The Two and a Half Men finale was fine-crafted to be mean-spirited, obnoxious to people that didn’t watch the show, and insulting to people that did. I mention that finale now, because I feel as though the Parks and Recreation finale was its total opposite – the bizarro Two and a Half Men ending if you will. Where that finale tried very hard to make sure everybody loses, Parks did its damnedest to let us know that everyone became winners in the end. Some would argue however, that the show has gone beyond what could be considered sincerity and straight into cheese-ball territory. Considering the fact that this show began with what was a fairly cynical look at city government, things turning out to be all sunshine and miniature ponies named Sebastian can be seen as a little much. Of course Leslie Knope achieves everything she could ever hope to achieve, of course everyone’s relationships end with them riding into the sunset (and beyond), and of course the finale ends with a speech about the importance of friendship. With its unique flashforward format, this finale still feels like it really needed us to know that these people are going to be fine (hell, they even give us flashforwards for a loud and obnoxious supporting character like Craig). It’s a very bold move to end this cheerfully, especially now in 2015, but it’s the type of trick that only this show could have pulled off successfully.
Parks and Recreation at its core is a show about the strength and importance of the workplace and the relationships formed within them. Just about every other story tackling that subject works tirelessly to unearth its ugliest elements. Office drama, gossip, a lack of ethics, and a plethora of unsavoury phrases like “sleeping your way to the top” can be used to describe what goes on in other examinations of the work place. Perhaps Parks was that kind of show at the beginning, but by its second season it has spun its outlook into a decidedly positive and idealistic one. We’ve seen these characters claw and climb their way through every inconvenience, every harsh bit of reality that spit on their faces, and every person that seemingly existed only to tear down their hopes and dreams; we as an audience deserved to see a happy ending for them because they deserved a happy ending. They managed to stay positive and keep their heads up through the worst of times, so why on Earth would we want to see their journeys end with anything other than with their eyes pointed at the big blue sky?
The Office, another mockumentary style sitcom that managed to end with a stellar finale, gave its characters their happy endings too, but with the hard knocks of life still in full of effect (the journey of Ed Helm’s character, Andy Bernard, still resonates with me today because of that finale alone). In comparison, Parks seems almost over the top in terms of what it gave its characters in the end (Tom writes a best selling book, Donna becomes a successful real-estate mogul, and Leslie and Ben may or may not have become Presidents of the United States of America), but that was because it was so appropriate for the show. These characters dreamed big, so they achieve big. That may not be a reflection of reality (in fact, I would say it’s definitely not), but it’s perfectly in line with what this show’s mission statement was since season 2. Hard work, effort, friendship, and the inevitability of change were all major themes this show has been building to for a significant amount of time. Whether a person rides the wave of change to success or to eternal stagnation was what was at stake here, and to capitalize on what was built up before hand, this show chose the former.
In a way, the finale reminded me of the saying “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Sure it seems cheesy and overly optimistic, but it also feels true and wonderful and full of possibilities at the same time. So much so that it washes away everything else and fills me with a sensation I can only describe as “the warm fuzzies”. Meanwhile, the show still managed to draw laughs, lots and lots of laughs (in large part thanks to Ben Schwartz’s Jean Ralphio). I’m really going to miss Parks and Recreation, but I’ll accept its parting and maybe apply some of its positive outlook in my own life; which is appropriate since I know Ms. Knope herself wouldn’t want it any other way.
Quote of the Day:
“One person’s annoying is another person’s inspiring and heroic.”
– Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation