SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s Parks And Recreation series finale on NBC.
After seven seasons and more than one or two potential cancellations, Parks And Recreation came to an end tonight with a lot of looks years into the future for Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson, Audrey Plaza’s April Ludgate and husband Andy Dwyer played by Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haveford, and former boy Mayor and Knope husband Ben Wyatt played by Adam Scott. There were hologram tablets and pop-up wrist communicators from 2023, spaceflights and a funeral scene from 2048 that suggested Knope or Wyatt had a political future at the very top.
There were also a ton of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them return cameos from Henry Winkler, Jenny Slate, Ben Schwartz, Keegan Michael-Key and Kathryn Hahn among others. Former series regulars Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe reappeared in Pawnee too, though a certain ex-warrior princess didn’t — alas. However, a certain Vice President of the United States, who is a sore loser at charades it turns out, did come back. In many ways, the Parks And Rec ender was a very untraditional satisfying series finale that actually tells you what happens to everyone – for better or worse, or really better.
Executive producer and showrunner Mike Schur chatted with me earlier today about the finale, why he thinks there was a need for a certain amount of closure and some ambiguity, what could happened next, and why The Sopranos finale is perfect.
DEADLINE: We know from the finale that Leslie Knope becomes a two-term governor of Indiana, but does Amy’s character become President Knope? Because it sure looked like it at Mayor Gergich’s funeral scene set in 2048.
SCHUR Well, that is intentionally ambiguous. We decided that because we were showing so many specific things about so many characters that there should be some little moment of ambiguity. Obviously, that’s a fairly big moment of ambiguity because it’s a very big question. But the way it was written and shot it was never said who that person was talking to. Was he talking to Ben or Leslie? He doesn’t use any honorarium to address either of them. It’s never said that he’s working with the Secret Service. He could just be a sedan driver potentially. That is because I wanted fans of the show to be able to draw their own conclusions about what happens to Congressman Ben Wyatt and/or Governor Leslie Knope. Whatever you decide is the path that occurred then that is valid as far as I’m concerned.
DEADLINE: Staying political for a second, you never got Hillary but you did get Vice President Joe Biden again. How’d you pull that off?
SCHUR: I think he had a good time the first time he was on the show and it delights me to no end that Vice President Joe Biden is now a recurring character on the show. I really enjoy that. But I think he just had a good time the first time and I think he got a lot of positive reaction from it. When we were going to Washington to shoot with a number of senators and also Madeleine Albright, we got in touch with his people and him and said, “We would love to shoot something that would air in our finale. We’d have to be very quiet about it because it wouldn’t be airing for weeks and weeks and weeks.” He was totally game, as was his wife, who we also wanted to be in the show.
I think one of the nice things about working on the show for as long as we did is that we slowly accrued this roster of real-life politicians, Newt Gingrich, John McCain, Olympia Snow, Barbara Boxer, Madeleine Albright and Kirsten Gillibrand. The more people who did the show the more they saw that we were not out to take them down or ridicule them or make fun of them. So, that led to this wonderful thing where we could get Orrin Hatch and Corey Booker into a comedy scene with Amy and Aubrey Plaza. We could also get Joe and Jill Biden to do a cameo for the finale. It’s really a nice sort of unexpected aspect of the show and how long it was on the air.
DEADLINE: Despite a lot of acclaim, Parks And Rec is a show that’s been on the bubble for a number of seasons. So, taking that into account, have you had a finale in the works for a while?
SCHUR: Honestly, no. I mean, we wrote a lot of episodes that could have sort of doubled as series finales. We did it in Season 3, we did it again in Season 4. We did it twice in Season 5 because we never were 100% sure of our fate. That meant that we didn’t have any preconceived notions about what the actual finale was going to be until we knew it was our final season and then we sat down to talk about it. That was actually kind of liberating. We weren’t married to anything because we had used up a lot of sort of finalish ideas already.
DEADLINE: Last season you moved the characters three years into the future but this finale jumps not just years but sometimes decades ahead in telling us what happened to the main characters. Why did you go for the Six Feet Under route as opposed to just a clean out?
SCHUR: Well, in part because we had done the time jump already and we had found it to be really exciting and fun and then we were discussing aspects of other show’s finales that we liked as a team, as a writers group and as a cast. One of the things that we kept coming back to was we really liked when finales, especially comedy finales, gave you the ability to extrapolate and to move forward through time and just sit in your living room years after the finale and think about the finale and think about I wonder where Ross and Rachel are now. I wonder what happened to the gang at Cheers. You can imagine Sam still tending bar. Those characters have a life, the finale projects them forward.
So, all of those things combined just sort of said to me this is the right move. We jump through time a little bit. We see everybody’s lives. We see a little glimpse of how they’re lives went in expected or unexpected directions and where they ended up. We’re never going to see the whole story. There’s not enough time but we’ll get a little piece of everybody’s story.
DEADLINE: You directed the finale as well as co-wrote it with Amy. Was there another direction for everyone’s story or alternatives that you considered taking?
SCHUR: No. I mean once we decided on the sort of writing of it and the construction of it we didn’t waver. It’s something I learned from Greg Daniels. You really don’t settle on an idea until you’re really sure it’s the best idea. Then once you settle on it you commit to it entirely. So that was always the plan. We knew it was kind of a big swing, but you’ve got to Leslie Knope it. You’ve got to just commit to the idea and press forward and trust that you made the right decision.
DEADLINE: Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe both make an appearance in the finale as do many other characters and actors from the show’s run. Now that’s happened a lot this season with Paul Rudd and others. How did that work out?
SCHUR: Making sure we got Rob and Rashida back was one of the first things we did when we got picked up for Season 7. I reached out to both of them and said, “it wouldn’t be right if you didn’t come back.” It took a lot of scheduling and coordination because they’re both very busy with a million things but we were able to find a chunk of time when they were both free and we locked them in. I’m so happy because it really would have felt weird, like there was a piece missing if they hadn’t shown up in the finale.
DEADLINE: But you weren’t able to get everyone back.
SCHUR: In general, we got very lucky this year because we got 95% of the people that we wanted to have come back at least one last time. Sam Elliott and Paul Rudd and Megan Mullally and Jenny Slate and Nick Kroll and all of those people were able to make it work. I’m very grateful to them because it made the final season feel like an appropriate ending.
We weren’t able to get Lucy Lawless back, which was a bummer because I love her and because she’s great. She lives as far away from L.A. as is possible to live. So, it’s hard to coordinate those things sometimes.
DEADLINE: When a series ends, Mike, it often gets judged, at least in the short term, by its finale. I have to ask you, what is your favorite season finale and which ones did you draw inspiration for in the case of Parks & Rec’s end?
SCHUR: Oh, I like so many of them. I mean like I said, I think The Sopranos finale is essentially perfect. I think it’s like a real masterwork. I love the Six Feet Under finale and obviously once we decided on this path we sort of started describing it internally as the comedy version of the Six Feet Under finale. I thought that finale was emotionally incredibly intense and very resonant. I love the Cheers finale, there’s a lot of them I like. There is a weird thing where people expect the last episode of something to be the best episode of something. I think that’s a little silly. I think as long as it’s an appropriate and a sort of well-toned conclusion for the characters that you’ve been watching for as long as you’ve been watching them then it’s done its job. I hope that people think that of the Parks finale.
DEADLINE: But, like that graveside scene with what seem like Secret Service agents guarding Ben and Leslie, you guys left some paths unexplored. Are we going to see any more Parks And Rec in the future, like Leslie and Ben’s Excellent DC Adventure?
SCHUR: I think it’s going to be nearly impossible to get any two of these actors in the same place at the same time as they go off to conquer show business. Honestly, it never had occurred to me that the finale is actually weirdly suggesting that that might continue someday. It’s the best job I’ve ever had and it was the most fun I could imagine having at work. So, somewhere down the line, who knows? I’ll never say never but right now there are no plans for any kind of reunion of any sort.