Farewell to Parks and Recreation

Earlier this week, Parks and Recreation concluded after a remarkable seven-season run. While other outlets […]

Carl L. / 2.26.15

Earlier this week, Parks and Recreation concluded after a remarkable seven-season run. While other outlets have covered the show’s legacy in far greater detail than I can provide (check out Uproxx and Grantland for that), I wouldn’t feel right if I missed this opportunity to eulogize a show that has meant so much to me over the past several years. Parks and Rec might not have been as smart as Arrested Development or as laugh-out-loud funny as The Office, but it had an over-abundance of what many modern sitcoms lack—heart. In many ways, Parks and Rec might have had too much heart, but that’s exactly why I am going to miss it.


By nature I am a cynic, and I’ve done an unfortunately good job of nurturing that facet of my personality in my adult life. You might say I am the opposite of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the ceaselessly optimistic core of Parks and Rec. Throughout the show, Leslie managed to bring out the best of every character, mostly because she loves them, no strings attached. She believes in April (Aubrey Plaza), and that belief transforms April from a sarcastic, lazy intern into a sarcastic, successful adult. She changes Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), her eventual husband, by helping him forget the failures of his past (Ice Town, am I right?) and embrace the beauty and excitement of the future, standing behind him in the good and bad times. Leslie even managed to break through Ron Swanson’s (Nick Offerman) gruff exterior and become one of his best friends.

Leslie’s love for her friends often bordered on the ridiculous. She went on absurd quests to find them the perfect gift. She made them one of her famous binders that lays out their life-plans. Sure, this exaggeration is part of Parks and Rec’s humor, but it’s also something far more. As the show continued, I realized that none of these characters could ever pay Leslie back, but, more importantly, she would never require that from them. Leslie pours out her love with no desire for recompense and, often, with no regard for her own well-being. Over the course of the series, perhaps no character experienced more of Leslie’s love than Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones). Overwhelmed by gifts, notes, and encouragement, Ann’s baffled reactions to these constant barrages of love mirrored my own initial reactions to Leslie. But Leslie didn’t just care deeply about her friends; she loved her town and its citizens as well, even when they frustrated her with their bureaucracy and pettiness.


By the time I started watching Parks and Rec, my cynicism had carried over into my television viewing. I expected protagonists to be profoundly flawed and incapable of making any real impact in their worlds. In Parks and Rec’s terms, I was April, the character with whom I identified the most (it didn’t hurt I had a huge crush on her), constantly invoking sarcasm and apathy as a defense mechanism against Leslie’s unrelenting joy. However, like April, Leslie eventually wore me down. Every week, she would remind me that people can make a difference, but only if love serves as the basis for their actions. That’s a message that most sitcoms don’t deliver, instead remaining content to discuss love in largely superficial ways. In Leslie, Parks and Rec embodied love, often seen through service, a bold move for any sitcom to make, let alone one in the 21st century.

Leslie’s love trickled down through all the characters on Parks and Rec. I could probably fill a book with my favorite moments from the show that emphasized the heart that carried it through its seven seasons. Despite the conflicts that arose, Leslie and the series always empathized with its characters, resisting easy generalizations. Above all, Leslie never failed to extend grace to others, especially to those who deserved it the least. Parks and Rec oriented itself towards grace, a rarity not only in the sitcom world, but in the world as a whole. A weekly reminder that love and grace still have the power to transform lives and communities, Parks and Rec will be missed. There’s really only one way to properly say goodbye to one of my favorite shows: bye, bye Parks and Recreation, you’re 5,000 candles in the wind.


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