So, on the week it was announced that NBC, in its infinite, unimpeachable wisdom, was rewarding Parks and Recreation for its rise from respectable Office cousin to pitch-perfect Ur-sitcom by leaving it off the fall schedule, the sophomore season finale found the good people of the Pawnee parks department unceremoniously relieved of their duties for the foreseeable future. We’re calling it: There are thematic similarities between the fictional TV show and its real-life circumstances. Are we going too fast?
Of course, the episode itself could not have known it would be commenting on its own fate when it was in production, so it should be judged on its own merits as entertainment. To that end: The finale was as on point as any episode this year — smart, funny, crisply written, and poignant. Ron, wearing that same delirious grin we saw last week when the budget crisis’s severity was made clear, is sitting in a near-abandoned City Hall. Andy Rollerblades around obliviously. With all of the town’s parks closed, Pawnee’s moms panic about having their kids housebound, so Leslie gets the band back together to stage the previously scheduled Freddy Spaghetti concert in the otherwise useless Lot 48. (That gag’s still funny, by the way.) She sends up the Bat-Signal and everyone comes to lend a hand in this time of need, kinda like the Sterling Cooper gang reconvening to start their own agency from a hotel suite.
Well, not everyone came to lend a hand: Mark Brendanaquits took one of the offered buyouts as well as a job with a construction firm, which actually felt perfectly sensible and organic to the story and not like some contract-related plot contrivance — sometimes the simplest answers are the simplest answers. His final scene with Leslie, in which they exchange gifts — she gives him a roll of red tape, he gives her plans to a park that will likely never be built, sans shark tank and roller coaster — is so rich that it doesn’t even bother to try to be funny, and moreover, makes us feel like we’re gonna miss the laconic Mark, which was somewhat unexpected. The dynamic between him and Leslie, which started off as an awkward romantic entanglement, shifted dramatically to one of genuine mutual respect. That’s way more interesting.
Speaking of respect, when Ron is told by hatchet men Ben and the increasingly weird Chris that Leslie needs to be laid off, his shit-eating grin goes away and he defends her as passionately as he would any breakfast meat, and not just because she does 95 percent of his job. Not even being the locomotive in Chris’s massage train relaxes him enough to let that injustice stand — getting rid of government workers just got a little too real. Meanwhile, Ben is made to do Chris’s dirty work and stop the ad hoc Freddy Spaghetti concert, which is moot, as Freddy Spaghetti has already booked another show at an Eagleton library, to Tom’s disgust. But every creepy kids’ singer has a price, and that includes Raffi knockoffs with pasta-related fetishes, and whatever that price is, Ben matches it, saving the day and mercifully spoiling Leslie’s debut as Renata Ricotta. It would have been great to see Andy do kid-friendly versions of Mouse Rat tunes — “Pickle Hair” had promise — but he had to go and crash his brand-new crotch rocket and break his arm.
The Andy and April stuff played out as it should have: He copped to having romantical feelings toward her, she reciprocated but said she couldn’t see him as long as he still had feelings for Ann. Which it seemed he may have when Ann kissed him in the hospital, until he and April kissed a few minutes later — their very real fumbling, plus Andy’s stunned, muffled gasp … this show just does the little things better than other shows do. That he immediately botches it by coming clean about Ann’s kiss isn’t just sitcom high jinks, it’s perfectly in line with his character. He’s being honest because he knows the difference between those two moments, so how can telling the truth be wrong? Just when you thought his simpleton shtick was maybe starting to verge on the cartoonish.
In true season-finale tradition, there’s even a cliffhanger. Cleaning out his office with Lucy, who’s pretty quickly attained new-girlfriend nomenclature on account of all the sex stuff, Tom sees Ron in his Tiger Woods getup, which can only mean he just got laid. Seconds later, Ron kisses Wendy, and in a split second, the show’s most beloved character takes a proper heel turn. Can’t wait to see how this turns out … Rather, can’t wait to see when this turns out. Until then, we end with some situationally appropriate words of wisdom from Parks and Recreation’s resident Yogi Berra, Andy Dwyer: “There’s an old saying in show business: The show must go wrong. Everything always goes wrong and you just have to deal with it.”
Kona Gallagher at TV Squad noticed the symmetry between last year’s season-ending scene with Leslie and Mark and tonight’s.
Leonard Price at AV Club praised the show’s ability to juggle many subplots at once without dropping a thing.