First Ladies of “Parks and Recreation”

Michelle Obama makes a cameo on the season finale as mega-mom-to-be Leslie Knope faces a big decision.

On most shows, a major character's pregnancy toward the end of the sixth season would signal a dearth of ideas. The gimmick of a multiple birth might suggest a creative death knell.

But on "Parks and Recreation," news that Leslie Knope is expecting triplets seems like a natural progression for an indefatigable small-town bureaucrat who tends to think – and act – big. Motherhood also feels like an appropriate fit for Leslie, who has shown an almost maternal devotion to her beloved Pawnee, IN, which doesn't always love her back.

The show's sixth season finale arrives Thursday as Leslie grapples with her unexpected multiple pregnancy and a decision on whether to leave Pawnee for a dream National Parks Service job in Chicago – all while meeting guest star Michelle Obama, who knows something about the challenging mix of motherhood and politics.

The flurry of action comes as "Parks and Recreation" enters the rare pantheon of comedies to graduate into a seventh season, maturing but not mellowing as its heart grows along with the laughs.

"Parks and Recreation" may be set in Pawnee – at least for a moment – but it's traveled a long way from its debut five years ago as a sitcom about a woman determined to turn a hole in the ground into a park.

The Amy Poehler-led program filled a comedy void, proving a rare place on TV – and real life – where public service isn’t a cynical punch line. Poehler’s Leslie is a hyper-organized, do-gooder who is enough of a realist to know that politics is an often-fruitless vocation and enough of an optimist to keep trying.  

The show also has filled another void, morphing into the best major network workplace sitcom since "The Office," its former NBC Thursday night neighbor.

Both shows, which share creative team members and a faux documentary conceit, survived shaky first seasons. Both boast strong ensembles casts and breakout characters (with meat-loving, government-hating macho throwback Ron Swanson supplanting bizarre paper salesman Dwight Schrute as a meme favorite). Both shows lost and gained players almost seamlessly (the latest season of “Parks and Rec” saw the departures of Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe’s Ann and Chris as Billy Eichner’s Craig screamed his way to hilarity).

But while "The Office" stayed open after Steve Carell left, it’s hard to imagine “Parks and Recreation” without Poehler, who transformed the initially single-note quirky Leslie into an endearing, fleshed-out figure (even without the benefit of waffle binges). 

Leslie won’t have to worry about her waffle consumption for a while as she eats for four and contemplates uprooting her life. There’s been plenty of change in Pawnee this season, from the birth of Chris and Ann’s baby, to Ron embracing fatherhood (even taking his infant son along on his own private municipal construction project) to Tom working on opening a restaurant to the constantly maligned Jerry/Larry finding a friend in Ben. It’s all added up to another strong season for a show that consistently mines small stakes for big – and occasionally sweet – laughs.  

As we await Thursday’s Season 6 finale, in which the newly merged odd-couple towns Pawnee and Eagleton come together for a Leslie-produced unity concert, check out a promo video below: 

Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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