How Parks and Recreation Outshined The Office

Photo: Kelly Chiello and Photo: NBC/Getty Images

It’s hard to remember now, but back in 2008, Parks and Recreation — before it was Parks and Recreation — was maybe going to be a spinoff of The Office. That’s not how things ended up, clearly, but the shows share plenty of DNA: creators Greg Daniels and Mike Schur, a mockumentary format, Rashida Jones, etc. While The Office held much stronger ratings and a longer run, Parks will close its seven seasons as the more successful show. Best episodes versus best episodes, The Office and Parks are perhaps evenly matched. But The Office had so many bad episodes in its nine-season run, whereas Parks’ lowest lows are pretty mild. Legacy-wise, Parks is going out pretty close to the top of its game. The Office went out … not that way.

Here in Parks’ final run, I’ve been thinking a lot about the show’s place in the canon, and that means thinking at least a little about other recent comedies’ respective places. In the last two years, there aren’t that many shows to compare Parks to. 30 Rock exists in my memory as a flawless, precious diamond, unsullied by cast turnover and unmoved by cameos. How I Met Your Mother? I know this makes me a superstitious old-world grandma who’s carrying a ridiculous grudge, but that show is dead to me, and it knows why. Raising Hope was charming but doesn’t quite rank among the bigs, and everything else is a matter of getting canceled too soon: Happy Endings, Enlisted, Trophy Wife, Enlightened, and Bunheads. The Office is Parks’ closest analogue, and maybe its cautionary tale. The reputation of being good is different from the reputation of staying good, and The Office’s painfully dragged-out latter seasons erode the show’s enduring image.

Parks might have had some narrative flabbiness in there over its run, but this last arc has been strong and, maybe more important, incredibly true to the show’s best essential natures: smart and silly and gleeful. I could take or leave the time jump itself, but each episode is committed to the characters in ways that are largely appropriate: Everything that’s happening for April and Andy is exactly their blend of sense and nonsense, Donna and Tom’s futuristic treating themselves was magical, and Leslie and Ben’s commitment to each other is unflagging and aspirational. (My one beef is that Tom and Lucy’s engagement feels rushed.) By the time The Office ended, Pam had kind of considered cheating on Jim, Michael had become a love-worthy sweetheart and left the show completely, and Oscar was secretly cuckolding Angela. I had a while to practice feeling totally over The Office.

But I have had no time to practice feeling over Parks. Even when I felt like Councilman Jamm was overly present, and even though I never quite bought Ann and Chris as a couple, I have for many seasons been buoyed by the hope and loyalty and positivity that Parks embodies and represents. And as bummed as I am on an immediate level that the show is ending, I’m incredibly relieved that it’s going out as the show it truly is. It’ll be so much easier to remember it fondly.

How Parks and Recreation Outshined The Office