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Friday, April 25th, 2014

Season Six of 'Parks and Recreation' Was a Love Letter to Pawnee

Leslie Knope has been through a lot since we first met her at Pawnee's Parks and Recreation office back in 2009. She's cycled through jobs, relationships, and personal challenges, always coming out with a hyper-optimism that is rarely displayed in modern sitcom characters. This season we watched her hit her highest highs and lowest lows, and, if the final minutes of last night's season finale are any indication, her struggles over the last six seasons were totally worth it.

We came into season six with Leslie in the rare position of being extremely disliked. What followed was a struggle to regain the affection of the residents of the town she holds so dear while also uniting it with their greatest rivals (Eagletonians) and being pulled away from Pawnee for a dream job. And that's just her professional life. Personally, she's adjusting to being newly married, losing her best friend to Michigan, and, perhaps the largest life adjustment of all, learning she's having triplets. Leslie is spread more thin than we've every seen her, relying more heavily on those around her for support.

And that is what made season six shine. The show is at its best when our central ensemble is working together, bolstered by the ever-entertaining Pawnee residents who come out of the woodwork. This season, we got the added treat of Eagleton characters joining the fold, bringing about, in my eyes, the strongest guest character since Ben Schwartz's beloved Jean-Ralphio: Billy Eichner's delightfully abrupt and emotional Craig.

At the heart of it, Parks and Recreation isn't just about Leslie Knope, it's about the town of Pawnee, and that message came through brilliantly in one of the series' best finales to date. Starting off in San Francisco, Leslie presents her merger plan at a conference; Andy and Ben meet with a start-up helmed by Workaholics' Blake Anderson to get the town free wi-fi only to discover that Cones of Dunshire has become a huge success; back in Pawnee, Tom, with some help from April, Donna, Larry, Ron, and Craig, is preparing to open his Italian Bistro. Everyone, it seems, is in their element. Things fall apart for Leslie when she learns the merger may be more difficult to pull off than she thought, and after some encouraging words from Michelle Obama, she decides to accept her dream job offer in Chicago.

The Unity Concert serves as, potentially, Leslie's final farewell, and the perfect setting for every citizen of Pawnee to make an appearance alongside some killer musical guests. (Parks and Rec is the only show with the ability to feature Michelle Obama and Ginuwine in the same episode). Leslie searches for staffers to bring with her to Chicago, with no luck. Leslie Knope is not Leslie Knope without Pawnee and the people in it.
The second half of this episode was essentially a love letter to Pawnee and all the people in it. They pulled in callbacks from as far back as season two and brought in every character from Perd Hapley to Tammy 2 to the Sapersteins to Councilman Jamm. It's a place where characters have already reached their full potential (Tom is finally a successful business owner, Ron is a father and no longer hides his Duke Silver persona, Andy is a rock star), and with a final flash three years into the future, we see it's where Leslie will achieve her dreams as well.We see her in 2017, at the hub of a government buzz, still surrounded by the usual suspects (including the newly-named "Terry") while firing a cheery Jon Hamm and rocking some killer bangs. We meet her three kids, being taken care of by Aunt April and Uncle Andy, and she's on her way to an event for a tuxedo-clad Ben in a fancy elevator that looks to be more like something out of Mad Men. Pawnee has become the center of a giant government project as Leslie always hoped, and she's proving that she can have it all.

According to Mike Schur, the next season will pick up at this moment in 2017, avoiding the struggles of Leslie's pregnancy and building up the National Parks office as she jumps straight into her newly-elevated personal and professional world. It's strange to imagine what the show's supposedly final seventh season will bring – everything about this episode felt satisfying as a series finale – but there have been few faults from the Parks and Rec crew so far, and I can't wait to see where they take Pawnee next.