A graceful finale or a tragic end?

The cast of Parks and Recreation.

Parks and Recreation‘s storyline, though frequently ridiculous, always had its own internal logic. It made sense that we’d focus on these individuals’ personal lives, since they worked together in the city’s parks department. And we understood the personalities of each lead character: Ron was a caricature of manhood, who abhorred openly-expressed emotions and government dependency. Leslie was an over-eager, socially-awkward bureaucrat. Tom Haverford was a narcissistic syncophant with a penchant for overconsumption.

When its fifth season ended in May, Parks and Rec sat at a dangerous crossroads. The quirky NBC series (long a darling for both critics and meta-comedy fans) had already wrung dry its settings and the lead caricatures. In an attempt to extend the comedy context, the show stretched in new directions: Leslie Knope ran for city council. Ben Wyatt took over as president of the Sweetums Foundation charity. Tom Haverford launched a startup, catering to fashion-conscious middle schoolers.

But stretch things too far, and seams start to show. For instance, though multiple characters[1] have left the parks department, their lives remain improbably linked. And as the characters mature—Leslie mellows, Ron softens, Tom wises up—their interactions grow more normal and less… well, funny. We loved Ron’s eccentric hermit routine; hitching him to a bland, typical woman (even one played by Xena Warrior Princess) waters him down. Sinking Leslie into the bureaucratic machine gums up her frenetic, hilarious approach to government work.

At some point, you risk ruining what made Parks and Rec so great to begin with. It may not collapse like mush (as did its mockumentary predecessor, The Office), but it won’t end well. Here’s hoping the showrunners have the courage to call it quits before things get ugly.

How should the show end? Two things have to happen. First, Amy Poehler gets her wish, and Bill Murray guest-stars as the long-mentioned (but never-seen) Mayor Gunderson. Second, Leslie Knope gets her wish; Lot 48, an abandoned eyesore and a one-time safety hazard, becomes a picturesque city park.

  1. Leslie, Tom, Ben and Jerry.