“Welcome to Pawnee, IN: First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity” reads the sign on the cover of the book accompanying our beloved fictional Indiana town. It’s an honest-to-goodness slogan that perfectly encapsulates this scrappy Little Show That Could (and Did) beat the odds for seven seasons, finding a way into our hearts forever. In the weeks leading up to last night’s final episode, I realized the true genius of Parks and Recreation is the way the show promotes optimism, love, and how a family can take any form or shape. Though plot lines may have been driven by crazy comedic antics (Chris Pratt), materialism (Retta and Azis Ansari), loathing government (Nick Offerman), or simply hating everything (Aubrey Plaza), at the end of the day they all just want to make their town a better place. And to do so alongside one another.
In a TV landscape filled with wine-throwing housewives, zombies, manufactured drama, cut-throat reality competitions, and jokes written to cut one another down, the optimism void that Parks and Rec leaves will be felt long after this finale. And that optimism itself is so Hoosier.
Let’s recap this zany show once more, shall we?
Let’s start at the beginning, always a good place—and exactly where Parks and Rec’s final episode returned. We join the Parks crew in their old stomping grounds, the Parks Department office at Pawnee’s City Hall. Leslie has planned a party to say farewell to her friends back where they all met (along with a “comprehensive retrospective,” naturally). Enter Nameless Pawnee Resident asking for help fixing a park swing. The former teammates decide to take on one last project together to improve the town they love. As we watch the gang go through the bureaucratic steps required to fix a simple swing, we’re propelled into the future of each character as Leslie hugs or touches them.
Donna and Joe
Fast-forward to 2023. Donna is a successful real-estate mogul living happily in Seattle with husband Joe. He’s admirably still teaching, working hard to change the lives of his students, lamenting that “The school cut the math club. And math. They just don’t teach math anymore.” He leaves the room to clean up dinner, prompting Donna to call “Satan’s Niece” (a.k.a. April), who helps her create a new foundation allowing teachers to find funding for after-school programs. That foundation is aptly named: Teach Yo Self.
April and Andy
We speed ahead to Washington, D.C., in 2022: It’s Halloween. Andy has brought back alter ego Burt Macklin, and April re-creates her Janet Snakehole role as they wait for trick-or-treaters. After handing out candy to kids at the door, Andy expresses his longing for this tandem to have kids of their own. Of course April puts on faux happiness at the idea of watching her body transform into a grotesque size with stretch marks—“but, at the end, we’ve brought a child into the world. That’s disgusting!” Once again, Leslie comes to the rescue and shares her own doting-mother, doting-spouse perspective with April: “You have kids because you and Andy are a team, and you want to bring in some new team members.” Zip forward another year: April is giving birth on Halloween to their first child, Jack. (And later we learn she’s pregnant with their second spawn.)
The year zooms to 2019, and Craig and Typhoon fall in love. They eventually marry. (Horatio Sanz officiates!) Another quick flash-forward: We see the happy couple in their golden years—on a plane made out of glass, being served champagne made by Jean-Ralphio.
Jean-Ralphio and Mona-Lisa Saperstein
In 2022, Jean-Ralphio fakes his own death so as to cash in on his life insurance policy with the help of his equally horrible sister. They plan to open a casino in Tajikistan with the money, if only they can escape his funeral without being caught. (Barely?)
Ann and Chris
The “opalescent tree shark” and her husband Chris return to the Parks department in 2025 in Leslie’s honor. (More on that later.) While there, Oliver, their son, and Leslie, the Wyatt-Knope daughter, begin to flirt. Thus Ann and Leslie’s dreams come true. And we learn that Chris is soon to run Admissions at IU, bringing this pair back to Pawnee.
After his few months as interim mayor, Garry is officially, legitimately elected! But that’s not all: Upon his fourth election, Brandi Maxxx, now Pawnee’s city-council prez, swears him into office yet again. He subsequently becomes mayor for the 10th consecutive term. Gayle (Christie Brinkley) remains agelessly by his side until his fateful 100th-birthday party, where he is surrounded by his kids, grandkids, and greats. Later that night, he dies peacefully in his sleep, holding his wife’s hand—and in true Gergich fashion, his last name is misspelled on his headstone.
Tom and Lucy
Tom’s Bistro is so successful that Mr. Haverford opts to expand nationally in 2019. Unfortunately, he loses everything. “Who could have predicted the world would run out of beef?” Lucy says to comfort him. Even so, in true entrepreneurial spirit, Tom pulls himself up by his bootstraps and writes a book, Failure: An American Success Story. “The story of America isn’t about second or third chances. It’s about fourth, fifth, sixth, 20th, 50th chances.” Tom is now a TEDx-type speaker selling his “Seven Types of Successful People,” each based on one of these real-life friends.
The Ron of 2022 is still successfully running that Very Good Building & Development Co., though he abruptly resigns. Naturally, his next stop is to chat with Leslie, seeing as they were “workplace-proximity acquaintances for years.” With his kids growing up, and as he increasingly finds his time wasted in an office, Ron feels adrift. He is at a self-described crossroads. Leslie, always eager to solve a crisis, vows to devote “every waking moment” to solving Ron’s plight. Shortly thereafter, she installs him in the role of superintendent of Pawnee National Park, a job that would allow him to live in Pawnee and walk around those grounds alone. (He could not ask for more.) So in a beautiful sliver of irony, Ron ends up working for the federal government, keeping watch over a natural habitat he once sought to raze to build Grizzyl’s pricey new HQ. Ron’s story ends with him out in his canoe, which actor Nick Offerman’s book, Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living, seems to have foreshadowed.
In the year 2025, Ben and Leslie are approached separately about running for Indiana governor. Their failed pros-and-cons list-making leads them to Pawnee (as mentioned above), where Ben arranges a gathering of all of their friends to help them decide just who should run for the office. After reminiscing with everyone, Leslie—for once in her life—decides to leave the decision up to chance: flipping a coin. Upon presenting that idea to the gang, Ben cuts her off: “Leslie is running for governor!” Following a loving look to her husband, she adds, “Ben’s going to run my campaign, because he’s a genius. And he’s got a tight little body like an Italian sports car.”
Time jumps to 2035, in which Leslie, as a two-term governor, is giving Indiana University’s commencement speech. Following that, she receives an honorary doctorate in the School of Public Policy—and IU is renaming its library after her! Cue nonplussed Leslie: “[Bleep] library?”
This series finale concludes where it began. The team has (finally) fixed the park swing, and their unnamed Pawneean complainant waves it off and walks away. (Some people just want to be perpetually outraged, or at least disgruntled.) Leslie, never one to be discouraged, shares a closing thought: “Teddy Roosevelt once said, ‘Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ And I would add that what makes work worth doing, is getting to do it with people that you love.”
Li’l Sebastian Droppings
» That unnamed Pawnee citizen who catalyzes the series finale’s plot line is portrayed by the same actor who played the drunken citizen caught in the park slide in the series’s pilot episode.
» We learn that Donna kicked En Vogue out of En Vogue (or so she says).
» One of the trick-or-treaters at Andy and April’s future D.C. door is dressed as Starlord.
» Leslie and Ben are surrounded by who appear to be Secret Service agents at Garry’s funeral. Are we to assume one of them becomes the leader of the free world? Oh, we hope so.
» All hail the return of U.S. VP Joe Biden, this time with Dr. Jill in tow.
» Andy and April have their first child in Pawnee, Ron runs the national park, Ann and Chris return to work at IU, and Leslie becomes the Hoosierland’s governor. Let’s all assume everyone lives happily ever after back in Pawnee.
Was there ever any doubt?
The cast of Parks and Rec reunited on Late Night with Seth Meyers and ended the show with one final performance of “5,000 Candles in the Wind,” a tribute to Li’l Sebastian. Sing along with them as we all bid this beautiful show, Parks and Recreation, farewell once more—and take in an unexpected little makeout session!
GIFs via Tumblr user stydialove