Despite having a joke rate more rapid than most other sitcoms on the air, Parks and Recreation got surprisingly earnest and heartbreaking and real on more than a few occasions. Thanks to lovable characters like Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson and Andy Dwyer, the show was able to tug on its viewers’ heartstrings just as much as it could tickle their ribs.
Across seven seasons and 125 episodes, Parks and Rec took us on an emotional rollercoaster that saw all of its beloved characters at their highest and lowest points. So, grab a box of tissues, because here are Parks And Rec’s 10 Saddest Moments, Ranked.
10 When Leslie voted for herself
Not a lot of people get to live out their childhood fantasies, so it can be heartwarming to see someone who does get to do just that. At the end of a long, stressful campaign running for a seat in the city council, Leslie got to fulfill her childhood dream of voting for herself in an election.
Amy Poehler played the scene perfectly – an uncharacteristically quiet moment in an otherwise wacky and irreverent show – as she went into the voting booth, checked her own name, looked down at the ballot, and shed a tear. It’s impossible not to choke up during this scene.
9 When Chris gave Ben the perfect wedding present
A lot of the most emotional moments in Parks and Rec relate to Ben and Leslie’s relationship, but this one is more about Chris’ thoughtfulness. Wedding gifts are tough, but if you put as much thought into any gift as Chris Traeger put into his wedding gift for Ben, you’re golden.
He gave Ben a framed letter – the letter dated May 1, 2010, that first told them they’d been assigned to work for Pawnee’s local government. Chris said, “We were supposed to be here eight weeks. I’m so happy that those eight weeks turned into three years, and that you met Leslie, and that we both found a home.”
8 When Ann left
Ann Perkins was never the funniest character in Parks and Rec, so she wasn’t as missed when she left as a character like April or Tom would be, but the episode in which she left was filled with heartbreaking moments. Easily the most heartbreaking moment in the episode was when Leslie came to the window of the car right before Ann drove away and they both said, “I love you.”
The way that Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones look at each other with teary eyes sells to us that this is a real friendship, and the artifice of television fades away for a moment of sincerity.
7 When Ben and Leslie attended Garry’s funeral
The Parks and Rec series finale “One Last Ride” was about as great as it could be. Every character’s journey got a satisfying conclusion and we’re left feeling happy with where their futures are headed. But one of the show’s many beloved characters doesn’t survive the episode.
Garry – finally referred to by his actual name – dies at the age of 100 and Ben and Leslie attend his funeral, flanked by Secret Service agents (we don’t find out which one of them is President, or Vice President, but we do know that they’re both equally qualified, so does it really matter which one clinched the title?). An extra layer of tragedy is added to Garry’s life by how great his life became in the interim: he was elected mayor in the present day and held the title until his death.
6 When Leslie insisted that Ron walk her down the aisle
After Jeremy Jamm tried to ruin Ben and Leslie’s wedding and Ron was arrested for knocking him out, Leslie came to bail him out of jail. Ron told Leslie to just go and get married and stop worrying about him, but she couldn’t.
She told him, “Ron, listen to me very carefully. I lost my father when I was ten, I don’t have any brothers, and Ken Burns never wrote me back. So, I am not getting married without you there to walk me down the aisle. End of discussion.” The look on Ron’s face after this monologue is moving, because he shows that he completely understands her.
5 When Andy reassured April that they weren’t boring adults
April began to panic when she went shopping with Andy for things like a dish rack and a cutting board and a shower curtain at Ben’s insistence. She thought that it meant the end of being young and free, and the beginning of being just another pair of boring adults.
But Andy assures her that just because they’re buying those things and making their house more “normal,” it doesn’t mean they’re going to suddenly become a lame married couple. He demonstrates this by promising to also buy a marshmallow gun, so he can shoot April in the face with marshmallows when she’s asleep.
4 When Ben gave Leslie a “Knope 2012” button
At the beginning of season 4, despite their relationship getting serious, Leslie and Ben decided to break up in order to avoid a potential scandal later in Leslie’s campaign for city council.
Of course, this didn’t stick and they ended up resolving to continue their relationship in spite of the effects it might have on Leslie’s career, but at the time, it seemed like it might be a permanent breakup. To show his support to Leslie and emphasize the amicability of the split, Ben had a “Knope 2012” campaign button made up and gave it to her as a gift.
3 When Ann and Chris showed up in the series finale
In the series finale episode “One Last Ride,” Leslie and Ben returned to the Pawnee Parks Department office and Leslie immediately burst into tears. They hadn’t been in the office where it all began for a long time, and all the memories came flooding back.
She said, “I don’t think I could be happier right now,” and Ben replied, “Wanna bet?” And then Ann and Chris emerged from around the corner and Ann said, “Hi!” Leslie said, “Oh, Ann’s here,” then instantly ran over to give Ann a hug and burst into even more tears. The viewers’ response wasn’t much different.
2 When Andy sang “5,000 Candles in the Wind” at Li’l Sebastian’s funeral
In “Li’l Sebastian,” the season 3 finale of Parks and Rec, an air of tragedy hung over Pawnee as Li’l Sebastian, the star of the famous Harvest Festival, passed away. But that just meant that the Harvest Festival became a heartfelt memorial for everyone’s favorite miniature horse.
This included Andy’s band Mouse Rat writing a “Candle in the Wind”-style tribute song. He decided that the only thing better than “Candle in the Wind” would be “5,000 Candles in the Wind.” It’s difficult not to tear up when Andy gets to the chorus – “Bye-bye, Li’l Sebastian!” – and unites the whole city of Pawnee.
1 When Leslie stood Ron up in J.J.’s Diner
Season 7’s “Leslie and Ron” might be the greatest episode in Parks and Rec history. It’s a character-focused two-hander, which is rarely allowed by an ensemble show like this. Fans were surprised by Leslie and Ron’s animosity towards each other following the time jump between seasons 6 and 7, but the explanation behind it in this episode is heartbreaking.
After all of Ron’s co-workers left the Pawnee Parks Department, he didn’t recognize anyone and realized he had no reason to come to work anymore. So, he invited Leslie to J.J.’s Diner to ask her for a job, but she was so busy that she forgot about their plans and he founded a construction company instead.