‘Parks and Recreation’ Skips Ahead to a Promising Future

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While I would never say that Parks and Recreation had a bad sixth season, I could surely make the case that it was an average one, even boring at times. For all the changes that happened — Ann and Chris moved away (and Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe left the show), Ben lost his job, Leslie was removed from City Council, Leslie got pregnant with triplets, Jerry became Larry, etc. — everything still felt very much the same. It’s a safe show, one that’s overly sweet and hopelessly optimistic, but what was once refreshing began to feel repetitive. To be honest, I was dreading the season finale and worried about its predictability, but it featured a fantastic twist that has me excited for Season 7.

After nearly an hour of normal and generally funny Parks and Recreation material (Leslie is unable to make up her mind, Ben adorably geeks out, Andy’s always-hysterical dopey lines, Tom’s new business venture), the show took a sudden detour and jumped into the future. Leslie fails to convince everyone to move to Chicago with her, but she manages to talk her new employer into allowing her to stay in Pawnee. First, the episode jumps forward one month to show Leslie packing up her desk and moving to the third floor. Then it goes a step further and jumps forward three years, to show a high-powered and slightly hardened Leslie — now with bangs! — firing an incompetent employee (Jon Hamm) at her new job. There’s Ben in a tux, Jerry with yet another a new name (Terry), and April and Andy babysitting the triplets. It’s a drastic change, but a very welcome one.

After six seasons just about any show, and especially a sitcom, would greatly benefit from a shake-up, but it’s rare that the writers recognize this and go all in. Parks and Recreation, while still enjoyable and full of solid jokes, was visibly starting to wear thin. This time jump is just what the show needed to reinvigorate the series. It’s a reboot of sorts, but everyone is still there — executive producer Michael Schur has said that the whole cast will be back next season, even those who weren’t shown in that end scene — and Leslie is still as passionate as ever, if not more. Leslie’s passion for parks and Pawnee is what shapes her character, but it’s also what made me worry about the future of the show — how long would Parks continue to keep her in the same town and working the same job simply because she loved it too much for any career advancement? It’s not necessarily a bad thing for a person, but it can be stale for a fictional character that we’re supposed to be entertained by. Fortunately, this won’t be the case for the next season.

This time jump also eases my other big worry about Season 7: Leslie’s pregnancy. I’ve never been a fan of pregnancy storylines in television, though I recognize it’s become the natural trajectory for most sitcom narratives. Yet there are few TV tropes I hate more than the “Screaming Birth,” and I can’t think of any childbirth scene I haven’t fast-forwarded through. Not to mention that all the pregnancy tropes — the hysterical mood swings and crazy food cravings! — are tired, and have already been done with Ann’s character. Personal gripes aside, Parks and Recreation just wouldn’t be Parks and Recreation if it suddenly became a show about parenthood. We don’t need to see Leslie and Ben running around a madhouse filled with babies just to know that they’re good parents, because we already know that they’re going to be amazing parents — just look at how they’ve mentored characters like Tom, April, and Andy.

Skipping ahead three years bypasses all of this so the show can continue to focus on what it’s always been about: Leslie’s work family and the good that she does in the world. In an interview with HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall, Michael Schur eased my fears and explained why the writers made this decision:

But once we committed to [Leslie’s pregnancy], we began imagining ways to avoid repeating what we had already seen with Ann — pads and foot pain and sleepless nights and so forth. The jump forward allows us to avoid a lot of things that (I would imagine) fans were fearing about getting Leslie pregnant, in terms of the stories we tell going forward. That was a big reason I liked it.

Over at Entertainment Weekly , Schur says that next season will feature a few flashbacks to fill in the gaps, but “we’re not going to see Leslie pregnant for the whole year, we’re not going to see her give birth.” What a great solution! Leslie has her kids and we don’t have to witness it. Schur understands that many fans, myself included, were instantly worried by Leslie’s pregnancy reveal. It’s not that Leslie shouldn’t have kids, it’s the worry that a show that was so wonderfully progressive and feminist might have a season full of boring, overdone diaper hijinks that overshadow what the show is really about. Parks and Recreation has no interest in cheapening Leslie’s character with a Very Special Childbirth episode when it could just fast-forward past all that and continue to be a great workplace comedy.

What I’ve always loved about Parks and Recreation is that it didn’t ask its audience, “Can a woman have it all?” because it knew that was a dumb question. Leslie can have whatever she damn well pleases — a dream job, a husband who freaks out about Letters to Cleo, a set of adorable triplets — and Parks never made a big deal out of that, either.

Outside of that, this time jump is just an admirable and bold choice for Schur and his team of writers. Time jumps are tricky and can come off as cheesy (it’s good that Pawnee is a town stuck in the past, so its version of 2017 is probably our, like, 2005) but this is the first time I’ve welcomed one. “Moving Up” could double as a series finale and work just as well, but I’m glad it’s not because, for the first time in a while, I’m truly invested in this series again and can’t wait to see more of future Leslie Knope.