But in its final season, set in 2017, “Parks” has taken the parenting panic premise and done something radical: It turned it into a non-issue. Six episodes into the send-off for “Parks,” the show has dared to propose that having children can be wonderful without being radically life-altering and that you can be a passionate parent without sacrificing your professional ambition. To judge from Leslie Knope, maybe the solution to “having it all” is not to assume defeat before you’ve even figured out what victory might look like.
Some of these decisions have been driven by budgeting and logistics. Over the course of the sixth season, actors such as Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones departed “Parks” in part to shed the show’s salary load, and we’re seeing less of Ron Swanson’s (Nick Offerman) wife, Diane (Lucy Lawless), too. Keeping Leslie and Ben’s triplets largely off-screen also means the show has to do less work wrangling child actors — or figuring out how to become a different kind of story.
“They’re a part of their life and obviously there’s no way to never reference the main character of three kids, but at the same time, this isn’t a family show,” “Parks” creator Mike Schur told TV Guide’s Natalie Abrams. “It’s a workplace show and the show is always going to focus on Leslie’s professional life. It just now has the added layer that waiting for her at home are three toddlers. We’re not going to just pretend they don’t exist.”
From what we can see this season, Leslie and Ben love being parents, and they’re pretty good at it. Once Leslie mends her fractured relationship with Ron, she sits him down at J.J.’s Diner to review the past three years in her children’s lives over waffles. Parenting has proved the perfect outlet for Leslie’s scrapbooking mania: We see her walking Ron through a February 2016 volume that includes the records of her children’s first visits to the dentist and amusement park mishaps. Ben and Leslie have their challenges: “Sometimes I think they’re somehow the first humans who don’t need sleep,” Ben says, tired at the end of a long day after Leslie manages to get the triplets to get down and stay down.
But they maintain their perspective, too, joking about renaming the kids Ruth, Bader and Ginsburg. Parenting doesn’t mean Ben and Leslie have to become something that they’re not. Instead, it’s an opportunity for them to be themselves, but even more so.
And in the meantime, Leslie has plenty of other things going on. She’s running a big division, fighting a war over a parcel of land that would be perfect for a national park against tech giant Gryzzl, which has outbid her on it, campaigning to save J.J.’s and the best waffles in the Midwest, and continuing to be a good friend to all of her former co-workers.
Of course there’s an element of fantasy to all of this. “Parks” isn’t delving into the specifics of Leslie and Ben’s child care arrangements, or looking at what it’s like for Ben — who has always been tremendously supportive of Leslie’s career — to be a stay-at-home parent.
But that’s part of what makes “Parks” such a delightful fantasy. Just as the show has always insisted that people of goodwill can stay friends despite profound political differences and that persistence really does work even in the face of intransigence and idiocy, “Parks” is daring to extend Leslie Knope’s superpowers to parenting, one of the most fussed-over areas of American life. In a season full of gift boxes delivered by drone, hugely aggressive data mining and hologram skateboards, the most forward-looking dream “Parks and Recreation” came up with is a future where women don’t have to tear themselves apart if they want to have both jobs and families.