S3E15-16: There’s something special about Parks and Recreation. It’s a show that makes me laugh, yes, but it’s also a show with quite a bit of heart. I find myself, for whatever reason, genuinely caring and worrying about the characters and what they go through on a day-to-day basis. Will Ben and Leslie kiss? How will Andy and April handle their first fight? Can Tom actually make money on Snake Juice? It’s strange, because on a basic level, it’s just a workplace comedy and the idea that we should do more than just laugh at these characters may feel strange at first. But what separates Parks from the rest of the lot is the depth of its characters. In the same way that great dramas like The Wire or Friday Night Lights work, no character is one-dimensional. Sure, each has certain traits and tendencies, but it’s pretty much impossible to predict any one’s reactions to every situation. Even a character like Tom, who could easily become one-dimensional, has different layers (remember Wendy?). And that’s what makes Parks such an entertaining and refreshing show to watch. We don’t know what to expect — and with whatever does happen, we care quite a bit.
Last night’s season finale — two episodes mushed together for an hour long special — was simply tremendous. With each week this season, the show somehow raised its standard and then last night, well, wow. Just, wow. It capped off, in my opinion, what will become to be recognized as one of the best seasons of any sitcom ever.
“When I look at my life right now, it feels almost perfect.” -Leslie
After last week’s kiss, Leslie and Ben are now together — secretly — and loving every single moment of it. I echo Ann’s statement: “I love to see [Leslie] so happy.” But of course, as television shows go, the moment that a character says that they’re “happy” or “perfect,” they quickly become unhappy and un-perfect. “The Bubble” played that exact card, but with a slight twist. Leslie recognized that things could come undone at any moment and she didn’t want that to happen at all. In fact, she was so opposed to it happening that she actively avoided it — which included denying that her mother is indeed her mother to Ben. After some encouragement from Ann, Leslie eventually buckles and tells Ben the truth, which makes him very nervous for his meeting and naturally, because Ben sucks at being nervous, the meeting goes terribly. He and Leslie reconvene afterwards, with Leslie coaching him how he should handle a second meeting, and that results in him impressing Leslie’s mom so much that she makes a pass at him. It’s alright though, Ben uses his new-found confidence to tell Leslie’s mom that he’s dating her daughter, and, obviously, she approves.
Meanwhile, new city manager Chris is making some changes around the Parks Department, which include putting Ron in a big circular desk in the middle of the office. Despite enjoying the fact that this new approach is ruining the efficiency of the government (a true libertarian, that Ron), he eventually gets so annoyed with dealing with people on a day-to-day basis that he does one of the things he hates most in his life: makes a compromise. Everything can go back to normal, he just has to stay in the desk for a week — avoiding eye contact as much as he possibly can.
“The Bubble” offered a great little episode that worked well as a setup for “Lil’ Sebastian.” I was happy that — after the writers played with Ben and Leslie for so long — they just went for it. Leslie and Ben are so happy together. They can’t even control it and the fact that Leslie tries to control it anyway makes it even more adorable. I wasn’t completely sold on their relationship right away (or at least, not nearly as much as I was on Leslie’s and Louis CK’s Dave in Season Two), but “The Bubble” and “Road Trip” won me over. I think what makes it so real to me is that, because the show has spent so long establishing just how much Leslie loves her job, when we see her willing to lose it for her relationship with Ben, it really emphasizes how much she really does like him.
“What’s 5,000 times better than ‘Candle in the Wind’?” -Andy
And then, it happens. One of Pawnee’s greatest icons, who we just met earlier this season but feel like we’ve known for years, has passed away: Lil’ Sebastian. The whole town is shaken up so it’s up to the Parks Department to put on a memorial — and boy oh boy, does the Parks Department deliver (like Leslie always seems to deliver; the pit, Harvest Festival, the telethon, etc.). Leslie lets Tom and Jean-Ralphio produce the event with their new multimedia conglomerate 720 Entertainment (because they go around the world twice for their customers). And, man, wasn’t it fun? Aside from the driving storyline of Ron knowing about Ben and Leslie — and then the groundkeeper spotting Ben and Leslie making out — there were so many other great moments that went into this episode’s story arc. Andy writing a song 5,000 times better than “Candle in the Wind” called “5000 Candles in the Wind.” Tom and Jean-Ralphio douching it up, laughing at people who can’t tell the difference between seven types of black. Chris broken up by getting tendonitis and fearing death. Ron crying for only the second time in his life. And of course, Andy asking April to be his manager.
“If you know anything about me, it would be that I prefer laying wreaths to lighting torches.” -Ron
After the ceremony, we’re left with a couple of cliffhangers. Leslie is approached by people who think she could run for public office (maybe the mayorship?) and they ask her if she has anything to hide — and she lies. Out of fear, she doesn’t mention Ben. And I thought that was just a wonderful little development because, as I stated earlier, Leslie loves her job and seeing her risk it for Ben shows just how much she cares for him. The other cliffhanger, of course, will be keeping us up for most of the summer: who the hell is Tammy 1 and how freaking scary must she be for her to cause Tammy 2 to run away, terrified?
To close, “Lil Sebastian” capped the season off so wonderfully because it illustrated each part of Pawnee that we have come to know and love so much over the past three seasons. Every character got a little moment to show off a bit of their personality, but beyond that, we had the pleasure of seeing Pawnee living and breathing, together, as a community. Everyone united to celebrate the life of Lil’ Sebastian, yes, but at the same time, everyone united to celebrate what Pawnee is and on an even greater level, what Parks is and why we, as fans, watch. These characters have become our friends — or hell, dare I say it, our family. We laugh with them. We love with them. We’re part of them. And through that, Parks and Recreation is more than just a comedy to laugh at for a half an hour each week, but it’s a show that we experience. These people invited us into their world, showed us around, and now — although we’ve got a few months off before we continue — we’re in it for the long haul. My only request for our journey together? Mouse Rat provides the soundtrack.