It’s hard not to focus on that ending, huh?
“Moving Up” is one hell of a series finale, which makes it all the more exciting that it isn’t one. This hour of television doesn’t represent Parks And Recreation at its funniest, but it is the show at its most charmingly celebratory. This episode throws a big party for itself and for the viewers, filling the time with quick appearances from old favorites—Joan Calamezzo, Perd Hapley, the clan Saperstein, Diane and the kids, Tammy Two, deeply boring accountant guy, and, stretching the definition of “old favorite” to its breaking point, Jeremy Jamm—and performances from a bunch of alternative rockers, Donna’s bath-fearing cousin Ginuwine, and the chair-tossing tribute band Bobby Knight Ranger, which looks a whole heck of a lot like Yo La Tengo in gray wigs and Indiana University sweaters. Parks And Recreation doesn’t exactly have big mysteries, but Ron Swanson publicly revealing himself as Duke Silver feels like the show revealing its last few secrets in preparation for its final bow. Elsewhere, there’s sort of a plot running through all this as Leslie agonizes over what to do with the National Parks job, and there’s a side trip to San Francisco that allows for a cameo from one of America’s most beloved contemporary public figures: Workaholics star Blake Anderson. (Also, First Lady Michelle Obama shows up.)
In some ways, this story is reminiscent of “Ann And Chris,” another valedictory effort that was generally content to let its characters enjoy one another’s company en route to a slightly bittersweet but mostly optimistic ending. The closing time jump plays so easily as a coda to the series, offering audiences the satisfaction of seeing Leslie become the big national success the show always promised that she would be. She has her husband and her three kids, she has her supportive friends, but above all she has the job of her dreams. After last week’s generally successful “One In 8,000” featured some moments that appeared to reorient the show as one centered on Leslie’s family, it’s nice to see that they are only a part of those final moments in 2017. The epilogue affirms that, irrespective of how exactly Leslie the fictional person balances her career and her home life, the show will always be far more concerned with the former; it is called Parks And Recreation, after all, and the show makes it clear that it still remembers that fact. It’s a nice note for the show to go out on, and the show wrings one hell of a last gag out its time jump with the introduction and immediate departure of Jon Hamm’s Ed, a man whose incompetence surpasses even that of
Gary Jerry Larry Terry.
But as a setup for what is likely but—given the fact that NBC remains, until further notice, NBC—not definitely the show’s final season? Well, color me intrigued. In an interview with Alan Sepinwall, Parks And Recreation showrunner Mike Schur has said the depiction of the time jump, with the camera zooming in on the photo of the Parks department in 2014 and then pulling out to reveal 2017, specifically was modeled on the similar time jump at the end of Battlestar Galactica’s second season; as such, we can only hope that at least one character has spent the intervening three years getting fat, while another has grown a sweet mustache. Even if the show somehow manages to not go in that direction, it’s exciting to consider just how little we know about the new status quo. We know that Leslie is very much the Regional Director, that she has her three kids, that April and Andy are, if not necessarily still married, then at least still close, and that Ben is working at some job that both is high stress and at least occasionally requires a tuxedo. Oh, and Terry is still around, as incompetent as ever.
Beyond that, everything is in play. Tom could be a successful restaurateur, or he could be on the latest of a long string of ambitious, mostly failed dreams. April and Andy do appear to still be together, but that’s a very small data point in determining just where they are in their lives. Donna could still be doing her Donna thing, or she could have long since moved to Seattle, perhaps even taking Keegan-Michael Key’s Joe with her. Craig… is probably still around, as Schur suggests as much in the interview linked above. And then there’s Ron, who at any other point in the show’s run one would just assume would be exactly the same, no matter how many years pass. But “Moving Up” makes a distinct point of how much the man has changed because of his new family, so it’s hard to predict.
That’s really the fundamental accomplishment of the time jump: For the first time in a long time, Parks And Recreation feels unshackled from its formula, and we can’t say what’s going to happen next. The potentially drastic shift in circumstances for its characters and the freedom that comes from the knowledge that next year is probably the end means that the show has a real chance to push forward, instead of just retracing the same few story beats. Indeed, part of the reason it was so difficult to work out what was going to happen with the Chicago job was that either decision Leslie made seemed like a potential series-ender. If Leslie had moved to Chicago, there’s no real way that Parks And Recreation could have kept being the same show, and “Moving Up” acknowledges that reality with Leslie’s futile attempts to get her friends to make the leap with her. And, if Leslie had stayed at the Parks department, it would have said that Leslie’s grand ambitions were defeated not by anything rooted in her character so much as just the realities of television storytelling, in which nothing can ever really change. Parks And Recreation figures out how to keep Leslie in Pawnee and have her take the new job. It’s a bit of a cheat, admittedly, but at least it’s a cheat that the show subtly set up midseason when Ron began personally renovating the third floor.
As I said up top, it’s hard not to focus on that one-minute prologue to what will hopefully be a very different, generally reenergized season seven. But the show’s other 40 minutes shouldn’t be completely forgotten. Honestly, the Tom’s Bistro subplot serves as a good encapsulation of just why the show should so benefit from the change; there’s nothing wrong with the story, exactly, but it also never does anything beyond hit the same kind of story beats we’ve already seen when a character’s big plan appears to fail, but then ultimately succeeds. It’s pleasant enough hanging out with the characters, and I’m never going to argue with an excuse to bring back Jean-Ralphio, who finds some instant chemistry with both Joan Calamezzo and Craig. The disastrous soft opening aspires to farcical chaos, but the episode can’t really attain the energy needed to sell such a scenario; even “Moving Up” seems to recognize that these apparent setbacks are just the show marking time until it can get to the point where everything works up. That probably sounds more damning than I really mean it to be. Tom’s story is, like much of the rest of the episode, a fine excuse to hang out with the people of Pawnee, but it’s a good illustration of why this season of Parks And Recreation has so often struggled to feel vital.
The Unity Concert and its cavalcade of guest stars represent the real joy of the 2014 portion of this episode. The appearance of Ginuwine offers a much-appreciated callback to the gag in “Sweet Sixteen,” although I’m frankly shocked that the people of Pawnee would allow the singer to declare Lil’ Sebastian his “pony”—even if that is a reference to one of his biggest songs—when they tend to fairly militant about the fact that he was a miniature horse. The climactic, “We Are The World”-esque performance of “5,000 Candles In The Wind” is the perfect mix of funny and inexplicably poignant, with the look on Ben’s face a nice reminder of the “inexplicable” part. That performance would have worked well as a big, triumphal moment for Parks And Recreation to go out on, and it still works as a way of celebrating all that the show has been over its first six seasons. Now, Parks And Recreation gets to try to be something different; whatever happens next, it probably won’t be business as usual. After a sixth season that has offered plenty of fine episodes—including “Gin It Up!,” “Second Chunce,” “Ann And Chris,” “Galentine’s Day,” and “Flu Season 2”—but struggled to know what larger story it still has to say about its characters, Leslie Knope especially, the prospect of something new is tantalizing. Goodbye and hello, Parks And Recreation. This ought to be fun.
- Michelle Obama is basically on hand to provide an infomercial on her Let’s Move! initiative—not that I have any particular objection to that—with Amy Poehler providing all the laughs in the sequence through her increasingly shocked reactions. The First Lady acquits herself just fine, but I think it’s safe to say that, as far as executive branch guest stars go, she’s no Joe Biden. But then, who is!?
- Everything is coming up Ben in this episode. He unwittingly visits Endor, he learns he owns the copyright to what presumably is a bit of a gaming gold mine, and he gets to share a mid-song moment with Letters From Cleo’s Kay Hanley. It’s hard to see how it isn’t all downhill from there, honestly.
- As you can tell from the grade, I really liked this episode, and it wasn’t just because of the final scene. That said, it’s kind of remarkable just how plotless this thing is, and probably the best evidence of that are the non-sequitur cameos from Tammy Two and Jeremy Jamm. For anyone wondering about their bizarrely truncated appearances, Mike Schur explains in the HitFix interview that “there is a whole mini-plot in the finale wherein Ron and Diane concoct a way to get Jamm and Tammy, two of the most loathsome people ever showcased on television, to make out with each other, and we had to lose it for time.” So, assuming that was filmed, there should be a very exciting extended cut on the way.
- We finally meet National Parks Service bad boy Liam Bonneville, and he does not disappoint. He’s so snidely dismissive of other people’s presentations!
- I’ll leave the quotes to you all on this one, as there are some good ones. But I’ll sign off for now. Thanks for reading along this season!