When Parks and Recreation ended earlier this year, it became one of those rare comedies that bowed out at the perfect time. It wasn’t cancelled prematurely, and it didn’t continue for so long that its quality declined. The show had run its course, but we still miss the irrepressible Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), her co-workers at the Parks Department, along with the rest of Pawnee, Indiana.
What makes Parks and Rec special is that it shows how a dedicated, waffle-loving government employee can work with her friends to truly make a difference. With all the cynicism on TV, that optimistic perspective is refreshing. With 125 episodes, it’s hard to choose which ones make us laugh or warm our hearts the most, but we picked out some classics that embody the positive spirit of the show.
Ron and Tammy (Season 2, Episode 8)
Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is the both the epitome of manliness and one of the best sitcom characters in recent memory. The only thing this mustachioed libertarian hates more than the government (which he happens to work for), is dealing with his ex-wives, both of whom are named Tammy. Our first glimpse into Ron’s past marriages comes in the form of Tammy 2, played by Offerman’s real wife Megan Mullally. Ron and Tammy have a twisted relationship that alternates between fighting and hooking up.
Tammy is a sex-crazed library director who uses her wiles to persuade Ron to give her the empty lot that Leslie wants to turn into a park. She has complete control over him, and Ron needs Leslie’s help to break free from her clutches. Despite their ideological differences, Ron and Leslie have a strong friendship and will always help each other out. Tammy 2 will reappear multiple times throughout the series, but you never forget your first encounter with her.
Telethon (Season 2, episode 22)
Pulling an all-nighter is tough, but two in a row is nearly impossible. That’s what Leslie tries to do, and it leads to some sleep-deprived hilarity. She’s helping to run a 24-hour telethon, but has already been awake for 24 hours before it even starts (creating T-shirts for the team, of course). As she gets tired, she relies on sugary energy bars to stay awake. Normally, Leslie is incredibly hyper, so Leslie on a sugar rush is even more zany than usual.
She’s responsible for keeping the program going in the middle of the night while her team works the phones. But Tom has disappeared with her main guest, so she has to stall. The many humorous and desperate ways that she tries to fill time include flipping a coin, describing episodes of Friends, Ron caning a chair, and an accountant explaining spreadsheets. Oddly enough this kind of silliness resembles something you might actually see on a public access show late at night.
Flu Season (season 3, episode 2)
Parks and Rec really starts hitting its stride with the introduction of Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) as state auditors in Season 3. “Flu Season” displays how well these new characters fit within the world of the show. The flu is spreading around Pawnee, and Leslie is sick, but refuses to go home and rest. She’s supposed to hold a meeting with local businesses to convince them to participate in the upcoming Harvest Festival.
As she gets increasingly worse and starts hallucinating (“Be careful, the floor and the wall just switched”) Ben insists on doing the presentation. But a little flu isn’t going to stop Leslie Knope. She nails the presentation, and seriously impresses Ben. While Leslie was at odds with Ben when he first came to town, this episode sees them start to become friends, which eventually leads to much more.
Andy and April’s Fancy Party (season 3, episode 9)
As a couple, April (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy (Chris Pratt) are the perfect example of the phrase “opposites attract.” April is cynical and apathetic, while Andy is an overexcited kid-at-heart. When they finally get together after a season of romantic tension, it’s very cute. But when they reveal that they’re getting married just a few episodes later, many viewers probably have the same concerns that Leslie does. Couples who rush into marriage usually don’t stay together, and it’s obvious that April and Andy haven’t thought this through. This surprise wedding bucks all the usual relationship tropes for a sitcom.
Leslie tries to stop the wedding, but doesn’t follow through after seeing how happy the couple is. Andy and April aren’t the type to plan ahead or follow norms, but it works for them. Their wedding celebrates their abnormal way of doing things, and they remain happily married for the rest of the series.
The Fight (season 3, episode 13)
Written by star Amy Poehler, “The Fight” is one of the funniest episodes of the entire show. It would make this list just for the Snake Juice scene alone. The whole parks department (except Donna, who’s on a cleanse) gets wasted on this coffee-and-alcohol concoction, and we get to see how each character acts while drunk. This includes a moment of Ron dancing that are so incredible that it’s been immortalized in an endless loop.
This night of debauchery takes place at the Snakehole Lounge, where new(ish) best friends Leslie and Ann (Rashida Jones) are having their first fight. Leslie has helped Ann get an interview for a position at the health department, so they can work together. But Ann is tired of Leslie constantly pushing her into things. The next day, they both feel terrible about their argument and quickly make up. The fight itself isn’t as important as seeing these friends overcome conflict.
Leslie closes this episode with what is perhaps her most defining quote: “We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, and work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter. But work is third.”
Li’l Sebastian (season 3, episode 16)
“I have cried twice in my life, once when I was seven and was hit by a school bus, and then again when I heard that Li’l Sebastian had passed.” This quote from Ron Swanson proves how important the beloved miniature horse Li’l Sebastian is to the people of Pawnee. His death is a town tragedy, and the parks department puts on an elaborate memorial service for him. Andy writes the instant classic “5000 Candles in the Wind” for his band to perform at the ceremony.
In other plot developments, Ben and Leslie have started secretly seeing each other despite Chris’ rule against co-workers dating. Their efforts to keep their relationship secret trigger a Rube Goldberg-esque series of events that eventually leads Ron to getting his eyebrows burned off at the memorial service, which is a hysterical sight. Leslie also faces a potentially life-changing moment when she is approached about running for city council. This episode wraps up one of the show’s strongest seasons, while also creating new possibilities for the characters.
Pawnee Rangers (Season 4, episode 4)
“Pawnee Rangers” has the distinction of introducing the concept of Treat Yo’ Self Day to the world. Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Donna (Retta) celebrate this day by going on a shopping spree and appreciating the finer things in life, including massages, mimosas, and fine leather goods. They invite Ben along to cheer him up after his breakup with Leslie, even though he’s not one for extravagance. Tom and Donna encourage him to splurge on something, so Ben purchases a Batman costume and then weeps from happiness. Leave it to Parks and Rec to teach us the therapeutic value of treating oneself.
Meanwhile, Leslie and Ron each lead scout troops on a camping trip – Ron’s no-nonsense Pawnee Rangers and Leslie’s girl-power Pawnee Goddesses. With their pillow fights and puppy parties, Leslie clearly has the more fun group. When the boys from Ron’s troop want to defect and join Leslie’s camp, she helps Ron start a wilderness club for kids who don’t mind roughing it. The members of this new group are called Swansons, of course.
The Comeback Kid (season 4, episode 11)
When Leslie and Ben decide to make their relationship public, Ben has to resign from City Hall and Leslie loses the campaign managers for her run for city council. Her friends decide to help with her campaign, but things quickly turn disastrous. Due to a number of mix-ups, she holds a rally at an ice rink and the group has to walk across the ice to reach the stage. This involves some great physical comedy from the cast, as they try not to fall while Gloria Estefan’s “Get On Your Feet” ironically plays in the background. This failed rally makes Leslie seem like the underdog in the election.
In a hilarious subplot, Ben has taken up some new hobbies during his unemployment, mainly claymation and baking calzones. Chris realizes his friend is in a rut and intervenes, and Ben decides to become Leslie’s campaign manager. Unfortunately, this means he doesn’t get to pursue his idea for an Italian restaurant, the Low-Cal Calzone Zone.
The Debate (Season 4, episode 20)
Leslie is the ideal politician: she’s honest and hardworking, and she truly cares about her town. But elections are spectacles, and the best candidate doesn’t always get the public’s attention. Leslie’s biggest opponent for the city council seat is the clueless Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd), whose father owns the largest corporation in Pawnee. Bobby has a savvy campaign manager who has helped him become the front-runner, but Leslie knows she has a chance to win over voters at the debate.
This episode, both written and directed by Poehler, satirizes how ridiculous political debates can be. Bobby states that if Leslie wins the election, his father will move his company to Mexico. Stunned by this development, Leslie fights back with her closing remarks. She attacks Bobby for essentially blackmailing the voters, stating “I love this town. And when you love something, you don’t threaten it. You don’t punish it. You fight for it. You take care of it. You put it first.” It’s a moving speech that makes us all want to vote for Leslie.
Win, Lose, or Draw (season 4, episode 22)
Leslie would do anything for her friends, and they happily return the favor by helping run her political campaign. But it all comes down to election night, where there’s a recount to determine whether Bobby or Leslie will win. Besides worrying about her dreams being crushed, Leslie also has something else on her mind. Ben has gotten a job offer to manage a congressional campaign, but he would have to move to DC for six months. While part of her wants him to stay, she tells him to take the job. She knows that after everything he’s done to support her, he should get the chance to follow his dream.
Thankfully, Leslie wins the election. After a season of campaigning, it’s so rewarding to see everyone celebrate their hard-earned success. In her victory speech, she thanks her friends for helping her win, saying “no one achieves anything alone.” That’s really the show’s motto: when these characters work together, they can accomplish almost anything.
Leslie and Ben (season 5, episode 14)
Weddings on Parks and Rec tend to be a little unconventional. Even though their wedding is three months away, Ben and Leslie decide to scrap that idea for an impromptu wedding at a fundraising gala, with only a couple hours to prepare. Their friends pitch in to help pull off the impromptu ceremony, where Ann finishes making Leslie’s wedding dress with important documents from her career.
Just as the nuptials are about to begin, Councilman Jamm (Jon Glaser) drunkenly interrupts the ceremony. When Ron gives Jamm a well-deserved punch in the face and gets arrested, it looks like the wedding won’t happen. But after Leslie bails Ron out and they return to City Hall, everyone has decorated the parks department office for the wedding. Leslie and Ben get married in the room where they first met, surrounded by their closest friends. It’s a truly beautiful moment, and the couple’s vows illustrate how far they’ve come and how much they love each other.
One Last Ride (season 7, episodes 12 & 13)
Series finales are very difficult to get right. There is pressure to wrap up loose ends in a way that is satisfying for the audience. “One Last Ride” is a perfect sendoff, allowing viewers to say goodbye to the characters they’ve cared about for seven seasons.
With the gang going their separate ways, they work together for a final time to complete a small task: fixing a swing set. Leslie has a moment with each of her friends, and we get to see where everyone ends up in the future. It’s comforting for viewers to know that these characters continue to play an important role in each other’s lives. The episode features the return of many Pawnee favorites, including Ann and Chris, who left the show the previous season. There’s also a hint that Leslie (or Ben, but probably Leslie) becomes the President of the United States.
As she recalls what she and her friends accomplished at the parks department, Leslie says, “When we worked here together, we fought, scratched, and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better. That’s what public service is all about: small incremental change every day.” And that is what Parks and Rec is all about: people who love each other trying to make the world a little better.
“Halloween Surprise:” Ben decides on what’s most important in his life and returns to Pawnee, surprising Leslie with a very sweet proposal. Also, Jerry has a fart attack. Classic Jerry.
“Ann and Chris:” The show bids farewell to two of its main cast members. Seeing Ann and Leslie say goodbye is a bit heartbreaking, but we know they will always stay in touch.
“Leslie and Ron:” These two have always had a mutual respect for each other, but during the time jump between seasons 6 and 7, they had a falling out. We find out what happened, and watch them reconcile.
What are your favorite Parks and Rec episodes? Let us know in the comments.
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