Last night was Parks and Recreation‘s season six finale. The show had really started to lose me this season, and I was prepared to write a post today detailing how much the quality’s gone down and why the show shouldn’t have been renewed for a seventh season. I’m still going to do that, but it turns out there’s another reason last night’s episode should have been its last. It would have worked flawlessly as a series finale.
First let me outline why the show feels worse to me this season. It’s a big shift from my feelings about season five, which I praised last year. But something happened that happens to a lot of shows after they get past the fifth season hump — it started going downhill. Characters became predictable and tiresome. We’d watched them act like themselves so much that it became boring. Yes, Andy is dumb but sweet, Leslie is enthusiastic and motivated, Jerry/Larry/Whatshisface is pathetic and the butt of everyone’s jokes. Whereas in past seasons it was a joy to feel like you knew the characters’ quirks and defining traits, this season it felt like being married to someone too long. Once I felt no sadness over Ann and Chris leaving, I knew something was off.
I also felt this season that the show was just trying to recreate the magic of earlier years by repeating the same plots. How many times has a character had to decide whether or not to leave Pawnee and/or take on a new job? That’s a cliche plot on any show, but Parks and Rec has done it multiple times. On top of that, the choice to not only make Leslie pregnant, but pregnant with triplets (making for not one but two surprising episodes) feels like a stunt to shake things up. Unfortunately it’s a very unoriginal stunt, not only for TV shows in general but also for the show. In the last year we’ve already had two babies born. Now we’ve got three more.
Do I still chuckle when I watch the show? Sure I do. I think it’s lost a good bit of the cleverness it used to have, but it’s still funny and charming, and when you’ve spent so much time loving it it’s hard to stop enjoying it completely. But there’s been a definite change, and I don’t feel the same need to watch it every week that I used to. Not only that, but I would be totally satisfied if last night’s episode had been its last.
Everything about it was perfect for a series finale. It was an hour long, it involved a trip to another city (San Francisco) and a big guest star (Michelle Obama). It wrapped up all the characters’ storylines by giving them happy endings and new beginnings. It brought everyone together for a Unity Concert that featured throwbacks to jokes like Little Sebastian, Mouse Rat and Duke Silver. Supporting characters like Jean-Ralphio, Joan Callamezzo and Perd Hapley showed up. And it ended in a slightly bizarre flashforward starring Jon Hamm. What more could you ask for?
I think the flashforward, showing Leslie still in Pawnee and running the new third-floor office three years later, was a very series-finale way to go, reminiscent of 30 Rock‘s ending. But as it turns out, the show added it in order to leave things open for next season. Here’s what the co-creator Mike Schur told Hitfix:
“Then we had a conversation about the show’s future with NBC, and got a very strong indication that we would be back for season seven, so we turned our minds toward doing something that would inject another season’s worth of story into the finale. That either meant rebreaking the main action, in certain ways, to make it more forward-thinking, or doing something at the end that would shake everything up, and since we liked the stories we’d broken we went with the latter.”
Call me cynical, but I don’t think it’s going to work. It feels like the show’s trying anything to keep itself fresh, but it’s not sticking. We’ve said it multiple times, but it bears repeating. Sometimes it’s better to let a show end on a (relatively) high note rather than watch it slide downhill for season upon season, losing viewers and going out with a series “finally” instead of a series finale.