan, but rather than mourn, he asks Marisa Tomei out for a date. In season eight, Jerry Seinfeld took over, hired a new writing staff, and made his show far more “goofy” than it had been. The anger was shaved off and the plots were fanciful. Still, “The Bizarro Jerry” is perfect, as is “The Little Jerry” and “The Summer of George” and…There’s no way Michael Schur is leaving Parks, even with Brooklyn Nine-Nine to look after, so don’t expect a drastic shift in tone like the one Seinfeld went through in the late seasons. Unless Ron finds a Frogger machine. That’d be cool.

As for animation (it’s somewhat easier for an animated show to remain great longer than a live-action one: less budgetary concerns, actors don’t age, the universe can expand as far as their creatively allows, etc.):

American Dad! — “Gorillas in the Mist”

King of the Hill — “The Witches of East Arlen”

The Simpsons — “Summer of 4 Ft. 2″

South Park — “It’s Christmas in Canada”

So, Parks, be more like Cheers, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and 30 Rock, and less like How I Met Your Mother, The Office, Scrubs, and Roseanne. That should be easy enough.

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TOPICS#PARKS AND RECREATION
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