Parks and Recreation: “One Last Ride” Series Finale Review

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Well, this was definitely the most ambitious series finale I’ve seen in a long time. If not ever.

For its final episode, Parks and Rec. took us on a trip through time to give everyone the perfect ending. But in some cases, the endings were a little too sweet, or even unearned.

As a concept for a series finale, it’s an exciting and original one. The basic premise is that the Parks Department works together on everyone’s last day in Pawnee to fix a broken swing. As Leslie comes into contact with all of her best friends, we flash forward to another point in time where their lives take a major step.

Donna: First up in future dream land was Donna Meagle. We flash forward a few years to her and Joe living the life in their Seattle dream home. Instead of going on a vacation, Donna decided to help her husband give back to the community with the Teach Yo Self program. This was all very…nice. Maybe too nice. It felt a little out of line with Donna’s character to be so giving, nor had we seen her grow there. The focus was also pretty much on pleasing Joe, Donna’s husband that we’ve seen only a handful of times. This was the most forgettable future.

Craig: Is Craig even a big enough character to get his perfect future? And did he have to get together with the only other gay male character we’ve seen on Parks and Rec. in the last few seasons? Though the line about tax breaks was smart and hilarious.

Andy and April: This was one of the more rewarding endings. In a few years, Andy and April are going to start thinking about kids. Andy wants them, which makes sense, he’d be a great father. April is pretty against the idea at first, but some advice from Leslie gets her to turn around. The following Halloween, April is in labor with Exorcist make-up on with “Monster Mash” playing in the background. Perfect.

Jean-Ralphio: That cut to his tombstone in 2022 was probably the biggest laugh the finale got out of me. This was a short and sweet conclusion mostly just there for comedy.

Tom: This one actually made me angry. Having Tom’s Bistro fail undermines the character’s arc throughout the entire series. So he goes on write a self-help book about overcoming your own failures. But the fact that Entertainment 720 was used in the same sentence as Tom’s Bistro as if they failed for the same reasons was a betrayal to one of the more well-thought-out character arcs of the series. It’s the only ending that’s downright bad.

Garry: Garry is the only character we see all the way through to their death. If anyone was really going to die, it obviously had to be Garry. Still, the man got to be mayor of Pawnee for no less than four terms. On his one-hundredth birthday, Garry tells his hilariously good-looking family that he couldn’t have had a better life. By Garry’s standards, it’s pretty cute. Flash-forward to his funeral where his casket gets stamped by notary workers. Rest in peace Garry, though I’m pretty sure your entire life was both restful and peaceful.

Ron: If you follow the intricately planted seeds throughout this final season, Ron’s farewell is the most rewarding of the finale. In a few years, Ron get a second chance at asking Leslie for help in his career. After some careful planning, she gives him Pawnee National Park, the land they helped save together. Yes, he’s working for the federal government, but his office is a national park. There’s not a better ending to be thought up for Ron Ulysses Swanson.

Leslie and Ben: The future proves very bright for Parks and Rec.‘s star couple. They’re both wanted as Governor of Indiana, but they can’t decide which gets to run. After a big reunion with their friends, including Ann and Chris, Ben selflessly announces that to them all that Leslie will run for governor. We jump forward again to a speech she gives to graduating college students about getting to fulfill your dreams with the people you love. We learn she’s on her second term as Indiana’s governor. This was all very later-seasons Parks and Rec. It was unapologetically sweet, for better or worse, but also completely predictable. Leslie becoming governor feels like too much of  reward. This is a small show, with small rewards. Leslie’s job at the National Parks Service felt like an appropriate place for her to end up. It was wholly satisfying and totally in line with how this series rewards its characters. Her becoming governor in the last 15 minutes of the series is not.

I suppose that outlines a lot of the issues with “One Last Ride.” Season six’s finale “Moving Up” felt like it brought its characters to worthwhile conclusions that weren’t outside the realm of the show. Honestly, that’s the better series finale for the show. This finale makes season seven the extraneous epilogue it will likely now be remembered as. Sure, there were great moments throughout the season and the series finale, but none of it feels necessary.

The series closes with the group getting one last photo together. The camera zooms in on Leslie and she says, “I’m ready.” Ready for the future, that is, and all the mystery 2017 Leslie has coming to her. But there’s no imagination for us. Everything is pretty cut and dry. Within that, though, there are moments that make this a finale worth watching. It’s certainly ambitious. It just also feels like our goodbyes could have came sooner. Grade: B

 

Some Final Notes From the Pawnee Newsletter:

– “Garry, you’re the mayor now, have some dignity.”

– Garry’s wife Gale never ages in the future. Just some hysterical icing on the cake that it Garry’s life.

– I’d pay to watch Leslie play charades with Joe Biden. Glad the Vice President made time for his quick cameo.

– The best moment of Ann and Chris’ return was Leslie and Ann watching their respective kids talking and scheming to get them married in the future.

– There is a series finale of sorts that does what Parks and Rec. did here to a much lesser degree but way more effectively. Before Scrubs got renewed for its unnecessary ninth season, its eight closed with a “series finale” that showed a possible future for all the characters, but still maintained the mystery that comes when we say goodbye to characters we love. For anyone unfamiliar, here’s how that played out.

– “F*ckin’ library.”

– Well Parks fans, this is it. It’s been a pleasure covering the show for the seasons that I got to. There is something truly special about this show that will live on past whatever legacy “One Last Ride” attains. There’s a feeling of emptiness right now as the show leaves us, but we can always go back and watch the classics. I think “Flu Season” has my name on it when the dust settles. To the creators, cast, and crew, I love you and I like you. Thanks for the memories.

 

By Matt Dougherty

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