After six years and seven wonderful seasons, Parks and Recreation comes to an end. A series finale is similar to a memorial service, in that it’s often more for those attending (the fans) than for the departed (or departing, in this case) party. But Mike Schur, Amy Poehler and the fine folks behind and in front of the scenes at Parks and Rec managed to give us a finale that served not only its viewers, but itself and its characters. That’s no easy feat. How many times can one person cry during an hour of television? Watch the Parks and Rec finale to find out.

Over the course of seven seasons, we’ve come to know Leslie Knope as inspiring, energetic, optimistic, determined, generous, kind and a plethora of other beautiful adjectives. Leslie has effected change and infected others with her contagious hope and perseverance. Parks and Rec has set itself apart from other sitcoms with the goodness of its heart, managing to be consistently hilarious and delightful to watch without falling into a pit of cynicism. It sees that cynical pit, fills it up, and builds a park on top of it. That’s the Leslie Knope way.

“One Last Ride” gives us all what we want, and even some things we didn’t know we wanted. Through a handshake or a hug with each of her friends, we flash forward to various years in the future to see the lives we won’t get to watch develop over the next several years. These brief scenes allow the show to pack in 10 times as much humor and sentiment, like watching Tom finally—appropriately—achieve success through his failure with Lucy by his side. Then there’s Donna, who finally gets the focus she deserves, living with Joe in Seattle, where she decides that a woman who has it all should give something back, and then she’ll truly have it all.

Even Craig gets a special moment, meeting and falling for Typhoon (!!!), whom he eventually marries in a ceremony officiated by Ron, and the pair grow old together. Some of the most memorable supporting characters pop in for a farewell, including Ethel Beavers from the weird fourth floor of City Hall, and Jean-Ralphio, whose life will culminate in the ultimate scam: faking his own death. Gary goes on to have a great life, as expected, and is elected mayor of Pawnee 10 times before dying at the age of 100.

But there are bigger stories here, and ones that are more affecting, like April’s uncertainty about having children with Andy. Andy is one of the characters who’s changed the most and in a lot of ways, not at all. It took several seasons, not just for Andy, but for the showrunners to figure out what Andy’s life path should be, but when they found Johnny Karate, everything fell into place. Andy and kids just go together, and watching these two weirdos bring a life into the world is pretty special.

Somehow, that’s not as special or emotional as watching Leslie give Ron the most Ron Swanson-appropriate job in the entire world: superintendent of the national park that Leslie saved. With nature as his office and solitude as his co-worker, Ron is where he should be, and there’s something so incredibly moving about watching him standing over that canoe, looking out at the still waters. That man is where he belongs. And it’s all thanks to Leslie.

Then of course there’s Leslie and Ben, who follow their dreams to a successful and fulfilling life in D.C., until they’re both offered a chance to run for governor of Indiana, which would allow them to move back to Pawnee. It also gives them a chance to reunite with all their old friends, including Ann and Chris. Obviously, there was never a decision to be made about who should run for governor—Chris planned on backing down from the moment he found out that Leslie was offered the chance. It’s in her dream journal from kindergarten, after all.

Seeing Leslie on the path to getting everything she ever wanted doesn’t feel like fan service, the kind of thing where characters get what they want because we want them to have it. Leslie, as a fictional character, has earned everything she accomplished. She earns her spot in D.C. She earns the chance to run for governor. She earns that honorary doctorate from the university. (Though it is definitely too bad that they named the library, of all places, after her.) We’re touched by and happy to see Leslie receive these things not because she’s having them handed to her by forces both creative and fictive, but because she accomplished these things, and cheering her on in the audience are all the friends who helped her in those accomplishments every single day—whether they were present or not.

I can think of few finales so rewarding. Sitcom finales in particular rarely are, and often feel like they’re checking off a to-do list to complete the stories of their characters. I can think of so many dramatic finales that were rewarding, but Parks and Recreation is that rare sitcom that, like Leslie Knope herself, worked in the best interests of others while honoring itself and its friends.

Additional Thoughts:

  • I’d love to hear Leslie and Gary’s entire musical number about pod-based coffee machines.
  • Hey! Jon Daly! Horatio Sanz! Joe Biden! So many guests!
  • Donna kicked En Vogue out of En Vogue. Of course she did.
  • April is saved in Donna’s phone as “Satan’s Niece.” Of course she is.
  • There is a sequel to Cones of Dunshire. It is called Cones of Dunshire: Winds of Tremorrah. It involves a character named “The Lamplighter.”
  • Bert Snakehole Ludgate Karate Dracula Macklin Demon Jack O’Lantern Dwyer, or Jack for short.
  • Our final Andy Dwyer alter ego: Sergeant Thunderfist, MD.
  • I spent much of this finale feeling very emotional, particularly during Ron’s segment and the Pawnee reunion. Even more emotional was the post-credits tribute to writer/producer/occasional guest star Harris Wittels. That loss was felt tonight, but this episode truly honors his memory with the spirit of love and laughter. RIP, Harris.

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