For about 59 minutes, the Season 6 finale of “Parks and Recreation” played as though it could have been a series finale. And it was great.
A blizzard of great lines and character beats, callbacks to earlier parts of the series and a slew of recurring characters from Joan Calamezzo to Jean-Ralphio made “Moving Up” maybe the most satisfying episode the show has done this season. It was so strong that a cameo by first lady Michelle Obama — and Leslie’s perfectly Knope-ian reaction to her — was maybe only the fifth or sixth most notable thing to happen.
For once in the show’s life, though, the cast and crew of “Parks and Rec” went into a finale knowing they’d be back the following season. So when it skipped ahead a month to Leslie moving to her new office as the regional supervisor for the National Park Service — still in Pawnee, thanks to a savvy pitch from her and Ben/a forgivable TV contrivance — it felt like a gentle setup for next season, with Leslie easing into her new job and dealing with her pregnancy.
But WOW, that last minute. After lulling us all into thinking that was it, Mike Schur (who directed) and writers Alan Yang and Aisha Muharrar serve up an audacious ending that kicks the show three years into the future, with Leslie fully entrenched in the federal government, the triplets well beyond the baby stage*, Ben on the cusp of some kind of big event in his own life and only
Jerry Larry Terry apparently still working with Leslie.
(*Schur and Amy Poehler weren’t kidding when they said Leslie’s pregnancy wouldn’t play out like Ann’s, were they?)
And also, Jon Hamm. The end-of-episode cameo was kept a glorious secret, so when Leslie had to fire Ed, who’s apparently even more of a screwup than Jerry, his entrance was a fantastic surprise. (Imagine the audience whoops if “Parks and Rec” were a live-audience sitcom.)
The second time-jump should introduce at least enough of a new dynamic to the show — the very brief glimpse of Leslie’s job suggests she’s juggling a lot more than she used to — while still keeping Ron as Leslie’s sounding board, April as her pessimistic foil and everyone else we know in close proximity. The show can, one hopes, feel newly energized and familiar at the same time.
But that’s for next year. Let’s not overlook how wonderfully structured everything that preceded it was. The fact that it felt so series finale-esque for that long made the ending that much more impactful. Some highlights:
– The Cones of Dunshire makes an improbable return when Ben plays the Gryzzl dude (“Workaholics” star Blake Anderson) for a free wi-fi network in Pawnee. It’s a great callback, and makes me secretly hope the reason Ben’s in a tux in the final scene is because he’s accepting some prestigious board-game award.
– Ron Swanson, softie. The show has both alluded to and demonstrated how Ron’s marriage to Diane and new family have sanded down some of his sharper edges over the course of this season, and Nick Offerman has underplayed it very nicely. Seeing him verbalize it here — and come out to all of Pawnee as Duke Silver — capped a nice little arc for both character and actor.
– I am unashamed to admit that the “We Are the World” version of “5,000 Candles in the Wind” gave me goosebumps.
– More callback fun: Andy mentioned in an earlier episode having booked a band called Bobby Knight Ranger. We saw them in the flesh tonight, played by the members of Yo La Tengo.
– “I’m on Endor!” In an episode full of Ben nerd-out moments, including him shouting his love to Letters of Cleo singer Kay Hanley, this was the best.
– Of course Ginuwine is Donna’s cousin, and of course she’d coerce him into hitting Tom’s after-party by threatening to bring up his rubber duckies, the Quackson Five.
So that’s a wrap on Season 6 of “Parks and Rec,” with a whole lot to look forward to in Season 7. Zap2it is doing a Google Hangout with Jim O’Heir at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT Friday (April 25) to discuss what we all just saw — I suspect there will be plenty to talk about. Tweet your questions to @Zap2it and @Zap2itRick with the hashtag #Zap2JimOHeir.