Last night’s episode of Parks & Recreation made me sob. No joke, total ugly cry on my couch. P&R has always sort of been the little sitcom that could and part of its success lies in its balance of over-the-top ridiculousness with honest human emotion. Last night’s episode was a perfect example of this.
When we left Pawnee at the end of the 6th season, Ron (Nick Offerman, still as steady and stubborn as always) was wishing Leslie (Amy Poehler, sharing the weight of the show with her costars) well in her new job at the National Parks Department and giving her his blessing to move on without him. The start of the 7th season jumped forward 3 years and found Leslie and Ron at each other’s throats for mysterious reasons and pitted against each other for the right to buy the Newport land (or NEWportLAND as everyone pronounces it) and either turn it into a national park (Leslie) or a technology campus (Ron) for Gryzzl. Last night, we found out where all of this fighting began.
To Leslie their rift began when Ron bulldozed Anne’s house to create the Morningstar apartment building next door to the Pawnee Commons, the park she basically willed into being. She saw that as a deep betrayal of their friendship and everything she stand for – Ron “spitting on everything [they] did together at Parks”. For Ron, it began much earlier. It turns out that when Leslie left the Pawnee Parks Department, she slowly poached all of her coworkers and the ones she didn’t poach left to create their own businesses leaving Ron alone in a government job he hated with a bunch of people he didn’t consider “casual work acquaintances” (friends to the rest of us). When Ron realized that he missed them and got up the nerve to ask Leslie for a job with the National Parks Department, she stood him up at JJ’s and his loneliness quickly turned sour. The image of Ron sitting alone at JJ’s and Leslie’s realization that she let her career get in the way of their friendship is what put me over the edge.
In the end, their rift seems easily solved by Ron in Craig’s yellow yoga outfit, Leslie botching the lyrics to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (“Daddy ate a squirrel!”) and a montage of the two of them returning the Pawnee Parks office to its heyday set up. But it’s more than that, of course. It’s the recognition of their friendship, the acknowledgement of hurts, the clearing of the air by two of the most stubbornly optimistic (Leslie) and pessimistic (Ron) characters ever on television. And it made me cry because it felt so true. How many of us haven’t grown apart from old friends due to one misstep that we don’t even see in hindsight unless it’s pointed out to us? Was what Ron did with Morningstar terrible and hurtful to Leslie? Of course it was, he tore down the site of some of her most cherished memories – where she got dressed for her wedding, where Anne taught her how to make a smokey eye, where her very best friend used to live. But what she did was worse (especially considering that her mind is a “steel-trap for friendship nuggets”) and she owned up to it in the end.
Man, I love everything about this show. Most particularly the “Somebody’s Daughter Dancers”, Ron’s ability to whittle a key that actually locks his old office door and Leslie’s creative torture tactics to get Ron to talk (hitting him and saying “talk to me” over and over, covering him in post-its, dripping water on his mustache, blowing a fan into his ear, “you guys, Ron loves plastic”).
But what I love the most is the way it puts the relationships between the characters front and center and makes them feel real. Despite the fact that Ron is as “grumpy old man” as you get, he still (reluctantly) needs his friends. And regardless of the fact that Leslie thinks she can do no wrong, she is woman enough to admit that she really isn’t 100% perfect. I don’t know who is going to win the fight for the Newport Land (please be Leslie!) but the real winner in this final season is clearly the audience.