Parks and Recreation just closed out its sixth season with a brilliant finale and a bold jump into the future. But while the future is finally bright for Leslie Knope again, the show itself is clearly in its end game. All the recent finale did was further prove that Parks and Recreation needs to go out on top in its seventh season – much like Amy Poehler’s best friend did with her own NBC Thursday night show.
30 Rock and Parks and Recreation don’t have a huge amount in common, save for having iconic female lead characters played by iconic funny ladies who happen to be best friends. But Poehler and Tina Fey’s cult classics have gone through the same trajectory lately, which Parks and Rec can further prove by ending with a brilliant seventh and final season, just as 30 Rock did.
30 Rock started quite slowly in its first season, as it didn’t know what to do with its lead character and actress – a struggle Parks and Recreation also dealt with early. But once Fey and Liz Lemon caught up to Alec Baldwin and Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock became a beloved comedy for a select few million viewers, many critics and Emmy voters for about four seasons.
When Parks and Rec finally helped Leslie catch up to Poehler’s brilliance, it took off in a slower way than 30 Rock, with fewer awards. But it too became a beloved favorite for critics and a select few million viewers, peaking in Seasons Three and Four.
Nevertheless, both shows began to hit some ruts in Season Five and the first half of Season Six. While they still had their fans and had people fighting to keep them on the air, the high bar they set in their early seasons was a bit too high. Like many shows going into their fifth and sixth seasons, the creative well was either running dry or hitting the same old notes – a trap that most shows normally don’t climb out of.
Instead of collapsing further and going on well past its expiration date, like The Office and How I Met Your Mother did, 30 Rock picked itself back up for the finish. It not only rounded back into form in the second half of Season Six, it got to set its own end date with a 13-episode final season that turned out even better. It culminated in a finale that let Liz, Jack, Fey, Baldwin and all of 30 Rock go out on top, solidifying its place as one of the premiere comedies of this era.
How I Met Your Mother utterly failed at this feat in the end, while The Office only ended strong in the final hours of an otherwise poor final season. But 30 Rock was the rare show that bounced back near the end and didn’t fall apart again – a feat Parks and Recreation is close to equaling.
After a brutal first half of Season Six for Leslie, she and the show were put back on their feet, with a new job, new family and new focus after the losses of Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe. Now after a season finale that could have served as a series finale, Parks and Recreation has a chance to run a final victory lap set three years into the future. But it will probably only work as long as it is the final victory lap.
Like 30 Rock, Parks and Rec can do wonders for its legacy, if it quits just as it is ahead again. Fey and Poehler can both go down in comedy history, as the leads of groundbreaking comedies that stumbled at first, shot out of the gate afterwards, stumbled again, got back up and then ended on top after a triumphant seventh season. Parks and Rec could even make their final run a mere 13 episodes long, like 30 Rock did, to complete the symmetry.
Given how Parks and Rec’s recent finale set a very high bar, and was more series finale like than most actual series finales, it would be harder for that show to pull off an even better real series finale. 30 Rock didn’t have such problems when it crafted its sendoff, and was always more of a wacky satire than Parks and Rec, so the standards for both shows are quite different.
In addition, 30 Rock didn’t take the dramatic risk of a big time jump after its Season Six. Such a risk would make many Parks and Rec fans consider Season Six the true ending if Season Seven is a letdown. But if it isn’t, and if the show ends then and there afterwards – whether by its own hand or NBC’s – Parks and Recreation will belong side by side with 30 Rock for even more reasons than Fey and Poehler.
Fellow NBC cult comedy Community is just hoping for six seasons – whether a movie follows or not – but seven proved to be just right for 30 Rock. It can be just right for Parks and Recreation as well, if Poehler and her friends keep on following the pattern that Fey and her crew have laid out for them.