Parks and Recreation Season 5 Finale Review: Womb, There It Is

Parks and Recreation S05E22: "Are You Better Off?"


Let's just get the speculation for next season out of the way.

Will the Swanson baby come out with a powerful mustache, male or female? Will s/he demand a fine scotch rather than settling for mother's milk? Will the Swanson baby have an unhealthy genetic predisposition for classmates named Tammy? Are there enough bacon and eggs in Pawnee? How old will the Swanson baby be when s/he builds baby's first canoe? Will a Swanson baby even lower itself to being fed strained peas?

So many questions from such a basic sitcom cliffhanger! The pregnancy scare and/or celebration is up there with "wedding" and "choosing between two boys competing for one's affection" as the most common classic tropes to get people back in front of their televisions come fall. But even though the idea itself is derivative, even though it's been trodden upon by a myriad of lesser shows, Parks and Rec's execution of it really made it shine.

First of all, there was Bert Macklin. It felt good to watch Andy throw on that FBI jacket; multiply his clinical lack of embarrassment by Macklin's "above the law" antics and you get a scene like when Andy came to Leslie with the pregnancy test. He busted into her town hall meeting, an apologetic Ann trailing behind him, and asked her with so very little tact if the test was hers. His sudden intrusion was the punchline to another joke, the context of his intrusion giving credence to Leslie being slutacious, but it was how he handled the situation that set the scene apart from how it might've been handled elsewhere. Usually that role belongs to either A.) someone who gets flustered and tries to make up for the inconvenient interruption, or B.) a character who just doesn't care about anything, whose apathy never plateaus. It's not a spectrum. Andy belongs in some new category where he's not flustered by the audience or the moment, but acknowledges them positively. The scene was made even stronger by Leslie's uniquely firm but not defensive "no," and then we moved on to the next suspect.

The fact that there were so many suspects is also a testament to how Parks and Rec constructed itself over the course of the season. Donna was generally never going to be a factor in the selection process (she really does have the best head on her shoulders), but any of the other four women could've easily been the rightful winner in the Game of Bones (was that too much?). Ann's been trying to get pregnant for half the season; Mona Lisa getting pregnant would be devastating for Tom (thought it would mean we'd get a lot more of her, which just reminds me of how much I miss Jean-Ralphio being on); Leslie and Ben have been talking about starting a family in recent episodes; and April, as always, is the dark horse... and, therefore, the likeliest candidate for massive life changes if you're trying to twist the audience.

The possible pregnant ladies each being equally viable like were they characters from Clue was good, but that wasn't even the best indicator of how the season overall was set up. One of the most difficult things about building storylines for Leslie is that she's always progressing, always moving toward that goal of being an influential leader. She can't stagnate, and winning the election to city council was basically the top of her political career, as long as the show is set in Pawnee. She could maybe become mayor in a narratively lateral move, but not every season can end with a political campaign. There needs to be an obstacle for her to overcome and being recalled makes brilliant sense.

"Are You Better Off?" did an excellent job of compressing the story arc so we could see how far we've come, and also how things would come back to haunt Leslie, without resorting to my nemesis the clip show or powering through a lot of exposition. Ms. Knope's agenda of improving the quality of life in Pawnee has rubbed people the wrong way over the last 22 episodes. It's been easy to write many of them off as case-of-the-week characters, like the sanitation workers or even the Paunch Burger spokesperson, but bringing everything back around is one of the tried-and-true ways to make a story feel good and justified. And turnaround is fun to watch, even if it's at Leslie's expense.

We've watched her power through this season with her goals, watched her stumble through some of the trials, but we always see her friends pick her back up. They tell her how she's amazing and they show her how special they think she is by joining in on all her reindeer games even though she's basically using the parks department resources as her own personal receptionist pool. We've seen her side of things. But it's like the episodes of Community where we see the other students talk to each other about how great that one week where the study group wasn't around was the greatest week of their lives. As we watch the twee and uplifting story of Leslie Knope triumphing over adversity, we forget that adversity has a name, collectively a bunch of names, and it's great to see that rise to become, what we can only imagine, the big bad for next season.

You avoid the difficulty in finding another office for Leslie by taking the one she already has away from her, or at least making her fight for it.

The bottom line is that a season finale should make you look back over the course of the last few months and feel like you've been on a journey with these characters. So often you watch a show and it might end on a cliffhanger or two, but you don't necessarily feel like the season built up to the finale so much as the last three episodes did. With "Are you Better Off?" we got that sense of wholeness, of the season as a single unit of the show. Callbacks are important, as is character development. And even if explaining the plot of this episode to your friends will make it sound like you're watching the most basic, rote episode of television, you know that's not true. Because Parks and Recreation is a show that can execute old ideas and tropes in a new way. There are so few sitcoms on television that make you feel the warmth that Parks and Recreation effortlessly achieves.


NOTES

– "Welcome to the FBI." Andy and Ann shook hands after closing that deal. It was so uncharged with any sort of sexual tension that it's easy forget these two used to actually have sex. Sure, it was during that first season we're all trying to repress, but it happened.

– Which do you think Tom would rather have to deal with: Mona Lisa as a mother, or competition for Rent-A-Swag?

– Hey, it's Jason Schwartzman!

– There was probably no better way to end the episode than on Andy's face when he put all the facts together about the Swanson baby.

– I loved how excited Andy was about April being pregnant. So enthusiastic about everything. And it didn't turn into a discussion about their future breeding, or whether they're in a place where they can have a conversation about having kids. It was just moving on with their lives, seeing the next challenge, and making each other happy. Gorgeous.

– Maybe I'm more to one side of the autistic spectrum than I thought, but I can't always tell whether the show means for April to be kooky and actually want to adopt creepy twins at fifty, or whether she's just deflecting from a conversation with humor. I think it would be a worse if it were the former.

– Very nice callback about the river at the end. I thought they'd forgotten about that.

– Chris as Nipple King. Chris as he's horrified by the pig party turning into a barbecue. Almost as good as Chris telling a duck "Way to be!" I really like this tempered version of Chris Traeger.

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Great season finale. I love this comedy so much. So many funny points in this episode that I can't pick one standout favorite. I do feel bad for Leslie having to go against this BS campaign by all these hater business people LOL!! But hey, her kicking their asses will be quite an entertaining thing to watch.
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This was the season finale? I didn't even know until I saw on here that this was episode 22. My Bert Macklin kicked in and figured out that these season long shows usually only go up to 22 episodes per season (if they make it that far. I'm talking about you Jerry, er, NBC!). And the way it ended without officially knowing if the show is being renewed makes me feel a little anxious rather than fulfilled with the episode, now that I know it is the last one of the season(?). This is NBC after all.
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It's been a strange season, I feel like Parks morphs into a completely new show every season or two. We go from pseudo-Ikiru with a sitcommy twist, to a fairly aimless (in a plot sense) character-centric hangout fest about a group of friends working together where nothing ever really gets done and P&R is just a very loose thematic context for the show, to now an almost relentless (but gentle) parody of as many governmental concepts as possible. It can be perplexing at times and I'm not sure why they felt that non-stop satire was the best way forward for the post-election show. It's not that I don't enjoy the parodies, I generally do, but was that the sole goal of Leslie's elevation? I expected more stories about her acclimatising to council life without just launching into the parodies.

As to the finale, it was a borderline clip show, which is usually a bad sign. It does seem like a good move for the show to destabilise Leslie, and recalling is still topical after Wisconsin and for the most part the episode was strong. My main problem with the story was the Are You Better Off Than a Year Ago slogan. This makes no sense at all. The slogan itself is designed for opposition as a negative tactic against incumbents, even asking the question puts you in the mindset of assuming you are not better off. It was Reagan's slogan in 1980 for chrissakes. Apart from this the episode was pretty good. P&R will never be the kind of show to leave me rivoted but it as long as it maintains interest in its characters and the level of humour I'll keep watching.
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Honestly I was surprised Andy put the pieces together as fast as he did, I would have thought it would take longer. Also yes, I think April is actually just supposed to be weird, the characters on Parks and Recreation are all at one time or another so outlandishly kooky they can't possibly be real, which is one of the best things about the show.
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Loved the episode for the most part, but my enjoyment of the episode was hurt by the fact that i felt bad for Leslie, it's hard to watch the people hate her, I hope this has a happy conclusion. I can't wait for the Swanson baby.
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I got so excited thinking April got knocked up, because that would just be gold! But this outcome could end up hilarious too, fun episode
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I actually DID forget Ann and Andy used to be a couple. April and Andy are such a thing burned into my head that literally never crossed my mind. I absolutely loved Chris's horrified reaction to the pig barbecue. I had to pause to laugh at that. Rob Lowe (and really the whole cast) is so good at those little moments.

Also loved the Jason Schwartzman cameo. Brandy Maxxx's "Our Goo" joke wouldn't have struck as well without "I've seen the first 90 seconds. It's riveting."
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LOL @ Ourgoo. I watched the final 3 episodes in a row and thought they were hilarious. I'm ready for a Bert Macklin spinoff
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Ann and Andy were a couple in season 1, it was like 7 episode and the worst Parks season. It was forgettable.
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I am aware of that layton2012. I've been on the P&R bandwagon since the very beginning. What I was trying to say, was that they've moved on so far as characters, and Andy and April are such a great couple, that during the Andy/Ann scenes from this episode, I actually never remembered they used to date. I apologize for not being clear enough.
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That was a nice end for the season, fun and it really bring all the episodes together. I felt so bad for Leslie. and I was really suprised by the Swanson baby, mostly because I wanted April to be pregnant (I sometimes forget that she's basically my age but well...). Andy's reaction was adorable. I can't wait for next season!
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Andy's face during the last second, after he found out about the baby, was priceless. Chris also had a few great facial expressions in the episode.
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Great end to the season, I did not see the ending coming til the closing credits when Ron and Andy were sitting in the office (It click just as Ron appeared). I am looking forward to next season (crossing my fingers)
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What a great way to end the season! I loved all the callbacks to earlier episodes. Who knew the lady who sold soda pop in cups large enough to carry a baby in would still be angry?
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Yeesh, May is barely 48 hours old and we're already facing the rerun abyss for so many shows after this week. Don't surrender to cable THIS fast, networks, have some dignity.
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Also, I want ot see at least one or two cameos from Paul Schneider as Mark Brendanawicz next season. To explain where he went. I know he left the civil service, but it is a small town, shouldn't he be there somewhere?
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How could you possibly have an "also"?
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Isn't this site like Santa?
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I loved this episode. It did everything a good season ender should do. It wrapped up the entire season in a great way. It brought back the characters from Leslie's bills and government reforms. And the best part was they didn't have them all back as some type of Ozzie and Harriet triumphs that ignored the cost that any progress would make to the people, causes or businesses that stood in the way of that progress. So yes Pawnee is now no 9 in obesity, but the cost of that slow, fat, wheezing climb was some people who were clearly sitting on the couch sucking down 512 oz sodas are going to be unhappy.

I saw the description of the episode, and while I thought for a second that it might be April's veteranary school admission, it was only a second. I spent almost the entire episode convinced she was preggers. And by almost, I mean up until she actually spoke the words herself denying it. Then I jumped on it being Leslie for a minute. (figured she wouldn't tell Andy before Ben so her denial seemed iffy) The Swansonite reveal was hilarious.

I like Jenny Slate. still don't like her character. Mostly because I have never liked the Jean Palpeo character.

I like the idea of Leslie just accepting the recall possibility. Sometimes you have to give the people what they think they want before they can accept that they need something else. Just ask half the countries in the European union about the austerity proposals. She is the leader, they are a community of reallllllllly bad followers in love with a tiny dead horse.

And I loved the Ann Perkins story. Not only when she immediately knew andy was in character as Burt Maclin (or Macklin, I have seen it both ways on here, don't lnow if there is a correct spelling. I am going with the Goy) But once she got over the unexpected pregnancy from a friend while she was trying to get pregnant (apparently sooo hard, hat's off to Traeger) she was immediately in for an investigation.

I know a lot of fans don't like to remember she and Andy were a couple, but this was a good show for why they worked so well as one before we met them. They do get along, she does have a playful side. She gets his childlike playfulness. And he likes to play with her. Doesn't threaten his relationship with April. They just get along.

The Nipple King was not the main story. terrific.

Great cameos all around. and is it possible that they are making Ann Perkins more beautiful with every episode for a reason. I know Rashida Jones is gorgeous, and I have a bit of a crush. go rent Celeste and Jesse. But she use to dress a little more drab. scrubs and things. Now she is practically ready to wal a runway. Maybe it's just me. But damned she is pretty.

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I've seen Macklin written both ways, too. I went with the NBC version from the title of the promotional FBI Name Generator.

While I think it's not outside of the network's notes to "sex" up a character for more ratings (see Sarah Chalke and the season 3 premiere of Scrubs), I think they brought Ann into the Parks department as less of a burden for the writers (since they don't have to explain why she isn't at the hospital) which led to a wardrobe update. That being said, there's no telling as to whether the reason was actually motivated by writers or the network saying there needed to be more Rashida Jones talking about sex on the show.

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I think I'm giving up on Parks and Rec after this season sadly. The show no longer makes me laugh; plain and simple. I can't stand the cutsie-wootsy love quadrangles the show cooks up. Ron Swanson+ wacky kid baby daddy drama=death of comedy. No one watches Parks and Rec, cause "its that HI-larious show about new parents and married people". That $h@t is comedy death. I like the interaction between crazy Pawneeians (?) and the small town gov social satire. But this obsession with domestic bliss is f'n boring! What's funnier, Ron and Xena's kids or Ron and the Tammys? Micheal Schur pooped that mediocrity all over The Office and look at that snooze fest now. 2 years time (if it goes that long) Parks & Rec will be the same SUPER-lame cliche fest that the Office is now.
Oh yeah, Burt Maclan is the poor man's Michael Scarn. Step up the game P&R your cast is WAY too good for this dreck!
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If you hate the show so much why did you keep watching to the end of the season? I never understood this about people, Parks & Rec (like Community) are criminally under rated. Parks & Rec is down to the characters when you strip away the Government and jokes, that's what I love about NBC's Thursday night line up. The shows are well done and don't rely on over paid un-funny douchbags (looking at you CBS)
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I like the show and have a good amount of faith in the staff. I gave it a shot and hope things get better. IMO it hasn't gotten better, it coasts on comfortable conceits, and sit-com stereotypes. Both Community and P&E ARE rated well by critics (not-under rated)., but nobody watches them, so the ratings are akin to what tbs gets for BBT re-runs. If either show got BBT ratings or 2.5 men ratings they would milk that cow for all its worth, and Amy Poehler would get 700 Gs per episode.
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If they are rated well by critics and they are not being watched then it's under rated, not the other way around. It's down to NBC here and their marketing, NBC is notoriously bad these days for it. CBS and their massive money train can run through other networks because they have syndication deals left, right and center.
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your opinions are wrong
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*Slowly Nods*
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maybe 2.5 men is more your speed. enjoy
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I usually don't do this, because everyone is entitled to their opinion and I usually respect that, but comparing Parks and Recreation to Two and a Half Men is so damn egregious, I can't stop myself.

StrawDog is 100% right. You're wrong. Your opinions are wrong. Everything you wrote in your initial comment is wrong. I don't know what show you've been watching, but the life blood of Parks & Rec has never stopped being the hilarious satirization of small town politics, with topical and amusingly insightful social commentary.

Humour is subjective. Everybody has a different sense of one. But if you're going to come after one of the best comedies on TV, get some better arguments. Because what you wrote is flimsier than Bert Macklin's credentials.
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So you're arguing that Parks and Rec in its current state, which I'm defending, is equal to Two and a Half Men (which is obviously shit)? Out of curiosity, what shows do you enjoy?
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I like(d) P&E, it just doesn't make me laugh anymore. If I hear in next season's Tv.com recap's that the show is getting better, I'll give it a go again. My avatar is from a tv show thats pretty good.
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I didn't think much of Jenny Slate on SNL, but she's killing it as Liz and Mona Lisa.
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Agreed. She's really good on both.
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