Tuesday night marked the end of a series that has continuously remained a bright spot in an increasingly weak network comedy lineup. Parks and Recreation joins the rest of its millennial Thursday night NBC brethren (30 Rock, The Office, Community) in the history books and off the lineup. Of the four, Parks and Recreation has become more special to me.
Now, let me take you back. The day, April 9th 2009. I was thirteen years old, in eighth grade and I was sitting in anticipation of the premiere of a new show, Parks and Recreation. I sat and watched 30 Rock, and then immediately after, Parks. After the episode, my faith was shaken. How could something destined to be so good, fall so short? Not one to give up on a TV series right away, I continued to watch the first season. It was excruciating. But something, or rather someone, made me come back each week: Leslie Knope. A character so incredibly ambitious, doggedly determined, organized, and prepared for everything life throws at her, Leslie Knope made me hold out hope that the rest of the show would live up to the amazing character that Mike Schurr had created.
And then the second season came and the show started to hit its stride, develop complex relationships, but most importantly build characters and a world without the knowing grain of salt that was increasingly instilled in comedy on television. Characters like Andy Dwyer or April Ludgate would be one-note jokes on other shows only trotted out when the plot necessitated their worldview. On Parks, they, as well as all the other characters, were celebrated for all their weirdness and intricacies. Parks is the only world in which we can acknowledge that the fierce friendship shared by Leslie and Ann is so important that it would be prioritized as it is through their lives. Parks is the only world in which Leslie and Ron put aside their differences to respect each other professionally and care for each other on a deeply personal level. Parks is the only world where Ben Wyatt, deciding with Leslie over who should run for governor, decides that his wife with all her optimism, list-making, and sheer willpower is the better choice. And when the finale reveals Leslie as an extremely beloved governor, and makes allusions to the idea that she later becomes president, it is not surprising. Parks and Recreation created a world in which this is the inevitable, that the same ultra-ambitious and optimistic Leslie Knope, who runs a tiny Parks department in Indiana as if it were the White House, would be the same person who ascends national government through the Department of Interior to the Indiana governorship and possibly the presidency.
Often, I’m told that the show is extremely idealistic about government, about the way people act, about almost everything and I’ll concede to this a bit. Parks created a world in which local government was important to the everyday lives of the people in a way that most of us don’t often recognize or care to think about. The show created a parallel America, which may still exist out there, in which people create a dialogue with their officials and create change through local channels. This was not change that is comparable to that made by their congresspersons and senators, but change affecting their communities. It gives a voice to the idea of what government could be if it were made up of Leslie Knopes, whom according to the police chief of Pawnee “get as many favors as she wants because she’s the kind of person who uses her favors to help other people.” Leslie is relentlessly ambitious, but not because she desires status or wealth or power; she desires the ability to affect change and the subsequent reward of helping others. This is the kind of attitude in government that has given America some of its most important leaders and policies; this kind of attitude is seen as an impediment to politics, not a driver for positive change.
The “others” that surround Leslie Knope are who make the show to resonate as incredibly heartwarming and funny. In the last episode, Parks and Recreation decided to drive home the idea that who you surround yourself with, irrevocably shape who you will turn out to be and what you accomplish in life.
So, bye bye Li’l Sebastian. You’re 5000 candles in the wind.