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Bye Bye Old Parks and Recreation, You’re 5,000 Candles in the Wind

Spoilers through the most recent episode follow!

Final Season Of Parks And Recreation

About to head into its final season, Parks and Recreation has been a ride. This past season has seen more radical changes than any other, including the apparent loss (or at least reduced screen time) of two beloved characters. Ann and Chris have been the first main characters to leave since Mark Brendanawitz (remember that guy?). In case that didn’t already sound like the end, three characters had kids, two characters changed jobs, there were a ton of guest stars in the last episode and the season ended with a three year time-skip. With all of that you would think that would be the series finale, but no, there’s another half-season to come. At the end of the other seasons, viewers have had at least some idea of how the next season would begin, but with the flash forward at the end of this past season, Parks and Rec has shattered its own norm. Michael Schur, the show’s co-creator, said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, that the writers are ready to do “some more fun experimental stuff.”  The status quo has been completely changed so we don’t really know what to expect. And that’s fantastic.

The time-skip essentially created a new normal for the show. When they pick up at the time-skip in season seven, we know that things have had to change enough to get to that point. Leslie has to get a bit more aggressive in her new national parks position. Ben has to either have a new job or be doing something spectacular enough to need a tux as city manager.  Furthermore, their kids have to actually be born, Andy and April have to have not changed a lot (that we can see anyway), and Terry (Larry,Jerry, Gary) seems to still be the butt monkey even if he has managed to actually retire (for real this time). This leaves us with a lot of questions about the other characters. Did Ann and Chris stay together? How’s their kid doing? Did Tommy’s Bistro fail? Will Donna get any more character development? Is Ron still a passable parent?

The great thing about this is that all of the questions the flash-forward created give the writers a ton of power and an open playing field. As Chris Traeger would say, the writers can now lite-rally do anything with the story. We trust them to not suddenly turn it into Game of Thrones or Star Trek (though Ben would be thrilled), but other than that they can use the time jump to explain just about anything. According to the staff, this means Parks and Rec is heading into uncharted waters. Until now, they’ve been doing a good job of setting up trope-y sitcom situations and still managing to keep the plot and the humor fresh. The time-skip is a jump away from convention, a jump that it seems the writers–and actors–have been capable of taking before, but lacked the opportunity. Now that they have the opportunity, it will be fascinating to see what they do with it. We can only hope that they will use this freedom to bring the show to the great ending it deserves.