Warning: The following Q&A contains spoilers from Tuesday’s Parks and Recreation series finale.
Let’s do the time warp again.
“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.
Among 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.
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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.
TVLINE | 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 that 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!