The arrival of the final season of ‘Parks and Recreation’ is bittersweet: We’ve spent six years with Leslie Knope and her friends (and enemies…and peripheral weirdos) in a sitcom that helped fill the void left behind by Liz Lemon and ‘30 Rock.’ In that six years, ‘Parks and Rec’ hasn’t just been hilarious—its presence alone has become comforting. So while we celebrate the return of one of our favorite shows, we also have to start the process of saying goodbye. At least they’re making sure we laugh all the way to the end.

All sitcoms are repetitive and cycle through similar fictional conflicts—that’s just the way it is. It’s also why I gave up on ‘Modern Family.’ But ‘Parks and Rec,’ like ‘30 Rock’ before it, never feels too repetitive because the writing is clever, the jokes are hilarious, and we quickly grew to genuinely love these characters. Setting the final season in 2017 is a smart move because it allows the characters to have grown apart and changed so much. To bring them back together, they have to be placed in familiar circumstances, and the conflict moves beyond Leslie’s fight with Ron over a giant parcel of land—it’s also about watching these people who have changed so much going up against similar obstacles.

Ron and Leslie have never really seen eye to eye. Leslie has, in her own words, tunnel vision when it comes to achieving her goals, which often run counter to Ron’s libertarian ideals. And while “2017" introduces some big changes for our friends in Pawnee, we also see that not much has really changed after all because deep down, they’ll always be the same. This thematic concept reflects the nature of the sitcom itself in that, no matter how much things appear to change on the surface (new jobs, new relationships, new problems), the show will always remain the same. And yet, at the same time, the final season of ‘Parks and Rec’ isn’t going to go out as the same show we’ve always known and loved, and it’s a great thing.

So “2017" sees Leslie and Ron vying for a parcel of land; Ron’s Very Good company (because the quality of his work is very good) is in league with tech conglomerate Gryzzl to buy up the land that the Newport Group is selling and develop it commercially, while Leslie wants to turn the land into—what else—a national park. Granted, “2017" spends much of the episode reacquainting us with old friends and arranging the pieces for the final season, but there’s something so delightful about returning to Pawnee that the lack of comedy in the premiere isn’t an issue. It feels like a small period of readjustment.

Other changes in the premiere: Ben is being honored as Pawnee’s Man of the Year as the town celebrates its bicentennial, Tom’s restaurant business has become a successful mini-empire, April and Andy have become so normal and responsible that it’s freaking April out, Donna started Regal Meagle Realty, and Jerry/Gary is now Larry at his new job. Oh, and Andy’s Johnny Karate character has his own TV show, where Jerry-Larry-Gary plays a mailman. So everything is going pretty well for everyone until Leslie tries to get her old team back together for one last mission. The only problem is that Donna and Tom are on Ron’s side, and there’s no way Leslie can raise $90 million to buy the property for the National Parks Service.

Pitting Leslie and Ron against one another feels natural, only this time the stakes are much higher and instead of butting heads on the same team, they’re now free agents, essentially. Watching April and Andy try to recapture the magic of their old spontaneous, irresponsible selves offers some of the premiere’s more comedic moments, like April warring with a crockpot.

But it’s the second episode that really shines—now that we’re fully readjusted and immersed in the new-ish version of Pawnee and caught up with our old friends, ‘Parks and Rec’ has a little more room to play. Where the premiere is kind of a formality, the second episode is all casual. And what better way to get Leslie and Ron working together again than by uniting them against a common enemy: Tammy 2. This time, Tammy’s got her claws deep in Councilman Jamm, whose vote will decide who gets the Newport land.

In the past, we’ve sort of experienced some Jamm fatigue—as much as I love Jon Glaser, too much Jamm grew to be a bad thing. But breaking him down emotionally to the point where he hardly resembles himself and needs to be de-programmed to get away from Tammy is another smart move because it gives Jamm some much-needed dimension. It also brings Leslie and Ron back together, and reminds both them and us why they’re such a hilarious pair.

Old Leslie might have caved to Tammy 2's offer to sway the vote in Leslie’s direction if she’d just sacrifice Jamm. That’s just how passionate Leslie has always been about her job. But Old Leslie also would have regretted the decision and changed her mind, usually with the wisdom and assistance of Ron Swanson. We see how much Leslie has changed in that moment when she briefly pauses to consider Tammy 2's offer before standing her ground. Leslie may be passionate about parks, but I think that marriage and motherhood have made her prioritize the value of people—even monsters like Jamm.

Meanwhile, April and Tom both undergo their own crises: after a “moving” speech by Joan Calamezzo, who’s receiving a star on Pawnee’s walk of fame, April begins to question her career choices and if she even likes working in government. April was the most passionate when she was helping animals, so I do wonder if we’ll see her returning to that eventually as Ben helps her sort it all out. And Tom has achieved all the success he always wanted, but he still remains single and lonely, so he gets drunk with Andy and they skip off to Chicago to see Tom’s ex-girlfriend Lucy. Tom chickens out and asks her to come work for him instead of professing his desire to be with her again, and although she has a boyfriend, it seems likely that ‘Parks and Rec’ will tie Tom’s story up with a cute little bow and give him the girl of his dreams.

In a sitcom’s final season, the viewers, along with the characters, are often given the things they’ve always wanted. Will Tom get the girl? Will April find a career she loves? Will Leslie get to turn the ultimate piece of land into the ultimate park? As Leslie points out, this show started with a local parks department director taking a pit and turning it into a wonderful little park. This show will end with a National Parks director taking a bigger piece of land and turning it into a giant, glorious park that honors her city and its citizens. It’s all coming full circle. And it’s good to be back in Pawnee.

Additional Thoughts:

  • If anyone wants to hang with Ed, he’ll be at Subway.
  • Even though the series has jumped ahead to 2017, they aren't over-saturating it with jokes about things that are different in the "future." The biggest change, time-wise? Kevin James' career. There's a 'Hitch 2' and he stars in a 'Bourne' reboot.
  • Werner Herzog shows up as a weird old dude selling his weird old house to April and Andy so he can move to Florida and be closer to Disney World. I would watch an entire spin-off series where Herzog goes to Disney World to contemplate existential despair while spinning in the teacup ride and hugging mascots.
  • In the second episode, a character is named Veronica Herzog. Herzog forever!
  • Joan Calamezzo thinks she's in a Batman movie.