NBC’s ‘Parks and Recreation’: ‘The Little Sitcom that Could’

A group of government employees in a small Indiana town does not seem to make for a very interesting sitcom, but NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” turned that premise into one of the best shows on network television. As it came to an end Tuesday, the show made sure it left its mark in the hearts of its fans.

“Parks” never garnered huge ratings. According to TV by the Numbers, the final episode drew 4.2 million viewers, its largest audience since 2011. In comparison, “The Big Bang Theory” entertains around 18 million people every week.

And while critically acclaimed, “Parks” has never had much success during awards season. “Parks” won no Emmys in 12 tries.

Despite the lack of recognition, “Parks” lasted for seven seasons, and its final season was nearly perfect. This was the little sitcom that could. It endured a rough first season and early comparisons to “The Office” to become one of the best sitcoms in recent memory.

“Parks” is a smart, uplifting show, one that does not rely on cheap, low-brow humor to make viewers laugh. The cynicism that is prevalent on so many sitcoms today is replaced with a fresh breath of optimism.

‘Friends, waffles and work’

The greatest strength of “Parks” is in its wide cast of characters and the talented roster of actors that brought them to life. Because the show has 10 major characters, it’s easy for viewers to find two or three that they identify with. “Parks” connects with viewers because its characters feel human, and this is only helped by the fact that the characters go through major changes throughout the seasons.

Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is the enthusiastic government worker who takes her job too seriously.

“There’s nothing we can’t do if we work hard, never sleep, and shirk all other responsibilities in our lives,” she tells her coworkers.

But by the end of the show, Leslie learns to place relationships above her career.

“We have to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles and work,” she says. “Or waffles, friends and work. Doesn’t matter. But work has to come third.”

Andy Dwyer (rising star Chris Pratt), the human embodiment of a Labrador retriever on an everlasting sugar-high, is gleefully ignorant yet selfless.

“My whole life is a giant mess,” he says, “and I love it.”

His girlfriend and eventual wife, April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), is the exact opposite. Dark, brooding and cynical, April hates people, places and things. But seven seasons sees Andy go from shoeshine boy to TV star, while April changes from an apathetic intern to a proactive government worker.

Cast members of NBC's "Parks and Recreation" (left to right) Adam Scott, Jim O'Heir, Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari, and Retta pose  during their 2015 Press Tour.

Cast members of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” (left to right) Adam Scott, Jim O’Heir, Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari, and Retta pose during their 2015 Press Tour.

Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) is a sarcastic, cocky employee who’s always trying to get rich.

“When I bet on horses, I never lose,” he says. “Why? I bet on all the horses.”

But after a few failed business ventures, he matures into a fiscally responsible businessman. He is also a man who, while not on the level of Barney Stinson, is always chasing after women. As he grows older, however, he begins to realize the importance of a lasting relationship.

But the most enduring character on “Parks” is Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), a staunch libertarian who loves meat and hates change. As the director of the parks department, he is a father figure to his younger employees. He goes from a man who isn’t worried about caring for others to one who is ready to help his friends when they need him. At the beginning of the sixth season, Leslie comes to him asking for advice on her career, and he tells her, “Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.” Ron’s willingness to stick to his morals, no matter what other people think, makes him one of the better role models on TV.

There are a host of other characters, too, such as fitness nut Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), accounting nerd Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), and the clumsy Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir). And that’s not to mention the plethora of minor characters, including the braggadocious Jean-Ralphio Saperstein (Ben Schwartz), the obliviously awkward reporter Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson), and the greatest miniature horse of all time, Lil’ Sebastian.

No matter what viewers’ tastes are, viewers are likely to find at least one character to connect with, and this is what makes the show so great.

Saying good-bye to Pawnee, Indiana

The final season of “Parks” is a fitting send-off, giving the viewers a cup of nostalgia mixed with tears. It does feel a bit rushed though, as the show goes through several different storylines in only 13 episodes. Leslie and her friends fight against a big corporation suspected of data mining, Tom finds true love, one character mulls over running for Congress, and a broken relationship is repaired.

All of this leads up to the final episode, where all loose ends are tied up and every character gets a happy ending. But the final episode will also bring a tear to the eye of the fan who has loved the show during its seven seasons.

‘There has never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food’

This show may hold the record for most weddings in a sitcom, with every major character united in holy matrimony by the time the finale rolls around. In a world where marriage has lost some of its luster, it’s nice to see a show that recognizes the importance of the union.

“Parks” showed that people with contrasting political views can work together and become friends, something that Congress has yet to figure out. It reminded viewers of the importance of breakfast food. It taught audiences to enjoy the little things in life, to find meaning in even the most mundane of tasks, to do our jobs even if we won’t get any recognition.

The entire show can be summed up in one line that Leslie says while addressing her friends.

“When we worked here together, we fought, scratched and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better,” she says. “What makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love.”

Ron Swanson once said there was no sadness that couldn’t be cured by breakfast food. He was wrong. Watching this show come to an end conjures up a grief that can’t be cured by waffles or all the bacon and eggs in the world.

Binge-watch the first six seasons on Netflix, and watch the final season on NBC.com.

Jon Gallardo is a junior journalism major and sports editor for Cedars. He loves playing basketball and quoting Napoleon Dynamite. He hopes one day to play in the NBA.

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