Parks & Rec embodies a lot about the indefatigable spirit that comes with failure and how to move past it. The show so captures this that the last name of its heroine is “Knope”, with a silent K. Amy Poehler’s show, now in its seventh and final season, started back in 2009 with the premise that it was impossible to do anything in city government even with the hardest-working and most optimistic person on Earth pushing for it. The premise of the show’s first two seasons is bringing a tiny park into creation in the face of mountains of red tape and local opposition. In a clever move, the last struggle faced by the good people of Pawnee, Indiana mirrors their first on a grander scale: how can you make take a bunch of land that nobody is using and turn into a national park?
The antagonists (Parks & Rec is far too nice a show to have any enemies) on this last season are also far more intimidating. Back in Season One, Leslie Knope had to deal with the vague and multi-faced bureaucracy, which she found could be met head on with endless optimism and hard work. Now, she’s faced with something far more tangible: money. Season Seven moves Pawnee into the near future, 2017, when a tech giant, Grzzyl, has set up shop in town. Grzzyl has picked Pawnee to set up shop in a fashion similar to how Zappos chose downtown Las Vegas: a small, underdeveloped area with a lot of room for growth. Grzzyl’s entrance into Pawnee has fundamentally changed the town’s landscape, with new businesses and shops following suit. Grzzyl is looking to settle down in the town by buying a huge plot of land from the town’s former richest company, candy maker Sweetums, and to use that land to make a new campus. Leslie wants that land for her park.
Leslie is outgunned. She pulls out every trick in the book: when she can’t raise enough money to even hope to compete with Grzzyl on that front, she tries playing the prestige card, the history card, the love-of-the-town card. Nothing works. Whenever she thinks she’s made inroads, Grzzyl simply ups its offer. Finally, Sweetums calls off the struggle. Leslie loses. Gryzzl buys the land. It’s all over.
Feeling like a failure, Leslie works herself into a sweat on a side project, trying to save a local diner. Working through this problem, she comes across an abandoned neighborhood full of functional and empty buildings. In a last ditch effort, she calls over Grzzyl representatives, who give her seven minutes before their 4:20 break. It’s at this time she realizes what her failure has been: she’s been working against an impossible enemy when she could have been making a new friend. She makes a new case, one not focused on Sweetums, the old guard, at all. She now says that if Grzzyl wants to set up roots in Pawnee, it must respect and understand the place. It must grow with the town, as opposed to throwing things down and seeing what sticks. She uses Grzzyl’s recent and very public overstepping into data mining as an example of how doing things without public consent can backfire. Giving the government the land and developing this new area, she says, will show a bond between this new powerhouse and the town where it wants to set up shop.
And it works! Grzzyl buys the plan, or at least takes it under serious consideration. Leslie is able to figure out that working with an old set of rules doesn’t apply to the situation at hand, one where money is like water. She can’t fight the way she knows how, and when she does she loses. So she makes friends instead. It’s as good a way for Parks & Rec, which has always been one of the sweetest shows on television, to come to a close.