By the end of Season Two, NBC's Parks and Recreation, the ugly cousin of the network's monster hit The Office, was heading toward uncertainty. Despite a cast led by Saturday Night Live alum Amy Poehler and some promising talent in Chris Pratt and Nick Offerman, the show just wasn't performing well. Thankfully, the crew's salvation came in the form of a pregnancy.
Showrunner Michael Schur spoke to Rolling Stone ahead of the seventh and final season's premiere about what a long road it's been for the now beloved series. Poehler was pregnant toward the end of the second season, forcing NBC executives to make a decision — renew the show early so they could film a few episodes ahead of the pregnancy or scrap the whole thing. They opted for the former, and the show hit its stride.
The writers took chances on developing storylines, and the crew's goal was to "accelerate everything."
"We wrote as aggressively as we could — that meant we were intentionally writing ourselves into corners, but if it's a good staff you'll figure out ways to keep going and keep the world alive," Schur said.
The world of Pawnee, with all it's overweight, ridiculous citizens, survived, and it has earned a proper send-off.
The double-header premiere starts on the other side of a time jump from Season Six. Leslie Knope (Poehler) is now running a branch of the National Parks Service in the year 2017 and her crew of misfit, yet lovable, co-workers aren't too far away.
The Newport Group is looking to sell "some dumb old trees for a buttload of money," which prompts Leslie to try and secure the area for a national park. We then find out that Ron Swanson (Offerman), with the help of Internet startup Gryzzl, is already staking claim in the land for a college campus that the alpha male's new, privately owned building company will construct. Leslie pitted against Ron ... finally.
All Leslie has to do is convince the greedy Newport Group that it's better to take no money than taking $90 million. If there's anyone up for that task, it's Knope. She's even supremely confident, citing her previous experience of turning a pit into a park — where it all started.
April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) works with Leslie while Andy Dwyer (Pratt) has his own TV show based on his Johnny Karate alias. The couple gets freaked out when they realize that they're rapidly becoming boring. "Being a responsible adult sucks butts," April says. It looks like the former intern won't end the season at her new Parks job as she grapples with her dissatisfaction.
Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) is going strong with Tom's Bistro and a few other restaurants. He's reached that small-time mogul status, finally catching up to his over-the-top swagger.
Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) is now the father of three and continues to work for Pawnee. He's in charge of planning the Pawnee Bicentennial, which he hopes doesn't end up like his failed Ice Town experiment. We, on the other hand, hope it does.
Donna Meagle (Retta) is getting married and Jerry/Gary/Larry Gergich (Jim O'Heir) is now Terry. As always, they play bit parts in the storyline, and they execute it well.
Leslie, Andy, April and Terry vs. Donna, Tom and Ron. Act II.
Thankfully, Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser) is back and he's doing his best Swanson to keep Tammy 2 (Megan Mullally) happy. It's okay, Jamm's just a placeholder — Tammy's always after Ron.
Leslie and Ron temporarily end their battle to help poor Jamm fight off Tammy, which surprisingly works, but we haven't seen the last of that crazy librarian. (Leslie's Tammy impression is flawless).
All-in-all, these are still the characters we love, just older and trying to navigate life in their own ways.
Tom is still self-involved, stealing Ben's spotlight at a special gala, but he's alone and looking for love. Ron still loves to eat, hates the government and loathes his ex-wife. Ben's a mumbling, lovable fool. Andy is the eternal friend while April is still struggling with maintaining her individuality.
And Leslie, as always, is inspiring as she tries to complete a new mission. The gang's still together, despite different career paths, and that's a comforting starting point for the farewell. Yes, they're in the future, but Parks will always be rooted firmly in its hilarious, underdog past.
"And there's a couple of interesting form-breaking episodes," Schur added in the RS interview. "I haven't even begun editing the finale yet, but I believe and hope that the finale is one of the best episodes that we've ever done."