There’s no wrong time to find Parks and Rec, but I like to think I found it at the right time. I saw my first few episodes at the end of senior year of college. A month later, I left to volunteer for a year in Alaska, Parks and Rec DVDs tucked between my rain boots. I’d been told to pack lightly, but this show was already a necessity.
Within the first week, I’d introduced it to my roommates, so we knew Leslie Knope before we really even knew each other. The show was our language. We wrote Ron Swanson quotes on the bathroom mirror (“Never half ass two things. Whole ass one thing”) and Tom Haverford quotes on the fridge. We said yes with “I think I will, good lady” and yelled “MAKE YOUR FACE BETTER” before every photo. Whatever we knew for sure, we attributed to “school.” Any show could have done this. Any good TV series can bring people together. But Parks and Rec also happens to be about bringing people together, and that made it kind of perfect.
I don’t have a list of things I want from the final season of Parks and Rec. I think Mike Schur knows what I need better than I do, so I haven’t worried about this season beyond worrying what will happen to me when it’s over. But even if I had expectations, I never would have seen this coming. Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope have had a falling out.
It hurts. It’s wrong. The relationship between Ron and Leslie defines Parks and Rec as a show about people who like each other not only in spite of their differences, but because of them. It’s a friendship built on respect and a platonic love that shows itself in action, which is exactly the kind of love that Leslie extends to her town. Ron and Leslie’s ability to bridge the gap between them, and their desire to bridge it, makes this show what it is.
This season of Parks and Rec opened in London, paused in Paris, and has been contemplating Chicago for a while now, but when Ben takes Leslie to look out over San Francisco, he still asks her to turn away from the postcard view of the Golden Gate Bridge and look at a name on a sign. This show will never stop being about the people who do the work. Leslie’s met Michelle Obama, and that’s something you never come back from, but she can’t commit to her new job until she sees that map of America’s national parks. Leslie isn’t in this for the flashy connections. She wants to put her name to something that lasts.
I don’t know of a lot of places with just the usual four seasons. New York has a second winter, which turns out to be harsher than the first because it comes with the sunburn I got when I thought it wasn’t winter anymore. Boston sets its calendar by its sports. Growing up in Florida, we had hurricane season and caterpillar season, lovebug season and snow bird season, and that one week in December when we could almost justify wearing scarves. And in Pawnee, they’ve got flu season.
He came to Pawnee as a cute fascist hardass, but never let it be said that Ben Wyatt doesn’t absolutely LOVE stuff. He’s put together a website that lets you apply for your utility tax refund online. That’s the dream. Unfortunately, Ben lives in a town where practicality isn’t greeted with nearly as much excitement as an animated panda who plays ping pong with his tail. Times like these, he could really use Chris Traeger.
“If you believe in something, you sign your name to it.”
Remember when Leslie accidentally performed a marriage ceremony for gay penguins, and suddenly everyone had an opinion on her, and it threw her into a panic? Pawnee doesn’t like it when government officials take a stand. This town will do everything in its power to tear down anyone who makes herself visible. That’s still true, but Leslie’s not afraid anymore. She’s signed her name to this town merger, and she’s going to make it work.
“Oh Ann Perkins, you beautiful sunflower. You totally changed me, you know that?”
I’d like to say that Leslie and Ann’s story ended where it began—with the pit and a promise—but we all know their story isn’t over. What began as a friendship of necessity between a nurse and “that parks lady” stopped being about parks a long time ago. This is the strongest relationship that Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins will ever have, and while Ann might be moving somewhere all bright and new, Leslie’s still the one she’ll call for the important things.