In the NBC sitcom's series finale, America becomes a place called Knope

By Tom Gliatto
Updated February 25, 2015 01:05 AM
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Credit: Colleen Hayes/NBC

Amy Poehler‘s wonderful Parks and Recreation ended its seven-season run on NBC Tuesday night with an hour-long finale that wasn’t strictly necessary: The season had been so good – and so good at building to this goodbye – that the show seemed to have already sneaked out of the room during a game of peek-a-boo.

You took your hands away from your eyes and realized the room was suddenly empty.

At which point you began to cry.

The finale, which was charming, touching and abundantly ridiculous, went so far as to suggest that Pawnee politico Leslie Knope (Poehler) had fulfilled her dreams – or destiny – and become president. Or at least we were nudged gently toward that conclusion by implication and indirection: At one point, for instance, Leslie seemed to have her own Secret Service detail.

This was in keeping with the show, and with Leslie: Even though she was the best civil servant any community or country has ever produced, she was always modest and polite. She could be obsessive about detail and was often seized with enthusiasms that would matter only to what used to be known during the Clinton presidency as a policy wonk. In general, in fact, she was a little squirrely – but modest.

Serving others mattered more to her than accumulating power.

This was Parks and Rec, not House of Cards.

The hour began with Leslie leading her colleagues through a numbingly long presentation detailing every incident of their individual and mutual careers. She was nearly ready to launch into a musical number about that time the office got a new coffee machine, but a citizen stepped in to see about getting a swing repaired. To Leslie, this was duty sounding its glorious trumpet one last time.

At that point the show leap-frogged into the future – more accurately, leap-frogged further. The entire season already had been unfolding in 2017. This had allowed the show to move the plot ahead while explaining it backward – that may not make sense, but it’s how it played – and providing the setup for many fine little absurdities. (For instance, actor Shia LaBeouf would become a successful jewelry designer.)

Now we suddenly landed in 2023: Donna Meagle (Retta) had made a fortune in real estate in Seattle, where a giant haystack was being constructed around the Space Needle. (Also, she and her husband had vacationed in Middle Korea.)

The show ended up foreseeing events for its characters all the way to 2035 (and beyond). At that point Leslie was politically prominent enough to be having a university library named after her.

“Knope,” after all, rhymes with “hope.” And “antelope,” of course, and “phalarope,” but “hope” is the one that matters.

You could argue that all this, even the promise of a Knope presidency, seemed anticlimactic after Bill Murray‘s recent cameo appearance as Pawnee’s mayor. But that, too, was keeping with the show’s modesty.

Besides, the mayor was dead. Murray was in a casket with his eyes closed. He looked oddly pleased.

Like the series itself, he seemed not only resigned to – but content with – having departed.