After a solid, seven-season run on NBC, the Parks and Recreation department will be shutting it’s doors.
The show repeated the all-too-familiar scenario of being a critical darling that not enough people were watching, but unlike so many others it persevered, rallied back for renewal, and managed to stay on the air. As Alan Sepinwall noted in one of his farewell posts to the show, Parks resembled it’s main character Leslie Knope in this regard. Undaunted by low ratings, it managed to continually slip its head off of NBC’s chopping block for enough years to give loyal viewers genuinely satisfying character arcs and fully realize a world that will be remembered as a truly great series in an TV era that was full of stiff competition.
Like any young member of talented family, it took awhile for the show to distinguish itself and its virtues from its massively popular older sibling, the Peabody-winning American version of The Office. This was particularly the case in the short six-episode first season. In those episodes, the show was still in in the shadow of Steve Carrell and company’s memorable interpretation of banal, workaday drudgery. The similarity was due largely to the two shows sharing a parent in Parks co-creator Greg Daniels, who developed The Office for NBC. Hoping to capitalize on the show’s success, NBC wanted something like The Office.
Although stylistically the two shared the mockumentary form, what distinguished Parks was its optimistic social satire that somehow gave the audience a sense of hope—but not a empty-headed, everything is fine type of optimism. The show’s most enduring legacy will be how it maintained a gracious sincerity towards Leslie Knope and company and the often thick-skulled citizens of Pawnee who she tried to help, despite their best efforts to refuse it. As the seasons progressed, Knope’s tenacity to improve her hometown spread through her workplace, making the characters better workers and citizens as the seasons progressed.
Even after the hilariously negative, near misanthropic view of human nature, we see in Seinfeld and then amplified in the more recent It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Parks and Rec somehow turned back time. It charmed us with warmth towards humanity and the idea that citizenship still matters, without pulling punches on the voting public’s often insane behavior. Parks and Rec reminded us that satire can be funny, sharp, even biting, and still have a heart and hopefulness at the center.