As Parks and Recreationdraws to a close this season, the cast and creators have readied a slew of treats for dedicated fans in the remaining episodes.
"There are certain things that are going to happen this season that are going to be a lot more enjoyable for people who have been close-watchers of the series," creator Mike Schur told reporters Friday at the Television Critics Association winter previews. "There are a couple of real nostalgia story lines, where, for various reasons, a lot of people in the town of Pawnee will come back at once. There are things like that, but the goal is always to have the story stand on its own regardless of whether you've seen the show before ... to do a good, funny half-hour of television that is relatable."
That said, viewers can expect a big, emotional send-off in the final episode, which will air on Feb. 24.
"Everyone is there at the end," Schur promises. "The last moments of the show are everybody in the same place at the same time."
Adds star Amy Poehler: "We do say goodbye to some ancillary characters. A lot of them get to say goodbye in different ways, by leaving... or dying."
Along the way, viewers can expect the return of fan favorite Jennifer Barkley (Kathryn Hahn), who — for reasons that will remain secret — bursts into Ben (Adam Scott) and Leslie's (Poehler) home and "insults them about five times in 20 seconds," according to Schur.
Schur says that he didn't know going into the final season how the series would end. The flash-forward - a three-year time jump in which Ben and Leslie are now parents to triplets - was conceptualized before he began thinking ahead to the last episode. However, back in Season 2, writers kicked around the idea of the series ending with Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) becoming mayor of Pawnee. "We hung on to that for a long time," Schur said Friday. "It was going to be this real old-timey, 19th-century, 'He started as a shoeshine boy' [story]."
Schur and Poehler said it was their decision, and not NBC's, to end the show after a 13-episode seventh season. At the end of a day that began with NBC chairman Robert Greenblatt candidly lamenting the state of the network's comedy lineup, he took the stage to call Parks and Recreation "one of the great comedies that's ever been done."
"We pretty quickly came to the same exact conclusion," Schur said. "As we were heading toward the second half of Season 6, it was like, 'I feel like it's one more year and I feel like it's a short year.' That's just what we felt in our guts was the right move creatively. ... And then, that's what we got to do."
Asked if fan reaction to the polarizing How I Met Your Mother finale last year weighed on his mind as he was scripting the Parks finale, Schur said he had other, more pressing concerns. "The How I Met Your Mother finale was the way the creators of How I Met Your Mother wanted to end the show, and that was a great show," he said. "I don't know whether they had any regrets, but they shouldn't. They did it the way they wanted to do it. I tried not to care about finales that are thought of as great or finales that are thought of as terrible. ... It's more a question of trying to honor the characters and the plotlines and trying to do something we think is good."
For Poehler, who in the short term will presumably focus her attentions on Comedy Central's Broad City, which she executive-produces, saying goodbye to the show is like saying goodbye to an old friend, she notes. "One of the things I'm going to miss the most," she told critics Friday, "is hearing what's going to happen to Leslie next year."
Parks and Recreation airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on NBC. Check out a trailer for the final season below: