In the middle of this week’s season finale, Ron explains to Ben that he doesn’t like meeting new people or doing new things. He has had the same haircut for decades, and he’s been driving the same car since 1991. In short, Ron doesn’t like change. The same could be said of this season of Parks and Recreation, especially the second half. While the show has demonstrated its willingness to expose its characters to new experiences, mainly through the election campaign, the characters don’t really seem to be affected by these experiences (April and Chris aside). Parks has become consequence-free, and as “Win, Lose or Draw” demonstrated, anything that seems like change is merely like rearranging the magnets on a fridge door.

I don’t want to be too harsh on “Win, Lose or Draw,” because the gags were pretty sharp, but Lord did this episode seem as if it had been spit out of the Parks and Recreation Episode Maker 3000™. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because some of Parks and Recreation’s running gags are funny, such as Andy’s lack of skill with technology and Jerry’s inability to do things correctly. (Jerry’s worry over not having voted got quite a few chuckles out of me.) But that does mean that we got an episode full of inspirational speeches, including yet another moment where Ron gave Leslie a pep talk, a device that wore out its welcome about a half-dozen speeches ago. (Back in season 2, there was a lot more give and take in their relationship.)

Other parts of the episode didn’t fare well either. The April/Andy plot was silly and slight, and it didn’t have a whole lot to do with the rest of the episode. The show didn’t really do anything with the Chris/Barkley plot from last week either, aside from making them hook up again – what did that accomplish, exactly?

And then there was that stupid, contrived business with Ben getting offered a job in D.C., a development that existed simply to throw a wrench into the Leslie/Ben relationship. (I swear The Office did a very similar plot with Jim and Pam, but I’m not a regular viewer of that show, so I can’t confirm.) When did Barkley decide that she was looking to fill a vacancy? This kind of plot was old even before Chandler went to Tulsa on Friends, and I wasn’t happy to see it show up here.

Towards the end of the episode, Leslie is informed that she has won the election, and she makes a speech – yet another speech! – to her supporters. It’s a rousing one, to be sure, but it felt hollow to me, because as I’ve complained all season long, Leslie didn’t really earn her victory. She was merely the best out of a field of terrible candidates – the least of all evils, if you will. What did Leslie learn from this experience? How about Ron? Tom? Andy? Ann? Ben? Donna? None of these people seem to have been affected by the election campaign. Ben might be heading to D.C. next season, and Andy might try his hand at actual law enforcement, but those are just superficial changes; it’s not as if either of those characters have grown or matured.

On some level that’s fine. If Parks and Recreation wants to be light, consequence-free viewing, then it’s about as good as that kind of show can get. In an episode with great gags like Ron getting his milk delivered by horse cart or Leslie becoming exhausted after just a few seconds of boxing, the story doesn’t really need to work. But if that’s true, then maybe this season didn’t need an ongoing storyline like the election campaign. Maybe it could have simply been about a group of friends/colleagues who hang out at the Pawnee parks department. Frankly, I think I would have enjoyed that a whole lot more.

Other random thoughts:

  • JEAN-RALPHIO!
  • So, Andy might be a cop next season. That could be funny, but it would have been nice to have had a short story arc leading up to it.
  • Next season, Leslie is going to be serving on city council, working in the parks department, and travelling back and forth between Pawnee and Washington D.C. to visit Ben. Good luck with that.

Overall, an okay capper to an okay season. Not much to be said, honestly.

Season grade: B- (It would have been a B, but “Bowling for Votes'” crass exploitation of the concept of feminism knocked it down a notch.)

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