'Parks and Recreation' Season Finale: 3 Ways the Show Has Changed Sitcoms


This Thursday comes the moment every Parks and Recreation fan has been simultaneously anticipating and dreading: the show’s season five finale. And since a renewal has not yet been confirmed for this fantastic show, we must spend the next few weeks praying to our dear DJ Roomba in heaven that we get to see more of Leslie, Ron, and April on our TV screens next fall.

In anticipation of the show’s summer send-off, we’re looking back on the revelatory choices Parks and Rec made that instituted it as the perfect trailblazer for a new era of sitcoms.

1. A show can be optimistic

Following the “no learning, no hugging” mentality of Seinfeld, TV shows took the postmodern trend towards sarcasm and comical indignation as a new law. Shows like Arrested Development, The Office, 30 Rock, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia portrayed characters that bicker and prank more than they compliment and help each other. Though built from the same model (and writers) as its often-pessimistic predecessor The Office, Parks and Recreation has heralded a new era of TV since its premiere in 2009 — one that follows happy characters and encourages its viewers to let out an occasional “awww.”

This new wave of sentimentality includes Modern Family, Go On, The New Normal, Raising Hope, and more, but none can compare to the inherent joy of Parks and Recreation. Everyone in the Parks and Recreation department loves each other — well, except for Jerry, but it’s just Jerry. They all genuinely want the others to succeed, so much so that everyone puts in weeks of work on Leslie’s councilwoman campaign without a second thought. This is a team — no, a family — that will slide and stumble their way across an ice rink for each other. Now that’s love.

2. Relationships do not need drama

Will-they-won’t-they couples have been all the rage since Cheers’ Sam and Diane. Friends brought this trope to its breaking point when it kept Ross and Rachel apart for an entire decade. Since then, sitcom characters have been falling in love and getting married with little drama, aside from a season or so of furtive smiles and stolen glances. Parks and Rec kept main couple Ben and Leslie’s pining stage relatively short at around 16 episodes before the two got together.

This season, Leslie and her adorkable boyfriend were married in a sweet and unique ceremony that took place — where else — in the Parks and Recreation department. The show’s secondary couple, Andy and April, were married in the third season with as little fanfare as possible; the wedding was even a surprise for the guests! While it has long been said that marrying off protagonists can ruin a show, Parks and Rec remains strong. Next up? Tackling the issue of pregnancies and babies on a sitcom, this time through the semi-couple of Ann and Chris. If there’s any show that can pull off adding a baby without subtracting quality, it’s Parks and Recreation.

3. Female protagonists can be great

Leslie Knope is awesome. There is no denying this; it is a fact. But what makes Leslie so awesome? She is a woman so dedicated to her job that she makes a scrapbook of her best moments there — and yet, she is not the archetypal “career woman” who is uptight and has to have a man show her how to let loose. Leslie is the perfect combination of bright-eyed optimism and street-smart savvy.

She puts as much time and effort into her job as she does into her friendships. She cheers up perpetual curmudgeon Ron Swanson without being a “manic pixie dream girl.” She defies all stereotypes by being a well-rounded character that occasionally fails and makes mistakes but also prevails by using her confidence and intelligence. Do you like New Girl? You can thank Leslie Knope for proving to viewers and writers alike that a flawed but successful woman protagonist can properly anchor a sitcom and paving the way for Jess.