Let’s face it, season six of Parks and Recreation was not the show’s best. Despite its many poignant moments, particularly in the storyline focused on Chris and Ann’s pregnancy and their subsequent exodus from Pawnee, it was a season that didn’t know exactly where it wanted to go. It was soul-searching time for Parks, and not to mention the center of the show Leslie Knope. At the end of season five, we saw her win a difficult election, but her subsequent time as city councilwoman went from rocky to miserable, and her return to Pawnee’s Parks Department was anti-climactic to say the least. It was time for some sort of change, but both Leslie and the show seemed uncertain about how to do this or what it would mean.
Leslie wasn’t the only character the show didn’t know what to do with, either. Chris and Ann’s absence mattered, but far more importantly, Parks and Recreation, the show focused on progress and hard work, was no longer moving forward. The characters were adrift, and while setbacks were important for keeping the show from being sheer idealistic propaganda, the fact is that Parks and its characters weren’t very good at dealing with this. In the later half of the season, a deus ex machina of a character came down and offered Leslie another path to move forward with the National Parks Service, one not decided by elections from idiot fellow-citizens, but despite this offer Leslie wavered. Ultimately, that in itself was something Parks also had trouble with, because Leslie isn’t a person who wavers; she knows her own mind and always does what’s right. It felt, oddly, like the show’s writers were working out what she should do right alongside her, with this determining what the future of the show looked like. In the meantime, many stories felt like filler, and while the jokes were as good as ever, individual Parks episodes began feeling less unique.
One of the two problems “Moving Up” was framed around was this indecision, which it did its best to set up as irreconcilable. For Leslie, leaving Pawnee is unacceptable, as is passing up this position, and the happy ending is the clever twist of how these two problems are solved in a way that’s at least marginally realistic. The other problem was the opening of Tom’s restaurant, which has consumed a lot of the better stories for the past half-dozen episodes because opening a business is something the show knows how to write, unlike indecision—which, outside of Hamlet, generally doesn’t make for the most exciting stories. First we had Tom’s initial struggles after he insanely declares a soft opening for Tom’s Bistro far before it’s ready, but then there’s the equally satisfying resolution of how the Unity Concert, which the cast has been preparing for in the background, saves Tom’s business as well as Pawnee. The way everything works out here is very neat, but with so much time to show it in the actual execution, it’s also given time to be entertainingly messy.
There’s actually not that much story in the traditional sense in this 42-minute episode, but that’s its strength. In order to work things out for Tom, plus keep Leslie on the fence for as long as possible, “Moving Up” features more fan-service references, celebrity cameos and callbacks to other favorite moments of Parks than any other episode of the show, or pretty much any show, in a way that made this less a season-finale than a series finale—to the point that it feels a bit strange that the show will continue. Everyone will have their own favorite moments, but I’ll mention a few of mine: the triumphant return of the Cones of Dunshire (which, if you’re listening NBC, I’d happily purchase myself), Duke Silver making an appearance and revealing his identity, Ginuwine declaring Li’l Sebastian his pony and above all, Ben wearing his Letters to Cleo t-shirt backstage at their concert. It was a fantastic cavalcade of gags that, aside from bringing back old cast members, featured nearly every popular recurring character on the show, in each case giving them a quick gag before moving them out of the way for the next big moment.
The most important thing “Moving Up” did, however, was to revitalize Parks and Recreation. Admittedly the show was on an upswing already with the last couple episodes, but by the end of “Moving Up” it felt like Parks had a direction again. Leslie Knope was no longer having an existential crisis; she was taking on a new adventure, just like she promised Andy and April. The progress that was missing for so much of the season returned in full force, and it was a beautiful thing to behold, a celebration that was impossible not to get caught up in. While much of season six implied that Parks’ best days were behind it, that perhaps the show, while still good, was ready to end, what we saw here answered that by saying that the show has pushed this stagnancy behind it and, like its lead, has a better future ahead of it.
—After all of that, the scene we saw during the credits was strange, very unlike Parks...or at least unlike an episode that was not a true series finale. After a quick, not terribly great cameo from Jon Hamm, we get a view of Leslie and her now-huge Parks team three years from now. Things are essentially the same, though busier, but it was just such a strange choice to show this at all considering that the show will be coming back. A great way to end things were the show done, but as it stands I’m not sure why they chose to do this.