You Had Me at Meat Tornado: A Goodbye to ‘Parks and Rec’

it's not often a show restores my love in television completely with each episode it airs, without fail.

Parks and Recreation
Gangs all here. (Photo: NBC) NBC

Sometimes I think I hate television. Which can be pretty tough, because it is literally my job to watch, review, and write about television. But occasionally, I just can’t take the tropes, the constant unending seriousness of it all, the idea that I have to enjoy something just because this is a “good” time for TV, not because the show is actually good. Yes, I know it’s a Golden Age, but all this gold is heavy, man. Sometimes it all just build up, and I end up calling Gotham “fucking Muppets Babies for Batman characters.”

So it’s not often a show restores my love in television completely with each episode it airs, without fail. Parks & Recreation did, and it did it the best.

I’ve never really thought that deeply about why Parks & Rec is just so unabashedly enjoyable, because I’ve never seriously written about Parks & Rec. I always thought it was a useless task recapping a comedy, especially one as clever as Parks. The whole endeavor just reminds me of repeating a joke for the one person in the room who didn’t hear it. The people that heard the joke the first time groan, and the person who hears it the second time just ends up with a watered down, poorly delivered joke.

But then last night, Parks & Rec went and ended, forever. And I felt…feelings? Like real life ones. I don’t even think I was this sad when that camera spiraled away over Walter White, or the screen cut to black on Tony Soprano’s face. Why, though?

Part of the reason is, of course, the show was never Office-ified, a term I just made up. It’s a term for when a comedy is forced to go on longer than it should, until it’s stripped of pretty much everything you liked about it in the first place. No, Parks & Rec went out while it was still firing on every cylinder. Funny, seeing how it was supposed to just be an Office spinoff.

But plenty of shows have ended in their prime. But Parks did two things so right. For one, it never changed its unwavering sense of lightness and optimism. For Parks, I felt like the glass was always half full. For some, this is a major turnoff. As my editor Drew Grant put it to me, ” I think it’s….not mean enough? I’m like “BOOOO. SOMEONE SHOULD BE HURTING, BADLY!”

Someone is always hurting badly somewhere on television. It’s not that there weren’t any stakes on Parks. It’s that characters you loved actually got things they wanted. And it felt good. You think about the pit, the Harvest Festival, the Unity Concert, Leslie’s campaign for City Council, characters’ dreams were realized. And even when those dreams ended, like Leslie’s short-lived City Council run, it was always, always a spring board to bigger and better things.

And the funny thing is, if I had described any other show the way I just did in the last paragraph, I probably would have vomited. What makes Parks different? Every single character is a character you actually want to see succeed. From the first season finale on to the last episode, every main character got better. I don’t mean better as in more entertaining, I mean better as in more relatable, as in just a better person. Oh, and more entertaining.

April and Andy became more than “uninterested” and “stupid.” Ron Swanson evolved from simply “grumpy.” Leslie Knope, at the end of this show, is almost unrecognizable from first season Leslie Knope. First season Leslie Knope was too close to Michael Scott, in the sense that the audience, in a way, is supposed to feel bad for them, for their cluelessness. Now, Leslie Knope often makes me feel bad about myself, in the most inspiring way possible, of course.

Hell, even Jerry finally got to use his real name. But he always had the biggest penis anyone’s ever seen, so he was constantly winning the entire time.

Really, I think what all this boils down to is, the characters on Parks & Rec felt like old friends. I know that analogy is used every single time a show ends, but I think that’s because that particular show has been on for so long. Those shows are the friends you’re still friends with and don’t even know why. But would you really want to spend time with the crew from How I Met Your Mother, or guys from Two and a Half Men, or even the friends from Friends?

So in a lot of ways, losing Parks last night was like saying goodbye to a group friends forever. This pill is made far harder to swallow by the fact that for the entire cast and crew, this analogy was a horrible reality.

After all that, did I like the finale? Well, no. No I didn’t. But it’s entirely my fault. I appreciate that they did the flash forward format to give fans a sense of closure, and the knowledge that every character they loved is going to be okay. But think back to the last time you spent with a group of close friends, knowing you wouldn’t see each other for a long, long time. Did you talk entirely about the future? No, you just hung out, while you still could. I guess I just wanted one more chance to hang out with these people as they were, one more time.

But one episode of disappointment is not bad compared to 124 others episodes of pure gold. A much lighter gold. So goodbye, Parks & Rec. We’re going to close this out with a tribute to TV’s greatest treasure.

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