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Don't watch the 'Parks and Rec' finale

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Tonight a great show ends. Or doesn't. You decide.

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Parks and Recreation is a truly great television show. It has adorable characters who are somehow not cloying. It manages to be consistently funny without being cheap, emotionally engaging without being saccharine, and introduced entire new veins of humor without many of them ever feeling forced. It's been a tour de force from start to finish in a way that few shows have ever been. Everyone who made scads of money from it deserves every penny.

That said: by rule, you should not watch the finale tonight unless you have never seen a single episode of the show before.

It's the next logical step to TV bandwagoning, i.e. watching the finale of a show without seeing a single episode of the series. It's also an adaptive strategy for someone like me. I represent a large swath of the viewing public: the irresponsible, schedule-free person whose life is a chaotic hellscape of semi-planned and random events. Oh once, yes, there was a time for watching TV on a clock. That time was 1994, and it was a horrible time that, like most of the past, should be burned from the memory banks of history. (Do you remember when NBC survived by sandwiching Suddenly Susan and Caroline in the City between Friends and Seinfeld? No? Good, you missed nothing.)

Instead, I now watch TV as the cavemen found food: by grabbing it whenever possible. Over the course of seven seasons, I've probably watched sixty percent of the episodes, and watched them in no order whatsoever. It hasn't ruined a thing for me. By design, you can step right into Pawnee, and then step right out again. It has to be made for this, because Parks and Rec's writers know what you know already. No one watches anything in order anymore unless they're binge-watching--the only real reason anyone who watches needs a semblance of an overall story arc anymore.

And when series do get to endings, they can't win.  Get too sentimental and you lose the comedy; wrap up too many threads in one go and you've turned the show into a laundry list of actions. They are generally bad. Seinfeld's worst episode was its last. How I Met Your Mother time-traveled to show that you could, in fact, have sex with your wife and the girl of your dreams so long as one of them died of cancer at a convenient time. Even the series finale of something as universally reviled as Two and a Half Men managed to sink below the low bar of what was expected of it.

Even the finale of Mad Men, the most overanalyzed and carefully wrought TV show of its time? If we're wagering, then here's a bet that people will probably not like it at all because it will be a finale, and thus really, really hard to do as well as you've done the rest of the series. Oooh, look, Don's driving away as a well-curated song plays, and Pete Campbell hides in his backseat with chloroform and rope! That's what will happen, because endings generally suck, and because Matthew Weiner will give you exactly zero percent of what you want.

Some shows do need finales, sure. I'll watch the Justified finale because it has a murder-based plot structure. The same could have been said about The Sopranos, though. If Graham Yost pulls some kind of David Chase shit and has this suddenly end with Raylan and Boyd drinking coffee to a quick blackout at a Waffle House somewhere in Kentucky, we will be pissed to an unholy degree.*

*It's hard to go wrong when your show's backbone is "rural criminal murder," even in a finale.

That's not to say that Parks and Rec will make a bad finale. But even good finales are generally bad episodes of a TV series, and that's probably something not even Parks can escape. You, however, can escape it by simply not watching in the group sobfest every comedy series finale wants to be. There's seven seasons of the show out there in the cosmos forever. Go watch one of those. If you still insist on watching it though, that'll still be a pretty good show. You can watch it when you probably watched the rest of Parks and Rec, too: whenever you want to, and probably in the wrong order. I never watched it the right way to begin with: Why start now?

Or don't watch it at all. A show you like can never end if you refuse to show up at its funeral.