We’re All Grown Up: A Few Thoughts on ‘Parks and Rec’

I don’t watch many television shows. My criteria for picking the few programing options that fall into my rotation has never been exact. I watched to be entertained—trying to fulfill the full range of desired emotions with little to choose from.

I watch The Americans for the perfected agony and awkwardness. I watch Justified for the characters and the way it satisfies my new-age Tombstone-loving ways.  I watch Bob Burgers for its ability to wind me down after a long day of screen watching. I watched—drawing in the agonizing usage of the past— Parks, And Recreation because it made me feel really, really good about something—be it the characters or the task at hand—every single week.

I got drawn into the show on a mini-getaway. I was visiting a friend’s lake house, which was normally a post-college release of drunken stupidity. We were a little further out of college and starting to talk about getting old. So we watched some TV to balance out our dwindling drunken stupidity.

My friend requested I watch a show on a parks department—“Oh, the one with that dude and that mustache,” I said—so I caved. We watched an entire season, drank everything in sight and still talk about the pre-dad festivities now.

In many ways, that moment has always stuck with me. I was young, not married and didn’t have a child. Neither did the show, at least not then.

It was brilliantly written—just like always—but young and full of life. Over time, long after my lake house visits, it grew up. It had children. The characters grew storylines and found adulthood in different ways and at different parts of their lives. They got married, started families, grew out of their own post-college lives and found happiness in other arenas.

At this same time—paralleling this journey—I got married. I changed employment. I had a child. I grew up in sequence with the show. My friend is now expecting his first in the next few months. When the finale showed an obviously pregnant April get up from her table early on, I could feel my eyes start to swell as I looked toward my wife. She looked back at me in bewilderment, unaware of this personal realization. It was perfect.

The most emotion-less, youth-filled member of the show was pregnant and, just a little while later, would have a baby. Later on, she would point to her belly to signal more. More swelling.

With my baby monitor by my side and an enormous glass of wine in one hand, that hit a glorious nerve. The show, at that moment, felt like it was crafted to appeal to my interests and my interests alone. I’m sorry, you’re not involved.

Despite our unique paths, I imagine many of you felt the same way at various points of its existence—may be the finale or another moment entirely. That’s a gift. I’ve tried to think of other programming moments that have accomplished a similar feeling and struggled to find anything close. It got me.

When it wasn’t coming through my television and refilling my wine, Ron Swanson was in his own park, celebrating a new job given to him by his best friend in a canoe on his own personal lake. More swelling.

That was damn beautiful. It was obvious, over-the-top, sentimental and downright perfect in its obvious scripting. The show excelled by embracing what it was: a place people could go for 22 minutes each week and feel good about it.

It took chances doing so—enormous time traveling, caption-necessary chances—and it succeeded. We willingly bounced through eras because we trusted that we would end up in the right place. We saw wigs and bad bangs and submarines and grown children and so much more while embracing the journey. We accepted it because of course, we did.

I had reservations early on in the season about the jump in time. When the finale did the same, I smiled. It was a bold way to end a bold endeavor, and the show pulled it off while making it look like it knew what it was doing all along. (That’s because it did.)

They ended at just the right time in just the right way. Each character found unique satisfaction and sanctuary, just like all of us. I will miss it dearly, and I hate to watch it leave. But never has a show ended at just the right time. This one did.

I don’t know where Parks ranks in my all-time programming choices; I don’t watch many shows. I do know that I left the finale on a television high, a kind of rare family room floating that will be hard to topple. And when I think back to the joy the show brought me—and the things I was able to accomplish while seated in the sidecar—I can’t help but leave it feeling really, really good.