Last night, Parks and Recreation jumped forward three years in its season finale, setting us up for a seventh season where Leslie is the mother of adorable three-year-old triplets and running a branch of the National Parks Service. It was a bit of a jarring move for the comedy to make but in retrospect seems like a wise choice, sparing us from a Leslie pregnancy subplot in what will probably be the show’s final year next season. “Moving Up” would have functioned fine as an official end to the series, considering that a peek at every character’s future is a much more common way to end a show, but instead it may provide a jolt of life to Parks as it begins its victory lap. But is creator and showrunner Michael Schur overreaching with the time-shift? Which other shows have attempted the same gambit, and how did it work out for them?
Battlestar Galactica, “Lay Down Your Burdens”
This is the show Schur cited as his primary inspiration for the time-jump, and he sort of borrowed its visual motif to do it. In Parks, the camera zooms in on a picture Leslie puts up on her bare office wall, and zooms out to reveal a wall crowded with photos and an office busy with activity. In Galactica, then-President Gaius Baltar puts his head down on his desk, weary from the mistakes of colonization on the barren if sustainable New Caprica, and pulls his head up to reveal we’ve jumped a year ahead and the Cylons are about to invade. For such a heavily plotted show, it was a brilliant twist, and exactly the kind of shake-up needed after two years closely following the minutiae of the surviving Colonial fleet, fighting for humanity’s survival after the destruction of their home worlds.
Did it work? Mostly yes. It was a devastatingly smart twist, deployed so effectively that showrunners continue to pay homage to it eight years later. Skipping over the bleak life of colonization and plunging us into the occupation and resistance to Cylon rule gave the show numerous new story avenues to explore. But this may have been the point at which Galactica became too miserable for its own good, as the following season was a much more flawed affair with several episodes that just felt like pure drudgery.
Desperate Housewives, “Free”
Needing a storyline shake-up, with ratings for the ABC smash hit beginning to go stagnant, its 2008 fourth season finale jumped forward five years to put several cast members in different romantic situations and age some of their annoying kids to a more interesting age. Whole soap opera plotlines had played out without us seeing them: Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) had divorced her husband, married the Mayor, and then returned to her husband and had two kids.
Did it work? Yes. Desperate Housewives was basically out of ideas by the end of its fourth season, and the time jump let it shake things up to a more serious extent. The show lasted for four more years before creator Marc Cherry finally closed up shop, saying they had done literally every soapy plotline he could think of.
One Tree Hill, “4 Years, 6 Months, 2 Days”
One Tree Hill graduated its characters from Tree Hill High at the end of its fourth season and jumped forward five years at the start of the fifth, mostly to address the fact that its cast were ludicrously over-age, even by TV standards, to be playing college freshmen. Of course, this was One Tree Hill, so what had happened in between was absurd: these kids were now in their early 20s, and one was a successful novelist, another a hot music producer, another a fashion designer. But One Tree Hill wanted to shift away from its identity as a Dawson’s Creek teen show knock-off, and it did just that.
Did it work? Did One Tree Hill continue to air for five more years? Yes. Was it consistently good, or even watchable? Not really. The show’s better years were behind it and while it got some limited fun out of the time jump, it fell back into its old routines quickly enough.
There’s no specific episode to cite here because Lost did this so much it’s hard to keep it all straight, years later. In the third season finale, we realize that the episode’s flashbacks are in fact flash-forwards and some of the characters obviously escape the island in the future but want to go back. At the end of the fourth season, the island is zapped into the past and the show begins skipping between various timelines with ease. The biggest and best time-shift saw a bunch of the islanders settling in to life in 1974 and forming new lives for themselves, but there was plenty more craziness to follow after that.
Did it work? I don’t know, my head hurts. I guess the simplest answer is some of it did, some of it didn’t, and it all got messed with too much by the sixth season and those heavenly “flash-sideways.” Bleh.
Six Feet Under, “Perfect Circles”
After the devastating second season finale saw our hero Nate going under the knife for dangerous brain surgery, the third season began with visions of various lives he could have ended up leading before jumping us forward one year and seeing him married with a kid to Lili Taylor’s character Lisa. This was…an interesting call, to say the least, and a surprising one for the show’s fans (who had been tracking the Nate/Brenda romance for the first two seasons).
Did it work? Gonna go with “no.” The third season got so bogged down in the Nate/Lisa storyline and then ended up tying it off in the most dramatic, upsetting way possible. It was heavy stuff and well-acted, but it drowned the show in a sea of gloom it never recovered from.