Tonight, probably the most feel-good comedy on TV will air its one hour finale. Parks and Recreation’s seventh and final season has gone by uncomfortably fast, with two new episodes a week and a minimal 13 overall that have quickly tied up most loose ends and set up the final goodbye as best as possible. A rushed farewell is kind of a shame, but also probably for the best, because the show still is mostly getting the love it deserves while also going out pretty much exactly when it should.
It’s easy to think of a feel-good comedy as something syrupy and probably a few sugar cubes too sweet for its own good. Parks somehow dumps the whole jar of sugar into one half hour cup of TV with all the benefits of that sugar high and no crash whatsoever. As far as cold opens go, Mike Schur and his team mastered the art a long time ago – no show is better at landing the joke right before its title sequence, producing that coveted “time to settle in for pure entertainment” smile/feeling/ass-groove adjustment that’s followed by 22-ish minutes of good, clean fun.
Give credit to the writers for getting to this point after coming out of the gate with a pretty bad six-episode first season – Leslie was a more annoying Michael Scott, the vanilla Mark Brendanawicz was a main character, and the show didn’t really know what it was or wanted to be. Sadly, one of the writers responsible for its rise to comedy glory (who eventually worked his way up to an executive producer credit), Harris Wittels, died just a few days ago, prompting the creators to dedicate the finale to him. So what was already going to be an emotional goodbye tonight very recently got much heavier.
Those involved in the show have always been pretty loud about how it’s one big happy family, and even though no one wants to hear about all the love they aren’t a part of, good. Without that dynamic, the show’s sweetness would feel false, and we never would have been treated to phenomenal ad-libs like Andy’s expert diagnosis of Leslie’s symptoms. Leslie’s odd, enchanted compliments of Ann’s beauty wouldn’t have landed as well. April’s deadpan @evilhag act would have just come off annoying, not hilarious.
The thing is, no character, not moody April or even stubborn Ron Swanson, was totally immune to the effects of Parks and Recreation’s infectious happiness. Every one of them has had at least one moment in the show where they let their guard down, and, refreshingly, were rewarded for it.
So much TV comedy today – and fantastic comedy it all is – focuses on the crazy and the vulgar, like Broad City and Workaholics. Even more takes a snarky look at generally horrible people, like Girls and Veep. Louie, a work of art in its own right, is so dark that it can barely even be called a comedy anymore. Parks is a goddamn ray of sunshine that’s shone brighter and brighter with age, featuring all the warmth of Modern Family and none of its predictable formula.
So as Leslie and the city of Pawnee make their TV curtain call tonight, let’s sit down and appreciate a rare show that does the best thing a comedy can do: take us away from our troublesome lives and petty feelings and just make us smile. Parks and Recreation is very much an adult show, but watching it makes you feel like a kid in the best possible way. Bye, bye, Li’l Sebastian. We’ll miss you in the saddest fashion.