I’ve been writing conventional recaps of Parks and Recreation all season, but this was an episode of the show that made me feel like I needed to sit back and reflect for a moment. All season, Parks has been wrapping up loose threads. Leslie and Ben are engaged, and appear to be getting married in next week’s episode of the show. The fight with Councilman Jam to claim the former pit for Pawnee Commons, the issue that introduced Ann and Leslie and was the first frame issue the show ever had, appears to be at its tipping point. Ron Swanson is as close as it’s possible for him to come to outrageously happy. Tom Haverford has a small business up and running. Chris is in therapy, and Ann is looking for a sperm donor, a pair of trajectories that seem designed to bring them back to each other as more stable, confident individuals. All of this is wonderful — I’ve come to like all of these people very much, and I wish only the best for them.
But their happiness, and the resolution of Parks’ major issues, raises an interesting question. What would Parks sixth season look like? At the beginning of this season, I would have said that this year seemed likely to be Leslie Knope’s last on our screens. But NBC’s ratings have been so dismal this year, and its comedies have performed so badly, that I now think we’re going to get another season in Pawnee. And while I like that idea in theory, I’m starting to have some doubts about it in practice. If Parks and Recreation is going to come back for a final season with its characters issues largely resolved, rather than sticking around to see that happiness dissolve as The Office has done with Jim and Pam, what will it be about?
I actually think there’s a fairly successful version of Parks to be made that shifts its focus away from Leslie and towards its strong supporting cast. I’ve been rooting towards a show that has more A stories focused on April and Andy, particularly one that would follow Andy through his first year in training to become a police officer — despite his failing the personality test last night, I imagine the show will find a way to get Andy in uniform, and not just when he’s roleplaying as Bert Macklin — and April as she finds an independent job in city government. I can actually see April doing fairly well at the library, pitting her particular brand of deadpan smackdown ability against the wildness of Tammy 2. It’s also way overdue for Parks to spend more time with Retta, and to give her plots that don’t revolve around her being sassy and sexually voracious.
I also think Parks could do something it should have done this season, and find a new issue for Leslie to champion, and spend more time with her colleagues. Councilman Jam’s been one iteration of the kind of person who goes into local politics, a petty man who uses his office to benefit himself financially by fighting for Paunchburger’s expansion. And the wacky, aged racist who is one of Leslie’s other colleagues is in keeping with Pawnee’s…questionable history. But they’re not even close to the full potential of local government. If the Parks Department could exist in a world that felt so huge and varied, how come Pawnee City Council, once we and Leslie finally got there, feels so small?
But whatever the show decides, I think, as funny as Andy’s enthusiasm, and Ron’s meat fixation, and Ann’s singleness are, Parks and Recreation needs a shift of emphasis in its sixth season. Getting us out into parts of Pawnee, and hey, maybe even into Eagleton and Indianapolis a little more, could give Parks a creative revitalization rather than a slow coast towards its end. The show, and Amy Poehler in particular, deserve as good as 30 Rock got.