As valuable as it may still be for programmers, consistency doesn’t get much play these days from those of us on this side of the screen. There are too many shows debuting, too many sharks being jumped, too many cliffs being hanged to take time to consider the series that don’t need to stand out to deliver. It’s a conundrum faced by Parks and Recreation, now gliding effortlessly toward the conclusion of its fourth consecutive stellar season. (Its first season was a mere six episodes and is necessary only for completists.) No show on TV, comedy or drama, has been as steady or as wonderful as Parks these past few years. It’s not as quick as Happy Endings nor as cute as New Girl. It’s not as creative as early Community nor as cringey as late-period The Office. But Parks chugs ever onward, as smart, sweet, and silly as ever. It is, in the words of Chris Traeger, the tall drink of Vitaminwater played by Rob Lowe, ‘a locomotive of positivity that runs on team power.’
…[Is] it newsworthy to remark on Amy Poehler’s indefatigable charisma and good cheer? [Is] it edifying to report on Chris Pratt’s boundless enthusiasm, Nick Offerman’s stalwart mustache, or Aziz Ansari’s wheedling swag? While the other comedies would spike up or down on a regular basis, Parks both settled in, strengthening the bonds of affection and mild irritation between existing characters, and spread outward, building a nearly Simpsons-worthy bench of supporting wing nuts, cranks, porn stars, and news anchors. With great care, warmth, and precision, Michael Schur and his crack team of writers constructed a fictional town that gradually felt more and more like a home. This made for excellent television but terrible headlines. When you’re always good, the best way to get noticed is to get worse, and that’s simply never been an option for a chipper perfectionist like Leslie Knope. To put it in terms she would appreciate, a down episode of Parks is like a bad waffle: At the end of the day, it’s still a waffle.
The consistent quality of Parks and Recreation doesn’t just frustrate those of us assigned to write about the show, it obscures for all viewers how the world of Pawnee is constantly evolving. The series is as delightful as ever, but in a completely new way: Leslie and Ben are now married (thus limiting their grossest lovebird behavior — making mac-and-cheese pizza — to a single household). Ron, smitten, is attempting to tolerate human children. Tom has a successful business renting haute couture to adolescents. Chris and Ann are conceiving a child. Donna is bidding on Terrence Howard’s tank top from Hustle & Flow. This fearless growth is not normal behavior for a sitcom… . And while I’d love to credit it all to Michael Schur’s personal bravery, a lot of the momentum was fueled by actual fear: Parks has been perpetually low-rated, so Schur has been compelled to end every season with a potential series finale. (Even this year’s stunning high-water mark, the impromptu wedding of Leslie and Ben, was constructed as a could-be last hurrah.) It’s one of the blessings of NBC’s continued incompetence that it now finally seems able to see the value in investing in a non-sinking ship; I’ll be more shocked than Ben Wyatt flipping through the Gergich family album if Parks isn’t renewed for a sixth season next month.
Andy Greenwald, Grantland