Post Mortems

Parks and Recreation Boss on [Spoiler]'s Series Finale Return and the Perils of Predicting the Future

Parks and Recreation Series Finale

Warning: The following Q&A contains spoilers from Tuesday’s Parks and Recreation series finale.

Let’s do the time warp again.

That was the mentality of Parks and Recreation‘s writers as they approached the NBC comedy’s super-sized series finale, according to showrunner Mike Schur.

“We had just done this time jump to get from the end of Season 6 to the beginning of Season 7, so it was sitting right there,” Schur says of the show’s final episode, which consisted of multiple flash-forwards into the lives of the Pawnee gang. “We were like, ‘Well, why don’t we just keep jumping through time? Let’s just jump into the future and give everybody a mini-story, a glimpse of what happens to them.'”

The hourlong episode found Leslie reuniting her former co-workers for one last Parks Department task: fixing a broken swing in town. As Leslie turned to each of her onetime officemates for help, viewers got to see glimpses into the future of every character, ranging from the year 2019 all the way to 2048.

Parks and Recreation Series FinaleAmong the highlights: Leslie and Ben’s political careers flourish (she ultimately becomes Indiana’s governor for eight years, he’s elected to Congress… and one of them might have become president at some point?); Ron, having retired from his job at the Very Good Building and Development Company, becomes superintendent of the national park Leslie made a reality; Tom manages to turn even his financial failures into success as an author; April and Andy finally have a baby (and a second on the way!); Donna, as expected, lives an utterly fabulous life, before turning her attention (and her money) to creating after-school programs for teachers like Joe; and Garry ultimately becomes Pawnee’s official mayor, for years and years, before he passes away shortly after his 100th birthday.

Still, despite her friends’ many life milestones, Leslie confesses that all she really wants is to have her favorite group of people back in the same room at the same time. So, in 2025, Ben makes that happen on a trip back to Pawnee, not only reuniting the usual suspects, but the much-missed Chris and Ann (which was litrilly every Parks‘ fan’s dream come true).

And yes, they do eventually fix that swing.

Below, Schur reveals to TVLine which characters’ futures were left on the cutting room floor (for now, at least), whose happy ending was hardest to write and whether he was tempted to take any finale cues from The Sopranos. (The answer might surprise you!)

TVLINE | Last time I spoke to you about the Parks finale, you said that you spent a lot of time watching other series finales and trying to figure out what made the successful ones work. Once you figured out what that formula was, did it make the writing process easier for you?
Yes and no. The part that made it easier was the sense that a good series finale allowed fans of the show to project forward and extrapolate in terms of what happens to the characters after the finale ends. The details of those stories, though, were very hard and took a lot of time. We wanted to explore every single possibility. It’s a lot easier to just end the show, and then hope that people imagine good things for the characters, than it is to actually write stories where you get to see it. We spent a tremendous amount of time mulling over exactly what should happen to each character, and discussing pros and cons of those stories. So it made it a little bit easier, but it also led us into a situation where we had a ton of work to do in order to get it right.

TVLINE | Was there any character whose future you particularly struggled to write?
I wouldn’t say it was a struggle. It’s all fun work. It’s really fun to take Tom Haverford and say, “Here’s the sum total of all the things that have happened to this guy. What are we going to show happening in the next 10 years of his life in four minutes?” It was enjoyable and fun and really challenging, in a good way. The most difficult one was probably Leslie and Ben, because they’re the main characters of the show. [Laughs] I was like, “Boy, we need to get this right.” We didn’t want to get into any situation where people who are deeply invested in Leslie and Ben, as characters, felt like we had left anything on the table.

There were certain characters, like Ron — that image of Ron floating away in a canoe in that new job. That was something we knew, from the moment we knew that Leslie was going to try to establish a new national park, I was like, “Oh, that’s how it ends. Ron is the superintendent of that park and he floats down a lake in a canoe.” That was instantaneous, and we had known that since before the season even started, that that was going to be the way Ron’s story went. Other ones, like Leslie and Ben, we debated and debated and debated. It took a lot longer to make sure that we got it right.

Parks and Recreation Series FinaleTVLINE | Were there any other elements of the finale that you’d known for months, maybe even years, that you wanted to include in the last episode?
I felt very strongly that Ron was going to be working for the National Park Service, at least from the moment when Leslie was offered that job. Ron is like a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt in many ways, and Teddy Roosevelt was also a Republican who believed that the nation’s resources should be saved and preserved for the public good. Ron literally says, “Bully” a lot, which is right out of Teddy Roosevelt’s playbook. [Laughs] That kind of idea has been around for at least a couple years, but everything else was a product of coming up with the actual structure of the finale and then beginning to talk about what we would show, and where we thought everybody should end up.

TVLINE | There’s a pretty clear formula to the finale, so you know that whenever Leslie encounters someone in the hallway, you’re going to see that person’s flash-forward. Were there any thoughts of breaking that formula at some point and doing something unexpected during the episode?
That was already a pretty big swing, that she takes a walk with Tom, and then you see Tom’s future, and then you snap back to the moment that she was hugging him, and you see the same thing with each character. That felt like enough device to me. There were actually a couple that we didn’t get to use. We shot futures for Councilman Jamm and for Shauna Malwae-Tweep, which is really funny, and it really killed me to have to cut it. It’s going to be on this longer producer’s cut that we’re releasing for public consumption. But once we settled on that device, I didn’t feel like we needed to change it up. I felt like what you would want as a viewer is, “Oh, good, now I get to see what happens to this person and this person.”

TVLINE | Obviously, a huge moment for longtime fans was the return of Chris and Ann. Had you wanted to bring them back earlier in the season, or was the idea always to have them appear in the finale?
I had gotten in touch with them before we even started planning the season and said, “Look, you guys have to come back at least once. It wouldn’t be a final season without both of you here.” They’re both extremely busy people, and it became obvious that it was going to be a real “shoot the moon” situation to get them on the same day. The easiest way to do that was to make it the week of the finale, because that gave us the most time and the most flexibility. Since the finale is an hour long, and we’re shooting over two weeks, we figured there’d be one day in those two weeks where they’d both be available. All I really cared about was that they both came back, and luckily, they were able to.

TVLINE | Was there anyone you wanted to get for the finale that you weren’t able to get?
No, there really wasn’t. We got very lucky in that a lot of the people we wanted to bring back one more time, among the weirdos of Pawnee, were available to come back this year. We got Sam Elliott, we got Paul Rudd, we got Megan Mullally. We got a lot of the people that we really loved. There were a few people we didn’t get. We couldn’t get Lucy Lawless back, which was sad, and there were a couple others Parks_Finale_Funeralthat we went after to try and have one last ride. But for the finale, no. We wrote it and executed it in exactly the way we had hoped to.

TVLINE | Looking specifically at Garry’s flash-forward, I couldn’t help noticing the Secret Service-type men who were standing with Leslie and Ben at Garry’s funeral. Are we to assume that one of them became president down the road?
We do a lot of very explicit storytelling, in terms of what happens to all the characters, and I wanted there to be a little ambiguity somewhere. We never say that those people are Secret Service, or just security guards, or whoever they are. It’s the year 2048. A lot could have changed. They never use a title or an honorarium to refer to either Leslie or Ben. In fact, it’s not even clear whether that guy is talking to Leslie or Ben in that moment. What I wanted to do is create a situation where fans of Leslie, or fans of Ben, or fans of both can make up their own minds about what they think happens between the moment she’s speaking on stage and receiving her honorary doctorate after being governor for eight years, and that moment, which is 12 years later. Ben is also a congressman, and a lot can happen to either of those characters. I wanted there to be something that gave people the opportunity to fill in their own blanks a little bit with either or both of those characters.

TVLINE | Speaking of ambiguity, this is obviously a light-hearted show and one that you felt should tie up loose ends for the viewers. But was there ever a temptation to leave things more open-ended, especially for Leslie and Ben?
There was. In everybody’s story, when you’re showing what happens over the course of many years in a very short amount of time, we definitely discussed versions of stories that had a lot more ambiguity to them. But that’s for dramas. [Laughs] The reality is that you want the sense of happiness. And the major episodes of the show that have been the most satisfying to me, emotionally — because it’s a comedy — are the ones that just make you breathe a nice sigh of relief that you know everything’s OK. Ultimately, it became more important to me to tell everybody explicitly that these characters are going to be OK, than it was to do something a little artier or more dramatic and more of a question mark. I personally love The Sopranos‘ ending. I know it’s a hotly debated thing, but I love it so much. But if you do that in a comedy…. [Laughs] It would be a real bummer! That’s not the ride that you were on when you watched our show, if you watched our show. I wanted to just make people feel like the ride came to a nice, pleasant stop and everybody got off and was happy.

Parks fans, how did you feel about the series ender? Grade the episode in our poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts on the finale!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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62 Comments
  1. bradick says:

    The first half was perfectly-Parks-weird. The second was funny and endearing. I’ll miss Pawnee, Indiana and the whole gang. That was an extremely satisfying finale to one of the greatest, funniest, sweetest series to grace television.

  2. Amanda says:

    I thought the finale was absolutely perfect. Going to miss these characters and Pawnee so much. Thanks for 7 seasons of laughter (and some crying!)

  3. JK says:

    One of the best final episodes I’ve seen.

  4. Theresa says:

    So sad to see the show end but loved the finale.

  5. Dave says:

    In my mind, Leslie becomes president. Stop

  6. ScrubsGuy says:

    The perfect finale for P&R. It leaves you feeling hopeful even though you see everything turning out great for everyone. From Leslie’s final “I’m ready” in 2017, they can barely imagine the greatness ahead of them but we do and it’s wonderful. Goodbye P&R – you will be missed!

  7. Maddy says:

    I can’t believe they didn’t bring back Paul Schneider or at least make a mention of what Mark was up to. He was a part of the show for 2 whole seasons.

    • Gail says:

      In an interview he did, he said he didn’t want to come back.

      “When you first left, Mike Schur mentioned that you might come back now and then. I get the impression that’s not going to happen.

      No, I’m not interested in going back. And that’s very generous of him. But I’ve never been contacted about that nor have I any interest in going back.”

    • One says:

      I’m happy he didn’t get back, he left the show because he got too big for his britches and wanted to focus on a film career that didn’t take off, and the character sucked anyway

    • Will says:

      The interview that Gail references with Paul Schneider is on the website Screen Crush, FYI.

  8. Dude says:

    Loved the finale SOOO much! Perfect.

  9. Ashley says:

    A great finale for a great series. I’m gonna choose to believe that Leslie became President though!

  10. webly3 says:

    In my mind, Leslie Knope is president in 2048. It would be a well-deserved position for her. :) And that’s how I interpreted that scene.

  11. Tom says:

    It was perfection. That’s how you do a series finale. Other shows need to take note.

  12. amberreed01 says:

    This was one of the best finales ever. I know it’s popular to leave things open-ended for shows because “there maybe a movie or we might get picked up by Netflix or YouTube for another season” or “we might reboot the show”. I prefer when things are wrapped up. I’ve spent a lot of time with these characters. I want to know what happens to them in the future.

  13. Amie says:

    Beautiful.

  14. Tran says:

    I give it an A+. Really hope Amy Poehler gets Emmy nominated soon.

    • Tom says:

      Aubrey Plaza deserves a supporting actress nod if you ask me, she belted so much out of the park this season, she really did a fantastic job

  15. Williwasnt says:

    It was a great finale. My only issue with it, though, is that it wasn’t a great episode of television. We’ve already seen the time jump series finales, hell Parks already skipped three years. I was hoping, from the episode’s title, that the episode would be a simplistic, typical episode of the show, with a few finale moments sprinkled throughout. Overall, it was great albeit a little disappointing.

    • Every episode of every show on television is in some way derivative. The flash-forward has been done hundreds of times, but who cares? What matters most is that they used the device well and to hilarious effect. It was one of my favorite series finales. To each his/her own, I guess. :)

  16. Katie says:

    Loved every second and getting to see everyone’s future. I held it together until Leslie starting crying when she saw everyone in the office, and then it was over for me…

    Also, my personal headcanon about the “secret service” guys: Leslie is president, and Ben is the royal archduke emperor of all inhabitable lands on earth.

    Thanks for all of it Parks peeps! I love you and I like you!!!

  17. madhatter360 says:

    Did we ever learn the name of the third triplet? We know the daughter is Sonia (Sonya?) and one of the boys is Stephen (Steven?) but I don’t think I ever heard them name the third one. I thought maybe they said Connor during the scene when the kids rush in and grab dinner, but I wasn’t sure.

    • Katie says:

      I believe Ann or April said it later as well… But in any case, I’m pretty sure they are all named after past/current Supreme Court justices, so that would make sense!

    • gparks92 says:

      In the credits there were Sonia, Stephen and Westley listed together so I am assuming they are the triplets names

  18. Emily says:

    Now THAT is how you make a series finale (You hear that, HIMYM and Two and a Half Men?)! Mike Schur and everyone involved in this should teach a class for every sitcom on how to end your series.

  19. Tricia says:

    Perfect.

  20. Carl says:

    One of the best finales ever. I recall what TV Guide said about Happy Days’s finale, “Sentimental without being sappy, it sent the series out with class.”

  21. James D says:

    very well done finale with some very sweet moments. Loved the Ron and Leslie scenes. Glad they got Rob and Rashida back to tie it all together. Gone miss me some Ron Swanson.

  22. Lois says:

    An amazing and perfect finale. I loved every single second. It was weird and funny and so moving – so Parks! I’m gonna miss this show and the people of Pawnee so much.

  23. rowan77 says:

    That was a great finale. This show was always so wonderfully weird but still tugged at your heart strings and that describes this finale as well.

  24. Josh says:

    Way to put the most spoilery photo on the sitebefore the show even comes on in the west coast haha…Kind of rude :p.

  25. DreamRose311 says:

    Please please please let the Complete Series DVD Box Set have the Late Night with Seth Meyers episode on there. PLEASE. I mean, that was just a perfect example of why the show was so great.

  26. Joey says:

    So basically Six Feet Under with less death. Well done, Parks and Rec, well done.

  27. sara says:

    Well of course Leslie becomes president, there’s no doubt in my mind. Awesome finale, so sad to see it go!

  28. Rdub says:

    “A f**king Library” was litrally the funniest line in the finale!
    Punk ass book jockeys.

  29. Anna says:

    Loved it! It was literally the best series finale I have seen in a looooong while! This made me cry tears of joy. Well done, Parks and Rec. You’ll be missed dearly.

  30. MB says:

    I was definitely hoping to see Mark Brendanawicz again, since he was also an original member of their crew. Leslie is the kind of person who clearly hates losing touch with people, so it’s kind of strange that he was never mentioned again after he left.

  31. KS says:

    Ben is the only one of them wearing a flag pin in that shot, so maybe that’s suggesting that he became president.

  32. Mel says:

    Excellent finale. Looks like Mr. Schur got an A+ on his finale research project.

  33. katedfw says:

    Perfect ending for a great show! That is how you do a finale (I’m looking at you HIMYM)!!!!

  34. Nick says:

    Flash forward for Jean Ralphio? Perfection

  35. Joey Padron says:

    the finale was great and funny. it was great to see a look into characters futures. gonna miss the show a lot.

  36. T says:

    I only will give it a B because it didn’t have enough Ann Perkins and my absolute favorite Chris Traeger. I know they only had them for a day but I think they could of expanded it a bit. Otherwise it was really good.

  37. casey says:

    So when can we expect the sequel show with Leslie as President!
    That was literally the most perfect series finale ever. I laughed, I cried, I wished it would never end.

  38. Mary says:

    “Ultimately, it became more important to me to tell everybody explicitly that these characters are going to be OK, than it was to do something a little artier or more dramatic and more of a question mark”

    I wish the How I Met Your Mother producers had realized they were making a comedy like the Parks people did.

  39. David4 says:

    Paraphrasing…

    ‘It’s a comedy. We want everyone to be happy.’

    Why can’t more comedies realize this? Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, Will and Grace, Roseanne all went for depressing instead of funny.

  40. goldie7203 says:

    Just noticed in the still above that Ben is wearing the traditional flag pin of acting politicians and Leslie is not. Hmmmmmm……those crafty buggers.

    • madhatter360 says:

      Presidents get secret service protection for some time after they finish serving. Maybe Ben is still a Congressman, while Leslie has finished her time as president. :)

  41. Sara says:

    I thought the finale was wonderful!! I think my only disappointment is that we never saw the finished park that they had worked towards from the start of the series. But it was a great finish to a great show!!

    • Kellie says:

      I think they did reference the park being finished in another episode. The swing that needed repair should have been located there!

  42. Leon says:

    I LOVED the finale. So funny and so touching. I’m really gonna miss all the characters.

  43. Allen says:

    I don’t think the finale could have been better. How could this show have not been more popular? It’s in the top three sitcoms of all time, and it never got terrific ratings. The writing was as strong and thoughtful as any series ever made. Why didn’t more people pick this up?

  44. Utter perfection – both the final season and the finale. THAT is how you end a series. I only wish every show could go out half as well (*coughHIMYMcough*).

  45. phuong says:

    i loved the finale just give the people what they want after the whole fiasco with the endings of 2 1/2 men and how i met ur mother i was nervous to watch how parks would end but i was pleasently surprised

  46. Jooshua says:

    President Knope and Vice President Wyatt.. first husband and wife to run together. Knope/Wyatt 2044!!

  47. Rich Abey says:

    I am stumped by that hour-long finale. Truly at a loss for words. Beyond my wildest expectations for the Parks & Rec finale. Can make out just one: PERFECTION!

  48. Rachel says:

    I really loved it. Some shows, even comedies (I’m talking about you HIMYM) have poopy series finales and this one really lived up to the happy, optimistic tone of the show without being too sugary. I think the show really grew into its own and it’s obvious the cast really cares about it and each other. The finale was great and the “after-show” with Seth Meyers was awesome as well.