Thursday, February 26, 2015

Find Your Team And Get To Work: The 'Parks and Rec' Finale

[Look, this whole thing is going to be SPOILERS, so let's get that out of the way straight off.]

Be who you are. Find people you love. Do something that matters. Together.

If you took nothing else from the six awesome seasons of Parks and Recreation, it's clear from the finale that those three things are what the writers, actors, directors, producers, and everyone else even tangentially related to this show want you to understand. Those little tidbits of advice are the central strain of every storyline in the final season, as well as the thread that pulls together all the characters in the last episode. 

The last episode finishes out the storyline of the sixth season which found Ben and Leslie moving to Washington DC for new jobs in Congress and the National Parks Service respectively. April and Andy are also moving to DC so that April can start her new career at a non-profit, and because the idea of those four living more than a couple minutes away from each other would have been too much for our little viewer hearts to bear.

Meanwhile, Tom is marrying his awesome girlfriend Lucy and they're working together to expand his restaurant business. Donna and her new husband Joe are moving to Seattle, and Garry is now Pawnee's Mayor, if only interim. Only Ron's life is staying mostly the same, but with all his friends moving away, it's not hard to see that Ron's going to need time to adjust.

So the final episode brings us back to where everything started, in the Parks Department bullpen, for "one last ride." As in, the group having a little party before they all go their separate ways. But when a concerned citizen comes in complaining of a broken swing in one of the parks, the whole gang swings into action to fix the swing and along the way we get flash-forwards of where all of our favorite characters end up.

It's sappy and earnest and unrelentingly sweet, and I wouldn't have it any other way. This show isn't How I Met Your Mother to pull the rug out from under us at the last minute, and it's not even Friends, to keep us guessing up until the last minute. Nope. This is Parks and Recreation, the show that made "nice" into a comedy staple. The last episode might not be laugh out loud funny, but who cares? I don't need it to be. 

Instead of being funny, what the episode really does is reassure us that even though our favorite characters are splitting up for a time, going in different directions, pursuing different dreams, they're all going to be all right. More than all right, they're all going to be together. Ultimately, that's what the finale is about. 

Donna and Joe move to Seattle, sure, but when Donna wants to talk about starting a foundation to fund after school programs at the local schools, April is just a phone call away. April and Andy might be figuring out this adult thing on their own and mostly making a good show of it, but when they need advice and role models, they can go over to Ben and Leslie's for dinner and really talk.

You can count on your friends to be there, the show reminds us, whether it's at the release party for your book on how to turn failure into success, or at the birth of your first child, or to help you find a new job and career even late in life, or, eventually, at your funeral. Your friends are there for you. They're the ones you do your life with, the people you call and deliberate over decisions with, the ones in the audience when you do something amazing, the ones who buy you ice cream and provide hugs when it doesn't work out. There's something very magical about Parks' emphasis on friendship, and I'm quite sure it's what we all love most about the show.

I mean, how many other shows are there on mainstream television right now that are completely and totally about the importance not just of friendship, but of goal-oriented friendship. Because that's what the relationships on Parks are. They're not just buddies or pals or even friends, they're coworkers, in the truest sense of that word. They're a group of people who have decided to do something important together, and who will spend the rest of their lives doing that thing.

I've been really privileged over the years to be a part of a lot of different groups like this. I'm lucky. But the thing that I've found in my wanderings is that the friendships you remember, the ones that last and linger and that turn into the people you can't imagine your life without, are always the ones based around something else. Something bigger than just you. They're the friendships that aren't just about each other, they're about doing something together. Being on a mission together. Having a plan. It's you against the world, and gosh dang it, you're going to win!

That's what makes a friendship into something like what the Parks and Rec characters have. Time, yes. Commitment, totally. Genuinely caring about the other people, hell yes that's important. But above all else, I would actually say that what makes friendships able to last, what makes for relationships that span continents and lifetimes, is a common goal. It's the work. The work is, ultimately, what brings us together. A work worth doing.

Which brings me back to the Parks and Rec finale and why it brought me, and probably you if you're being honest with yourself, to tears. In the final speech of the episode, which spans Leslie talking over decades and different life situations, she explains that a work worth doing and people you love to do it with is pretty much all you need in life. "Find your team," she says, addressing a college commencement crowd in her illustrious future, "and get to work."

Actually, I'm going to give you the whole speech. Because to be totally honest, I don't think I can say it any better no matter how hard I try. It's a speech that starts with Leslie talking about deciding to run for Governor of Indiana, then morphs into her commencement speech, and finally really feels like Leslie is speaking directly to the audience:
When we worked here together, we fought, scratched, and clawed to make people's lives a tiny bit better. That's what public service is about. A small, incremental change, every day. Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love. 
I started in my career more than thirty years ago, in the Parks and Recreation department, right here in Pawnee, Indiana. I've had a lot of different jobs, including two terms as your governor. And soon, a new, unknown challenge awaits me, which, to me, even now, is thrilling. Because I love the work. Not to say that public service isn't sexy, because it definitely is, but that's not why we do it. We do it because we get the chance to work hard at work worth doing alongside a team of people who we love. So I thank those people who've walked with me. And I thank you for this honor. 
Now. Go find your team, and get to work.
Crap. I teared up a little just typing that. But you get what I mean, right? The whole premise of the show is laid out there, clear and simple and obvious for anyone to see. This whole show hasn't been about making us laugh, even if it did (a lot), or about the foibles of small town government. It's always been about people who care a lot about what they do and making sure that what they do matters. I think that's important. I appreciate it.

But more than just making sure that what you do matters, I love that this show has taken the time to show all of us how much better life is when we do it together. How much more fun it is to make the world a better place when we do it with the people we love. 

And, I think it's worth noting, that the reason all of our favorite characters go on to be successful is not a quirk or just wishful thinking. It's because they have each other. Because they can call each other in the middle of the night to make business decisions or figure out their lives. Doing life together makes you better at doing life in general.

I don't want this to be something that makes you feel bad if you don't have that super awesome group of people surrounding you who love the work and love you. What I'm saying is, if you don't have that already, make it. Find something you love doing and invite other people to do it with you. Sure, you're not going to like everyone, but I've found that having a common goal makes you love people you didn't think you would and frankly makes it easier to have deep relationship with people. It's Community 101. When we work together, we care about each other more.

So find your team. Get to work. Whatever that work is that you find worth doing. Do it, and find some people to love who'll do it with you.


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