Parks and Recreation, the last great sitcom in NBC’s once-proud legacy of comedy, came to an end this week with the hour-long “One Last Ride.” In it, the Parks Department gang goes on one final mission, while we see flash forwards to the futures of all of our main characters, as well as several secondary characters. It’s an emotional triumph.
As the episode opens, many in the group are getting ready to leave Pawnee, Indiana. While they have all moved on, none currently employed at the office in which they so memorably worked together, they’ve stayed in touch and still lived nearby. But now, some are moving halfway across the country, and it’s a true end of an era. Leslie (Amy Poehler) plans on commemorating it with a very in-depth recounting of their time together.
Thankfully, Leslie’s plan, which most of the others find boring, is interrupted when a citizen shows up to ask to get a swing fixed. Despite the fact that the Parks Department isn’t yet open for the day and that none of them have any authority to help, Leslie sees this as a chance to recapture their glory days, and as has happened so many times, the rest grudgingly agree to assist.
Leslie is the glue that holds them all together, and while she can be annoying, without her, they wouldn’t have built the family they all cherish so much. That’s why she and her husband, Ben (Adam Scott), get the lion’s share of the focus in “One Last Ride,” with hints that Leslie eventually becomes President of the United States after serving successfully as governor of Indiana. Her dedication and her persistence helps them all, and at the end of the day, they do all realize and value that.
The various other futures, which are shown in different years to give us a more complete view of the characters’ timelines, are appropriate. All the characters end up happy, professionally fulfilled, and romantically satisfied. It may not be realistic to have such across-the-board success, but with Leslie behind them all the way, often popping back into their lives when they need her, it makes sense that this particular group would defy the odds and do well for themselves. Donna (Retta), Ron (Nick Offerman), Tom (Aziz Ansari), Andy (Chris Pratt), April (Aubrey Plaza), even Garry (Jim O’Heir), who, despite his plethora of names over the run, I still think of as Jerry, end up where they should be. This fixing of the swing is not the last time they are all together.
The central cast of Parks and Recreation is strong, but the series has always benefited from a solid second and third string. “One Last Ride” pays tribute to that, too, with flash forwards for Craig (Billy Eichner) and Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz), and appearances from Chris (Rob Lowe), Ann (Rashida Jones), Lucy (Natalie Morales), Joe (Keegan-Michael Key), Perd (Jay Jackson), Mona-Lisa (Jenny Slate), Ethel (Helen Slayton-Hughes), Gayle (Christie Brinkley), Jen (Kathryn Hahn), Brandi (Mara Marini), Dr. Saperstein (Henry Winkler), Joe Biden (himself), and more. What’s notable about all of these guest stars is that they slide seamlessly into the main narrative, not distracting or disrupting the main story. Not everyone that arguably should be included is, but that’s OK because they aren’t the point of the finale. They are all well used, and while it doesn’t feel like a role call is being conducted, we’re left with quite a significant list who are involved.
Similarly, the futuristic technology included is a fun touch, but not all that important to what’s going on. This has been a trend all season, as these episodes have been set in 2017, and other than one really funny bit, the tech isn’t essential to any scene.
The hour ends far too soon, taking us back to the present setting of the show. It’s an installment full of humor and heart, one that makes fans laugh and cry, and captures both the spirit and the core point of Parks and Recreation. All told, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect way to send off the odd comedy about a bunch of misfits who achieve great things as a team. It will be sorely missed, both because of its own merits, and because it leaves the network that brought us Seinfeld, Friends, and The Office without another sitcom of this level of quality.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00TUB6WGG][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00SG15XW0][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00SG16TIC]