So here it is. The beginning of the end.
It’s a relief to see that this version of Parks and Recreation isn’t really all that different to the one that we know. When we said goodbye last season, skipping three years ahead, the flashforward was received in equal doses of excitement and fear. We were hitting the fastforward button — on Leslie and Ben’s kids, on our characters’ careers and lives, and on the trajectory of the show itself. But despite the fear that always comes with the threat of change, 2017 Pawnee really isn’t that different to the one that we know and love.
You don’t realize that you’re changing until it’s already happened, and the shifts have been made. So stepping into this future Pawnee isn’t particularly hard or jarring. This show has had seven years now to grow and change and extend — something that’s it’s never been afraid of — and so this new, National Parks Director Leslie isn’t really all that different from Councilwoman Leslie, just as she, in turn, isn’t too far away from Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Leslie Knope. This show has taken its time making its moves forward, and what will be interesting will be revisiting the earlier seasons of the show, after season 7 has officially ended.
Parks and Recreation isn’t a nostalgic or wistful show, because that’s not who Leslie Knope is. She cares about the history of her town deeply, yes, but she’s always been so entrenched in the moment, taking all of the opportunities that she can, every minute of the day that it’s possible to. Leslie Knope is a character that looks to the future in every move that she makes, and because of this, so too does the show. Parks and Recreation and its characters have never longed to be something different, or to do what they do in a different place. Yes, they’ve all had moments of sadness and suffering, but this isn’t a show that lingers on regret. When bad things happen, the characters help each other move past them, with Leslie always ready with a binder of colour coded options.
I feel like Ben and his character best display what I’m trying to say here about the show. Before he came to Pawnee, Ben was lost. A little bit hard, too. He had a shell but slowly, over the course of season 3, Leslie broke through it. Pawnee has never been a place where you wallow, but instead a place where you find your own happiness. Leslie Knope has, throughout seven years, inspired everyone around her. And so, as the premiere for the show’s final season began tonight, Parks and Recreation did not exploit or lie in its own oncoming demise. It carried on and got to work, just like Leslie Knope always has done.
So what did we find out in these two new episodes? Ron’s now in the private sector with his own construction company, fighting Leslie’s department for land that the Newport group are selling; Gary/Larry is now Terry, and is still screwing up his parks-related work; Donna is engaged and has left to work full-time in real estate; Andy and April are grown-ups (of a sort) with April still confused about her career and what she wants to achieve with her life; Tom has become an even bigger mogul, but wants someone to share his success with (which leads to his ex-girlfriend Lucy’s return in the second episode); and Ben and Leslie are still themselves. They’re both hard at work in the public sector, striving to make Pawnee the best place that it can be. For themselves, for their family, and for their friends, too.
There were a multitude of guest stars in these two episodes, and I’m guessing that that trend will continue throughout the next eleven episodes. Pawnee has become a huge place over seven seasons, with a large group of crazy characters that have, together, made the show’s fictional town so famous. And while the show hasn’t made an obvious goodbye to anyone — as I doubt it will — it sort of feels like Mike Schur and his writers are attempting to pan across the town and all of its well-known residents before it leaves NBC. Not to say farewell as such, but instead to catch up and reconnect. Which is why the time jump works so well. Under the illusion that we’re catching up with our favourite characters, what we’re really doing, is saying goodbye to them all.
Parks and Recreation would never be so obvious, though. Why say goodbye, when you can say hello again?
- Ah the Newports. “It’s time to trade those dumb old trees for a buttload of cash.”
- If anybody wants to hang, Ed (Jon Hamm) will be at Subway!
- April and Andy have a bank account now! And are looking at a creepy, creepy house! They truly are adults!
- In 2017, Shia LaBeouf designs wedding dresses. Such a good call, Parks.
- “After 47 years of living here, I decided to move to Orlando. To be closer to Disney World.” And yes, that really was Werner Herzog.
- JOAN CALAMEZZO: A GAME OF JOANS. LET ME BUY THIS BOOK, ALREADY. PLEASE. Also, of course she’s April’s idol. (How could she not be, filming her show from rehab?)
- April considers the morgue as a good place to get a job: “Hi, I’m Ben, this is April, and I’m scared of death.”
- Jamm is back, and he’s fallen for Tammy II so badly that Leslie and Ron have to help him recover: “He is a monster. Monsters do not have souls.” “Uh, have you ever seen Monsters Inc.?”