By In RIP, Television

Goodbye Parks


2013_0808_Parks_and_Rec_Show_KeyArt_1920x1080_0Three or four years ago, we went to California as a family and one of the cool things we got to do was go to the Parks and Recreation set. We got to do this, of course, because the executive producer of the show is my friend and permanent PosCast guest Michael Schur.*

*If someone is a permanent guest to a show, does that actually make him actually a “co-host.” Probably so. Yes. Probably so.

In any case, while on the set we ran into Nick Offerman, the actor who plays one of the really great comedy characters ever on television, the steak-loving, government-hating, wood-working, hug-loathing, Tammy-marrying Ron Swanson. He looked at my daughters and said, in the perfect Ron Swanson voice and rhythm, “OK children, you may go into my office. However, you may not touch anything on my desk. Make no mistake: I will know if you touch anything.”

The girls, of course, still talk about this brush with Ron Swanson, and I think about it a lot too because tonight is the final episode of Parks & Recreation and while I admire so many things about the show, there’s something I think about most of all: It is a show about people who like each other.There’s absolutely no reason for them to like each other. They have wildly different philosophies about life, love, music, food, coolness, politics, sports, Star Wars (“Is that the one with the little Wizard boy?” Ron Swanson asks).

But they like each other. They deeply like each other. And, even more absurdly, we like them all.

Ron Swanson is an in-the-woods loner who believes government is evil and should be shut down. Leslie Knope is a pop-culture loving liberal who makes thick policy binders in a whir and believes there is nothing that government cannot solve. Jerry/Gary/Terry Gengrich is a helpless shlemiel who spills coffee on everything and loses his keys constantly and has an awe-inspiringly beautiful wife and supermodel daughters. Tom Haverford is a me-first hipster who believes the most important stuff in the world is stuff. Andy Dwyer is a lovable dunce, April Ludgate is a slacker who either hates everything or pretends to, Ben Wyatt is a number-crunching nerd who likes inventing fantasy games. Ann Perkins is a nurse who can’t quite find her way in life, Donna Meagle is a fashion-loving diva with a famous past no one can quite grasp, Chris Traeger is a fitness fanatic who calls people by their first and last names.

And they all like each other. More to the point: They all find something admirable in each other.

This is something Michael and I have talked about a lot, actually: There seems so little middle ground left. As a nation, we always have disagreed with each other on things — politics, religion, race, the economy, foreign affairs, women’s rights, guns, death penalty, abortion, state rights, Peanut or Regular M&Ms — but it did seem like we could still like each other.

“You read stories of what the Senate was like 30 years ago, for example,” Michael says, “and there was a mutual respect and sense of discourse that kept the body politic woven together. They would debate, fiercely, about the issues of the day, and then they would go have dinner at each other’s houses and remain collegial. That does not appear to exist, anywhere, now.”

Michael says that this concept — a place “where people can disagree and fight and butt heads, but also drink good Scotch and remain friends, and find areas of agreement and solve problems through a dialectic” — became the whole point of the show.

And it worked. It wasn’t the first show to build around the idea. Cheers was, in the end, a comedy about people who liked each other. So was Seinfeld. In the end, that was true of The Office too.

But I don’t think any other show gave us such divergent characters who liked each other … a show without a villain. And we liked them too. Sometimes, for fun, I ask my daughters to name their favorite characters. They have named every single one of main characters at some point (along with their favorite minor character Perd Hapley, the genial television personality who says things like, “For a female perspective we turn to … a woman”). What do my daughters have in common with Ron Swanson or Tom Haverford? Nothing. But they see the humanity in every one of them, they see that even though people may say ridiculous things or offer opinions counter to your own, those words come from a human place.

“I think most people would rather be nice than cruel,” Michael says. ” Now, power corrupts, and the higher you climb on the political ladder the more power you have, and thus the more you are risking by acting in a reasonable, dignified manner. If Mitch McConnell had said even one respectful or nice thing about President Obama — literally, even one — in the last election, he would’ve lost in a primary challenge.

“That is sad, to me, because I think if you could give Mitch McConnell truth serum he would say that President Obama is a smart person who has some good ideas (and vice-versa).  The show was an attempt to describe a different path. … I think it’s possible to disagree and remain respectful, and even to love and admire the people with whom you disagree. This is not pollyanna pie-in-the-sky naivete. It’s a basic human reality.”

Good sitcoms tend to follow a path. They usually have rough early days when characters are being developed, often painfully. The focus of the show shifts. Then, something clicks, something else clicks, something else … and the show has a wonderful ride where every episode is fantastic. The comic possibilities seem endless. The characters mold into people as familiar as family.

And then — slowly you hope — the edges begin to crinkle, and bits start to sound the same, and certain people become too famous and cliche. Then people begin applauding when Fonzie or Latka or Kramer enters the room, and other characters leave, and themes start losing any spark, and sometimes producers feel the need to insert a major new theme just to liven up the show, a new baby, a new boss and new location.

Parks and Recreation went through all those phases. No, it was never a hit. It was never a ratings winner. But it started sluggish, and found its speed, and was great. Then, perhaps, it faded a bit. But unlike The Office or Cheers or M*A*S*H or Seinfeld or most of the other good shows I’ve loved through the years, it found one more burst of energy at the end. Michael and the writers and everyone always knew this would be the last year and so they decided to go out blazing. They put it three years in the future, and they created all sorts of frantic plot twists, and they made every show something of a finale.

That’s been a wonderful way to send off, but it also makes tonight a bit sad. There seems more to do. I want to know what happens to them all. I want to hear from Leslie, laugh at Jerry, have breakfast food with Ron Swanson every now and again. I guess that’s what happens when you make a good television show filled with people you like. The only good ending has you miss them.


25 Responses to Goodbye Parks

  1. Carlos says:

    I see the local law firm had YET ANOTHER merger. Kudos for them! (And Michael, and the cast, and everyone)

  2. Sogard's Optician says:

    I love your work but how do you write a whole post about Parks and Rec and not mention either the life or death of Harris Wittels?

  3. largebill says:

    Why do you think McConnell would lie if given truth serum?

    • DjangoZ says:

      Thanks for making Michael’s point.

      • Exactly. There ARE, in fact, people who you disagree with but can still be your friends. They have a point of view, but it’s not their reason for being. Too many people CONSTANTLY and angrily repeat what they heard on the radio or TV (much of it not even true). How can you be friends with that? Perpetually angry people are not fun to be around. I’ve told people before, that if only they would shut off the radio and go out to coffee with people instead, their lives would be much better.

  4. doncoffin64 says:

    “It wasn’t the first show to build around the idea. Cheers was, in the end, a comedy about people who liked each other. So was Seinfeld. In the end, that was true of The Office too.”

    Also Murphy Brown, one of my favorite TV shows ever.

    • forsch31 says:

      In fact, a lot of comedies have been, too. It was Barney Miller’s bread and butter, especially in the post-Fish years, when the series really found its voice. In a lot of ways, it was a lot like Parks and Rec, in that it lost steam in its seventh season, but then had one of its best seasons in its final year, knowing it was going to be its last.

  5. “The only good ending has you miss them.”

    I still miss Fire Joe Morgan.

  6. David says:

    Is there any chance you could do a special Parks & Rec edition of the Poscast (with Mike Schur, obviously)? I, for one, would love to hear him talk about the years on the show and what it meant to him. Obviously, that’s a huge request because I’m sure he’s a very busy man, and he probably likes talking with you for sports not work, but I (and probably most people who hang out hear and listen to the Poscast) would really enjoy it.

  7. […] – For most of its run Parks and Rec was my favorite show. I kind of fell off last season, but maybe I should go watch the last season. […]

  8. Brent says:


    I am not sure I can buy the “this is the worst era of partisan politics in America”. I mean, we haven’t had a Congressman beat a Senator over the head with his cane yet. We haven’t had a sitting Vice President shoot a former Secretary of the Treasury and kill him yet.

    • Reagan says:

      Let’s not forget the wonderful times around the 1820s which had gag rules in place to prevent the discussion of contentious topics (slavery) in the Senate. What a wonderful time of collegiality.

    • Reagan says:

      “If Mitch McConnell had said even one respectful or nice thing about President Obama — literally [sic], even one — in the last election, he would’ve lost in a primary challenge.”

      And we all remember the many nice things candidates Clinton and Obama said about President Bush during the 2008 Primaries.

      Take the cultural blinders off, Mike. It happens all of the time. I don’t consider it their (i.e., Clinton, Obama, or McConnell) role to say nice things about people with whom they disagree regarding fundamental issues. That is not to say that demonizing is acceptable, but come on, man. Who are you trying to kid?

      • judgeknott says:

        Way to make his point, Reagan.

        • Reagan says:

          Did I?

          Mike’s point was that the present climate is the worst ever. Brent cited the Preston Brooks example, which is manifestly worse than anything that occurs now. (One could add Bleeding Kansas to that as well.) I cited the gag rules of 1820s, which prohibited the discussion of slavery in Congress. Although these rules resulted in a condition nominally fitting the bill of a more peaceful climate (after all, Congress was collegial enough to agree to not even talk of their differences), such a state is not to be admired given that, by design, the most serious problem of the century was not being addressed.

          So it has been shown that Mike’s point was without foundation. Turning to the Mitch McConnell example for support doesn’t undo the problems with his argument. I merely pointed out his use of that example was nothing more than a byproduct of the political lens through which he sees the world.

          • forsch31 says:

            >>>” I merely pointed out his use of that example was nothing more than a byproduct of the political lens through which he sees the world.”

            And that criticism has everything to do with his point. You completely miss it because you’re completely focused on his political lens.

            Also, neither Joe or Mike said “his is the worst era of partisan politics in America”. Go back and read the column. Mike was talking about Congress 30 years ago, much more recent than 175 years ago when the country was spinning toward civil war. And yes, it is true. My brother-in-law is a staffer for a longtime Republican in the House, and in the last 15 years, things have gone straight to hell.

            But hey, continue being obsessed with your tree while the forest is on fire.

  9. NevadaMark says:

    I thought everyone on Cheers hated Cliff. No one came to visit him in the hospital when he had his appendicitis attack.

  10. Mike says:

    Next poscast, please ask Mike what happened to the character of Mark & was it a disagreement with the actor that resulted in the characters departure?

  11. mark robbins says:

    “They would debate, fiercely, about the issues of the day, and then they would go have dinner at each other’s houses and remain collegial. That does not appear to exist, anywhere, now.”

    I don’t think the era of Vietnam and stagflation should be seen with rose colored glasses because people got along better. It’s probably not even true (what gets reported on and how the media reports has certainly changed) but even if it were it didn’t exactly produce better outcomes. You can disagree with someone, respect them, and never invite them over for dinner because you have your own friends outside of your job. And it wasn’t that long ago that the Democrats had an opportunity to be the bigger person and instead chose to relentlessly mock their President. Not saying he didn’t make himself an easier target for people of a certain sensibility, but he very obviously wasn’t an idiot (coming from someone who agreed with him on very little). I just hate the idea that collegiality is an end in itself, it might be the result of an easy surplus or it might be the result of cronyism, but it’s rarely in the public interest.

    Charles Sumner was beaten nearly to death on the floor of the Senate for his opposition to slavery. While I’m sorry that had to happen to him, I’m very glad he didn’t mollify his opinion for the sake of collegiality.

  12. John Leavy says:

    Joe, I’m willing to entertain the possibility that Ken Tremendous is a wonderful guy in real life, I will NOT take him seriously when he tries to pose as a model of restraint and tolerance!

    So, he thinks it’s awful that latter day politicians demonize each other, eh? He thinks it’s terrible that Democrats and Republicans can’t disagree civilly and then go out for beers at the end of the day? He thinks it’s wrong to insult and degrade other people just because they have differing opinions?

    Okay, that’s a fair position to take. Or it WOULD be for anyone but Ken Tremendous!

    Was he ever charitable toward old school journalists who don’t buy into advanced baseball stats? NO!!! He mocked them mercilessly and called them morons.

    When he criticized Ned Coletti (who had the nerve to replace the undeniably brilliant and undeniably unsuccessful Paul DePodesta), did Ken stick to the merits of Coletti’s decisions? No! He mocked EVERYTHING about Coletti, down to his wardrobe (especially his trademark boots).

    Yes, I understand that Ken is a comedy writer, not a politician. Perhaps he treated “Fire Joe Morgan” as a lark and as a chance to crack jokes. Perhaps he didn’t intend to get vicious or personal in his insults..

    But he did! And if he can get THAT riled up about a kid’s game, if he can get THAT angry about people who don’t see the merits of “Defensive WAR,” if he can get that mean to (probably) nice people he doesn’t even know over Derek Jeter’s defensive skills (or lack of same)… can he really be surprised that people get far MORE vicious about SERIOUS issues like abortion, gay marriage, and foreign policy???

    Ken Tremendous is the last person in the world who who should be telling anyone else “Be civil, courteous and friendly to people you disagree with.”

    • Vin says:

      This comment is reminds me of Republicans who complained that Jon Stewart is being mean to them when he mockingly points out that the Swift Boat veterans were full of it, or that Obama was not, in fact, born in Kenya. Niceness does not constitute a free pass to ignore reality.

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