Are You Better Off?
If “Are You Better Off?” turns out to be the series finale, I will be a little frustrated with the amount of questions it raised and potential storylines that it stirred up. It won’t change my love for the show, but that can’t be the end? Right? There are parts of the episode that really did feel like they were trying to come around to a well wrapped up moment, but there were plenty of loose ends. And, I guess that is how the writers had to approach things. They needed to provide some closure in case this is the end, but they also needed to have somewhere to go for a potential 6th season. That has to be an incredibly frustrating task for a writing team.
And that’s not to say that this episode wasn’t a lot of fun and often very funny. It was. I’m just not sure about it as a series closer. On the one hand, we had a nice moment for Leslie realizing that her work isn’t always about pleasing everybody. She has to ask herself if Pawnee is a better place one year into her City Council term, which she believes it is. That question is more important in the long run than whether Harris from Animal Control thinks his life is better off. But on the other hand, Leslie has to fight a battle for her city council seat because angry citizens are trying to have her kicked out of office. That’s not closure! I want to see her deal with her opponents as they Bring It On, Step Up, and Step Up 2: The Streets, Honey (Silver Linings Playbook, sort of).
For Tom, Rent-a-Swag is doing so well, that a private investor wanted to buy the company from him (not Diddy). Tom decides (at primarily Ron’s suggestion) that he turn down the offer and try to make Rent-a-Swag into something bigger and better (despite April’s good advice that he should burn the building and collect the insurance money, after getting a Hello Kitty tattoo). That would be closure, but then we find out that the private investor (not Jay-Z) is going to open a competing store (called Tommy’s Closet!). Not closure!
Also, Ron is going to be a dad! I want (maybe need?) to see this.
The only small pieces of closure we get are that April got into veterinary school and Andy is fully behind her decision to go. That was a great goofy way to wrap up our time with them. Also, Ann and Chris are doing well together (with lots of ridiculous sex). Even Donna has a plan to move to her condo in Seattle after she pays it off. And of course, everyone still hates Jerry, even though he is only there a few hours a week.
Basically, I just want to see more Parks and Rec. There might never be enough closure for me, but I would like to see what the show did if it had the time to know that it would be ending.
Do you agree, Daniel? Do you think there will be a sixth season? Are you better off?
In conclusion, recall schmecall,
In response to your questions: yes, yes, and yes. Now that my work here is done, I’ll see you in the fall!
Ok, before you come find me and beat me up, I’ll elaborate. Network TV’s viewership numbers in general — with the possible exception of CBS — and NBC’s ratings in particular have been in a nosedive for so long that it’s hard to assign a definite meaning to Parks’s lowly Season 5 totals. Luckily, the numbers are so bad across the board — anyone following Nielsen data in 2005 would, upon viewing today’s ratings*, be mildly shocked that the network TV still exists — that a known commodity like Parks seems to have a good shot at sticking around for another year. At least, that seems to be the thinking behind all the cautious optimism and vague rumblings of good “signs and buzz” I’ve seen in the media. So if we do get another season (and I think we will), it’s almost solely because of the decline of the broadcast television model — thanks, Zorp!
*Note to self — best time travel idea ever.
Parks and Rec’s season finales can all roughly be divided into the categories of climactic, story-resolving episodes (like the Leslie winning the election in Season 4) and seed-planting, new story-anticipating* episodes (like the Season 2 closer, which was the second chapter of a two-parter that introduced Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger), although all the finales have naturally had some elements of both. I wasn’t surprised that “Are You Better Off?” fell largely into the latter camp, given where we are at this point in the story. After the valedictory good vibes and ribbon-tying of “Leslie and Ben”, which could have been a very worthy series-ender in its own right, it would have been difficult for the writers to generate enough momentum to build to a completely new and different ending, to introduce a storyline that would leave its characters in a fundamentally different place in less than nine episodes. Season 5 already had “Leslie and Ben” — it probably didn’t need another.
*Note to self — please learn to write.
Instead, this finale put a button on Season 5 by looking back at Leslie’s efforts during her first year in politics, confronting Leslie with the enemies (and in the case of Brandi Maxxx, unwanted friends) she made during those victories and defeats, and showing that she still has the resolve to fight for what she believes in. I appreciated all the callbacks to minor Season 5 characters and antagonists-of-the-week, both as a reminder that all these issues matter not just to Leslie, but to the (often misguided) citizens of Pawnee, and also as a kind of town hall meeting to end all town hall meetings. While the recall plot could be viewed as a step backward for Leslie, it gives weight to Councilwoman Knope’s decisions this year and provides a believable obstacle that builds fairly naturally upon past events. Leslie Knope has always been at her best in the face of adversity, and I’m very hopeful we’ll get a chance to see her step up (preferably in the streets) to her detractors and throw down next season. Right now, that’s all the closure I need.
- I loved Tom’s interactions with the attorney representing Not-Jay-Z-or-Diddy, and I hope we get to see more of this next season. While we’re on the subject, who do you think the mystery competitor is? While the client’s anonymity is undoubtedly a convenient writer’s device to defer this decision until next season, it could also be a clue that the Tommy’s Closet owner is someone Tom knows, someone close enough to him to be knowledgeable about Tom’s business ideas in the first place. The obvious candidates would seem to be Jean-Ralphio and/or Mona Lisa, especially after the Season 5 line about how good his/their lawyers are. Someone like Dennis Feinstein has the means and malice to pull something like this off, but why would he want to? My dark horse pick is Donna, who seems to have the right combination of savvy and mild evil to give it a shot.
- So the Sapersteins are still hilarious. Also, we learn Jean-Ralphio is completely unprepared for the responsibility of being an uncle.
- Favorite line reading of the episode: “Welcome to the FBI.”
- At the end of the episode we see Leslie getting ready to go clean up the river, which I believe was our first sight of her in Pawnee this season.