On the series finale of “Parks and Recreation,” one of the show’s more likable losers finally made good with a best-selling advice book titled “Failure: An American Success Story.”
That joke has a second bounce.
This NBC sitcom, which starred Amy Poehler as a dedicated civil servant and ardent feminist in Pawnee, Indiana, was never a ratings giant, but it had a well-deserved following. The little comedy that could lasted seven seasons and was very funny and sweet all the way to its Tuesday night end.
“Parks and Recreation” was a celebration of workplace friendships and well-meaning underdogs that lived up to its promise: The series finale, which kept flashing forward, lovingly tied up loose ends without undoing the bond among the show’s core characters.
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And, in that way, it was the opposite of the recent series finale of “Two and a Half Men,” an epilogue driven by bitter jokes about its errant former co-star, Charlie Sheen, whose public battle in 2011 with the show’s creators was so toxic that Sheen declined to make even a brief cameo at the end.
A stand-in was hired for the final episode to play his dissipated character, Charlie, who hadn’t died after all, as was previously assumed, but was nonetheless crushed by a falling piano.
If there were clashes behind the scenes of “Parks and Recreation,” they never became public. It was easy to believe in the affection and camaraderie shared by the main characters.
Poehler’s Leslie Knope was always an improbable sitcom heroine, a fiercely ambitious, hardworking, happy and, by Season 5, happily married city bureaucrat who actually wants to help people, and is pilloried for it. One of the running jokes of the series was how little the citizens and local media of Pawnee appreciate her: In Season 6, she lost her post on the City Council to a recall, and had to return to the city parks department.
In one of the show’s final episodes, Leslie found herself targeted by both a local feminist association and a men’s rights group during the congressional run of her husband (Adam Scott).
“Men have had a very rough go of it for … just recently,” a protester shouted at a rally. “And it ends now.” Leslie, as usual, was undeterred, later striking back by telling a group of protesters, “You’re ridiculous, and men’s rights is nothing.”
Poehler, an alumna of “Saturday Night Live” and several movies, was already a star when the show began in 2009. But “Parks and Recreation” gave other young comic actors a chance to prove themselves.
Chris Pratt, who played the happily ignorant Andy, went on to star in one of last year’s biggest movies, “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Aziz Ansari, who played Tom, the insecure, sleazy would-be entrepreneur who finally makes his fortune by using his Pawnee colleagues as models in his book, “Failure,” and its sequel, “Failing to Fail,” forged a stand-up comedy career successful enough that he was able to do two shows at Madison Square Garden in October.
All the characters were funny and well imagined, but Aubrey Plaza was particularly memorable as April, the unpleasant, uncooperative and deadpan office intern who kept being promoted. Even at the end, she didn’t entirely lose her mean streak.
The show, which earned cachet among a certain set (guest stars included John McCain, Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who returned Tuesday night for one last cameo), didn’t end too soon. It was running out of steam, and this seventh season, which was set in 2017, involved a frantic scramble to manufacture friction between Leslie and her office soul mate Ron (Nick Offerman), a libertarian who didn’t believe that the government should have anything to do with parks or recreation.
Nobody died on the finale of “Parks and Recreation,” except Garry, also known as Jerry (Jim O'Heir), a notary public and Pawnee’s most bumbling bureaucrat: In a flash to the year 2048, Garry dies after celebrating his 100th birthday following many happy years as mayor of Pawnee, surrounded by his gorgeous wife (played by Christie Brinkley), children and grandchildren.
It was made clear that Leslie, who worshiped Hillary Rodham Clinton and had always wanted to be president, was headed for higher office. Leslie’s ambition came early: When she was asked if she would run for governor of Indiana, Leslie turned rhapsodic, saying, “Someone’s been reading my kindergarten dream journal.”
The show ended with a blooper reel and a warm group hug, like the finale of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Real life doesn’t always provide such happy endings. Harris Wittels, 30, one of the series’ writers and executive producers, died last week, apparently of an overdose.
The final frame of the finale was a written message: “We love you, Harris.”