Set in fictional Pawnee, Indiana, the series follows Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) as she begins her rise in government and leads a quixotic quest to improve her town from Leslie's job in the Parks Department. And more often than not, Leslie and the ragtag bunch of misfits on her staff find a way to do it. The series has been called the "most progressive show" on television, and the Leslie Knope character has been cited as a positive feminist role model for depicting women in politics. The character's pregnancy this season has been the source of some debate over how women and pregnancy are depicted in television sitcoms.
For last night's sixth season finale, First Lady Michelle Obama stopped by to give Leslie some advice. And by the end of the episode, the series had undergone a major shift.
"If I seem too passionate, it’s because I care. If I come on strong, it’s because I feel strongly, and if I push too hard, it’s because things aren’t moving fast enough. This is my home, you are my family, and I promise you, I’m not going anywhere." —Leslie Knope
This season of the show has seen the fourth marriage of Ron "Fucking" Swanson (Nick Offerman), the departure of Chris (Rob Lowe) and Ann (Rashida Jones), the pregnancy of Leslie, as well as the merger of Pawnee and Eagleton (i.e. think Springfield and Shelbyville merging on The Simpsons) and the political blowback Leslie suffered because of it.
The season six finale, titled "Moving Up," could have been a series finale, and truth be told there's not much in terms of plot. Everything is held together by mostly vignettes, where Tom opens a restaurant, the town holds a concert, and Leslie makes a decision about her future and the future of her family. But during those moments, a lot of the storylines for the characters get tied off and exemplify how far they've come. Ron's happiness in his marriage to Diane (Lucy Lawless) has made him comfortable enough to appear to his friends as "Duke Silver," as well as resist the charms of Tammy 2 (Offerman's wife Megan Mullally). And Ron, who began the series as a Libertarian that distrusted government, has come a little bit in Leslie's direction. Andy is reunited and performs with Mouse Rat through the actions of his loving and caring wife April. Tom may or may not have a future as a successful restaurateur because his friends are there to support him. Ben has created and holds the copyright to a popular board game. And Leslie moves on to work for the National Park Service, and the Unity Concert, with help from Ginuwine, the Decemberists and Yo La Tengo, is an example of how Pawnee is a better place because of her work.
- Three years later: In an interview with Alan Sepinwall, showrunner Mike Schur has said the time-jump ending was inspired by the season two finale of Battlestar Galactica. Leslie has a new haircut in her position as regional director. This move effectively allows the show to skip over the baby years of the triplets (revealed to be two boys and one girl). The show created a cheat by conveniently finding space on the third floor, and conveniently Leslie's boss at NPS is willing to relocate operations from Chicago to Pawnee. But the series had to do that since they had written themselves into a corner. If Leslie had turned down the job to stay where she was in Pawnee's parks department, it would have seemed like a betrayal of the character's goals. But there's no way she can leave Pawnee and it stay the same series. Going back to the example of The Simpsons, Leslie without Pawnee would be like Homer, Bart and the family without Springfield.
How did you settle on three years? Did you toy around with smaller time jumps or even more radical jumps?
Mike Schur: We talked about a bunch of different scenarios. One of them was nine months, so she’d had the kids, and we sped through the entire pregnancy and birth and the first week at home and all of that stuff. And then it was like, “If you’re going to jump nine months or a year, do something that really suggests that a lot of stuff had happened.” There’s something about that period of time: The kids are walking around and they’re wearing kid clothes and they’re maybe in pre-school at this point. It seemed like the right amount of time. It was a gut-level thing. We talked about: Is it five years? Is it 10 years? It seemed like enough time to be for really radical change without everybody having gray hair.
I’m guessing the series finale will be like Six Feet Under and we’ll jump decades ahead and see everyone’s death? Can’t wait to see how Jerry dies!
Mike Schur:When Garry dies, who’s now Terry, he’s going to die peacefully in his sleep at the age of 110, with Gayle, who is still alive.
Mike Schur: And hot. And his three children and his 16 grandchildren and his 34 great-grandchildren, and they’re going to be peacefully singing his favorite song and she clutches a picture of Li’l Sebastian and drifts peacefully into the afterlife. Somehow he’s going to outlive them all and he’s going to be the happiest when he goes.
- What we know about the future: Ben and Leslie are still together. Andy and April are still together. And
Jerry, Larry, Gary, Terry is working for Leslie. Beyond that is anyone's guess. Are Ron and Dianne still together? Did Tom's restaurant work out? Will Donna settle down with Joe? Although, we do know that between this and Mad Men, Jon Hamm's characters are having a really tough time finding steady employment.
- The issue of triplets: Before the season finale aired, there had been some criticism of how the show had treated Leslie's pregnancy. In the previous episode, “One In 8,000,” Ben and Leslie find out they're having triplets. Ben starts freaking out when he realizes the costs and trials ahead with having three babies. Leslie calms him down by saying "everything that we have been through ... all of it has just been preparation for this." Libby Hill wrote an essay where she argued it betrayed the character's feminist goals to condense everything she's done to preparation for motherhood, and indicative of how female characters on television always need to have a child in order to feel that their life is "fulfilled." However, the three-year time-jump shows Leslie still as active as ever in government decision making, while being a mom too. Alyssa Rosenberg has written a column calling the depiction of Leslie in the time-jump a "bold, feminist leap forward." Instead of presenting a dichotomy of mother and professional, the show doesn't even entertain the conversation since it's a false choice. Leslie is both mother and professional, even with triplets.
- The First Lady: The episode begins with Leslie, Ben and Andy taking a trip to San Francisco. This allows Michelle Obama to seal the deal in persuading Leslie to take the job as regional director at the National Parks Service. The cameo also allows the First Lady to promote her "Let’s Move!" initiative.
The First Lady acquits herself just fine, but I think it’s safe to say that, as far as executive branch guest stars go, she’s no Joe Biden. But then, who is!?
- The Cones of Dunshire: Ben's nerdiness seems to have hit gaming gold. And that's one thing I've always loved about Adam Scott's character, whether it be his Batman fetish or geeking out to Game of Thrones.
Who created The Cones of Dunshire, and how thoroughly have the actual rules been mapped out? Could the writing staff play an actual game right now with the props that have been built, or is it like True American on “New Girl,” where you're not worried about the rules beyond an excuse for characters to say silly things?
Mike Schur: It's a true team effort, though Dave King (active gamer and Settlers of Catan enthusiast) has been a driving force. When we decided to bring it back as a key plot point, and have Ben and others actually play it, all I cared about is that I wanted like 50 new gameplay terms, because I want it to seem like the most complicated and impenetrable board game ever invented. The actual rules and terms are modified chunks of a bunch of different existing games. We worked directly with Mayfair Games, who actually designed the pieces for us, and there has been talk of releasing an actual version, though at this point based on what we've seen I have no idea how you'd create an actual functioning set of rules that includes all of the nonsense we've written.
There were a lot of stories this year about how terrible the people of Pawnee can be, and Leslie took a lot of abuse from the citizens, from Jamm, etc. Is that material largely out the window now that she's working on a national scale? Or will the stupidity and fatness of the town still be an integral part of the show?
Mike Schur: I'm not sure, but I think we're more inclined to have Pawnee recede into the background a little. Leslie has always wanted to fix the town and make it perfect, and part of her maturation was learning that it's impossible -- there is no perfect utopian town, 100% full of learned, thoughtful citizens who actively contemplate the interests of society. She came to terms with that slowly over six seasons, left the town better than she'd found it (as per classic camping ground rules), and made the decision to focus her energies on bigger projects. The decision to leave her physically in Pawnee, though, means that she can still dip her toes into that water, if we are so inclined.
- Where do we go from here?: It will be interesting to see whether this time jump infuses the show with a different direction or if it's just the same stories, same quirks and character in a different 2017 office. Although, Leslie is now playing on a federal stage. So that does open up some story possibilities. And whether next season will be the show's last is still an open question. However, Schur has already floated an idea for how the series might end.
"You ready?" —Ben Wyatt
"Not at all. But that's never stopped us before." —Leslie Knope