1st in friendship, 4th in diabetes: a farewell to ‘Parks and Recreation’

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[WARNING: Will contain spoilers!]

For the lucky few who watched it as it aired (and for the larger number of folks who binge-watched it on Netflix), NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” was a blessing — an unwavering beacon of optimism, wonder and waffles for anyone who explored the delightfully bizarre slice of Midwestern life, fronted by Leslie Knope and the rest of her ragtag bureaucratic department.

Sure, it was never a ratings behemoth, nor did it have much clout in the awards circuit. If anything, it felt like a hushed secret kept between best friends — a little inside joke filled to the brim with self-referential quips and tidbits that never felt stale, even if retold for the hundredth time. The “Parks” writers knew this: The show didn’t try to sand down its sharp edges to attract new viewers or repeat its punchlines ad nauseam, and for that reason, this delightful series finale rewarded devoted fans.

And even though the show has been co-opted by the corporate — shout out to the Subway on Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way with the “Treat Yo Self” poster promoting its savory sandwiches — it never fell short of iconic memes. Countless Instagram posts celebrating Galentine’s Days, posters filled with the many faces of Ron Swanson and tees emblazoned with Pawnee legend Lil’ Sebastian will forever immortalize the show.

Now that “Parks and Recreation’s” finale has aired, there’s a lot to ponder, especially considering that the show stuffed about 50 years of foreshadowing into the course of an all-too-short hour. At first, “Parks’ ” abrupt three-year time jump appears to be an odd, if slightly extemporaneous, stylistic choice — old friendships are suddenly fraught with unnecessary tension, and new events reveal themselves out of thin air — but there is a method to creator Mike Schur’s madness. And, to its credit, it doesn’t leave the bitter taste that “How I Met Your Mother’s” mangled finale did.

Leslie Knope — the ambitious, passionate ray of sunshine whose preponderance for binders, organizers and pre-planning was at once exhausting and endearing — could not have prepared for the events that transpired earlier in the season. Leslie’s life careens out of balance in an uncharacteristically glum series of events: Her beautiful tropical fish and best friend, Ann Perkins, book it to Michigan with now-hubby Chris Traeger, and her lifelong ventures of city councilwomanship come to a halt after she is the target of a recall election held by the Pawnee residents. At one point, it feels as if nothing is working for Leslie.

But … isn’t that life? Not everything can be planned out. Ben and Leslie hadn’t expected to raise triplets, nor had she ever expected in her wildest dreams that she’d be a beloved governor of her home state. (Nor did anyone expect the untimely death of beloved “Parks” mainstay Harris Wittels — rest in peace, good sir.) None of the Pawneeans had expected they’d be living the lives into which they were thrust, yet there is one thread interweaving them: They are all content with what their futures amounted to.

It’s a reassuring sentiment, especially to the hordes of young fans who grew up with the show.  Even though I’ll no longer have the offbeat misadventures of the “Parks” misfits to highlight my weeks, I can rest easy knowing that their futures are OK — perhaps that’s the point of the oft-criticized impromptu fast-forwarding in the last season of the show.

In the last few moments of the finale — immediately after every character receives a distilled, time-lapsed version of the proceeding years — Leslie is tenuous about the future, just as most of us are. Ben comfortingly inquires, “Are you ready, babe?” With a slight hesitation, Leslie nods. “Yeah, I’m ready.” Like Mrs. Knope-Wyatt, we should all be ready.  Not all of us will be in political office, host a children’s television show about a spy and karate master, or be a failed entrepreneur or successful author — sure. But one thing’s for certain: The path that awaits us will be paved with friendship, hard work and breakfast food. Goodbye, “Parks and Recreation.” You’re 5,000 candles in the wind.


Contact Joshua Bote at [email protected].