It’s that time of year again—season finale time! Last year, I had a lot of fun grading the season finales for all the shows I watched, so I decided to try my hand at that again this year, starting with the season finale of Parks and Recreation.
Title Are You Better Off? (5.22)
Written By Mike Schur
What Happens? Leslie celebrates the conclusion of her first year as a city council member with a town forum where she asks the people of Pawnee, “Are you better off now than you were a year ago?” Unfortunately for Leslie, most of the townspeople feel they aren’t better off, and they launch into a litany of complaints aimed at her perceived attacks on their personal freedoms (campaigning against giant sodas, keeping Lot 48 from becoming a Paunch Burger location) and moral indecency (teaching sexual education to senior citizens, turning the video rental store into a porn store). This impassioned group of angry Pawnee citizens then begins a campaign to recall Leslie from her office, but Ben encourages her to stand strong in the face of this adversity because he knows she truly believes Pawnee is in a better place than it was before.
While Leslie is fighting her detractors, her friends all face various other long-term challenges. Andy finds a positive pregnancy test in the garbage at Ron’s cabin, and he resurrects his Bert Macklin persona in order to discover the identity of the mother-to-be (with Ann’s help, as we soon learn the test isn’t hers). With Leslie and Donna eliminated from the hunt, Andy is led to believe the woman is Mona-Lisa. Tom is initially terrified of the idea of his unstable girlfriend brining a child into the world. (Plus, he already has problems of his own with a new competitor for Rent-a-Swag—who may or may not be Diddy—opening a store across the street.) Thankfully for all involved, the test isn’t Mona-Lisa’s, but then Andy is left with only one other option—April. However, April also isn’t pregnant, though she does have big news: She got into veterinary school in Bloomington, and Andy is more than happy to support her as she chases her dream. In the end, Andy believes his detective work was all for naught—until Diane enters Ron’s office and asks to talk to him.
Game-Changing Moment The end of this episode featured two big moments that set up major changes for some of the most beloved members of Parks and Rec’s supporting characters. First, the news of April’s acceptance into veterinary school was surely a shock to many (including myself) who’d assumed she was going to be the woman behind the pregnancy test. I have to admit it; I liked this plot twist a lot better than the idea of April and Andy being parents because both of them clearly aren’t ready for that yet. However, April’s new career path felt right after a season of watching her grow, and I loved seeing Andy be so supportive of her.
The second of these major moments was the reveal of Diane’s pregnancy. I did not see that twist coming at all (although my mother did!), and I loved being so surprised by it. For most of the episode, I was wondering why there was such a lack of Ron after he’d been on the receiving end of some really great storylines this season, and then I got my answer. After that ending, I found myself already getting excited to see where this will take Ron next season. His relationship with Diane was a welcome addition to Season Five, and I can only imagine that impending fatherhood will be a welcome addition to Season Six as well.
Bert Macklin, FBI. Chris Pratt. I have such a soft spot for Andy, and sometimes I feel I don’t give Pratt enough praise in my reviews because he’s so consistently brilliant. In a show filled with characters that seem to radiate goodness, Andy may be the best of them all, and so much of that comes from the guilelessly sweet way Pratt brings him to life. But he also manages to add enough ridiculous humor and pitch-perfect slapstick to keep Andy from becoming too sweet or too naïve. In this episode, the return of Bert Macklin gave Pratt a ton to work with in terms of comedy. (I will always laugh whenever he says “Macklin, you son of a bitch.” ALWAYS.) But this episode also gave him a chance to show the good heart that makes Andy such a lovable character despite his moments of total idiocy. I love that we as an audience can always see how much Andy loves April, and those two really do bring out the best in one another. His perfectly endearing support of a dream he found out about 20 seconds before was so genuine that it put a huge smile on my face. There can never be too much Chris Pratt in an episode for my taste, so this finale was a real treat for me as an Andy fan.
Most Memorable Line “This case just got interesting…Well, not just—it was pretty interesting to begin with…This case just remained interesting.” (Andy)
What Didn’t Work There was a part of me that really loved the fact that this episode felt different from previous Parks and Rec finales because that meant the writers felt confident enough in the show’s future to set up conflicts for another season. However, part of me felt that in setting up conflicts for next season, a little bit of the emotional power of other Parks and Rec episodes—especially other finales—was lost. What I like most about Parks and Rec is its sense of optimism, its ability to make me happy, but this finale left me feeling less optimistic than I usually feel after watching this show. I know life can’t be sunshine and rainbows all the time, but I genuinely felt terrible for Leslie, to the point where it kept me from enjoying the episode as much as I wanted to. I love when Leslie’s friends rally around her to help her achieve something, so this anti-Leslie rallying by the people of Pawnee was basically the opposite of my favorite thing about the show. I found the whole episode less emotionally satisfying than others that came before it this season; I love when Parks and Rec makes me cry, and that didn’t even come close to happening during this episode. While I understand that not every episode can be as powerful and potent as “Leslie and Ben,” I was expecting a little more from the finale in terms of emotional engagement.
What Worked All that being said, I enjoyed the heck out of this episode from a purely comedic standpoint. While I may not have liked the negativity in Leslie’s plot, I did get a kick out of seeing a number of my favorite Pawnee citizens again. It’s also always a joy to see Jean-Ralphio, and the return of Bert Macklin was one of the best things about this episode. Most of the characters got at least one laugh-out-loud moment: Leslie’s dance movie references, Ben telling Leslie not to wag her finger, April’s plan to adopt creepy adult twins, Donna’s condo in Seatttle, Jerry’s joy to be back and to be picked on, Tom’s questioning what he’d unleashed upon humanity if Mona-Lisa was pregnant, Chris being the Nipple King…
Besides the comedy, I really loved the way the show’s two central marriages were depicted in this episode. I’ve already mentioned how genuinely sweet I thought the last scene between April and Andy was, and I’m always surprised by how these two completely opposite characters work so well together in such a believable way. For getting married on a whim, I’ve never doubted how strong their relationship is, and that’s a testament to both good writing and great acting. And I could wax poetic about Ben and Leslie’s marriage for hours (and have done exactly that). This episode wasn’t as Ben/Leslie-heavy as other episodes this season, but Ben’s pep talk was perfect. I liked that all he had to do was give Leslie a little nudge to get her to fight back. He knows Pawnee is better off with Leslie on the city council, and he knows she knows that, too. His impassioned “Then screw them!” was one of my favorite moments in the episode because it showed that he’s Leslie’s Leslie—the voice of passionate support for a woman who so passionately supports everyone else in her life. Ben believes in Leslie, Leslie believes in herself, and that’s enough to inspire her to stand tall against the people who want to bring her down.
Burning Questions to Keep Us Guessing All Summer How will Leslie fight back against the people wishing to recall her from office? Will Ron have a son or (hopefully) a daughter? Who’s opening the store across from Rent-a-Swag? (I’d love to hear your guesses on that last one—I’m hoping either Jean-Ralphio or some awesome celebrity willing to do a cameo…Okay, I really just want it to actually be Diddy.)
Final Grade B. Overall, I liked this episode and found it incredibly entertaining, but I could say that about literally every episode of Parks and Rec. I did love Andy’s storyline, the big Ron shocker, and Ben Wyatt’s general existence. However, this episode was just good rather than great. This was a fun episode that set up a lot of things for next season in a way that felt true to all of the characters. However, it wasn’t in the same league emotionally as the best this show can produce (“Leslie and Ben,” “Halloween Surprise,” “Win, Lose, or Draw,” “The Debate,” and “Citizen Knope” come to mind). I liked it well enough, but I think I’ll be re-watching other episodes this summer instead of this one.