Parks and Recreation deserves a celebration. This heartfelt comedy about the Pawnee, Indiana, Parks Department delivered 22 minutes of pure joy in every single episode. I fell for Parks and Rec, fittingly enough, while pursuing my Masters degree in Public Affairs. The public service setting and political humor strike exactly my tone, but the genuine feeling of love and appreciation that every character has for one another makes this show universally appealing. This ensemble cast, led by Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, exhibits an on-screen chemistry that we will be lucky to ever see again. The show is not without tension, and it certainly isn’t without flaw, but it is undeniably fun, intelligent, and worth watching from the beginning. In an ideal world, my list would be a 138-page, tabbed binder with specific dates, jokes, and details from every episode. Practically, though, I narrowed down to five brilliant episodes. I don’t mean to argue or exclude with a “top five” list in this case. I mean this as a warm tribute to my all-time favorite show and as a jumping point for you to remember and talk about your favorite characters, moments, or episodes from Pawnee.
- Tammy Part 2 (Season 3, episode 4)
Megan Mullalley plays the most hilarious recurring character on Parks and Rec: Ron Swanson’s (Nick Offerman) ex-wife Tammy. Tammy leaves her mark in season two, but the writers and cast out-do themselves in her second appearance. Tom (Aziz Ansari), feeling betrayed by Ron, brings Tammy as his date to a party. Tammy uses the opportunity to seduce Ron and produce this enduring image:
Nick Offerman and Megan Mullalley are married in real-life and shared the screen multiple times before Parks and Rec, including on Will & Grace. All the Ron and Tammy episodes are memorable, but this is my favorite.
- Bowling for Votes (Season 4, episode 13)
The amazing Katie Dippold wrote this gem of an episode from season four. Leslie, in the midst of a run for city council, hosts a bowling event to prove she can earn the friendship and acceptance of literally anyone on the planet. Ben (Adam Scott) shines here as Leslie’s campaign manager. He attempts at every turn to teach her the valuable lesson that you can’t please every person all the time. The sub-plot of Tom’s bowling technique propels this from “good” episode to “must-see.”
- Leslie and Ron (Season 7, episode 4)
Parks and Recreation never quite drew the ratings you would expect from a brilliant, fun-loving primetime sitcom. Even as NBC chose to burn off the final season, the cast and crew relished the opportunity to say good-bye to their fans. The best evidence of that, to this point, is “Leslie and Ron.” This episode served as a climax to an implicit story line that existed across all seven seasons: why would hardcore conservative, meat-eating libertarian Ron tolerate clearly liberal, government program pushing, bleeding heart Leslie as a colleague, let alone a friend. The answer is that respect defies personal politics. At least in Pawnee. At least in this episode. The ensemble cast makes Parks and Rec what it is, but giving Ron and Leslie basically a two-hander near the end of the show’s run means a lot to me as a fan.
- 94 Meetings (Season 2, episode 21)
If you watch Parks and Rec from the beginning, you’ll notice it takes some time for the show to find its footing. You see signs early in season two with “Pawnee Zoo,” “Sister City,” “George Pikitis,” and “Hunting Trip” that the show would be good, but I think “94 Meetings” is the turning point. Layered on top of the quick-fire jokes, and the introduction of Ben and Chris (Rob Lowe), is the real development of April Ludgate’s (Aubrey Plaza) character and relationship with her office mates. The show, by this point, makes a clean break from the Office-like feel of people existing in the same work place and establishes relate-able, human relationships between all the central characters. I watch this episode every Marchtember One-Teenth.
- Halloween Surprise (Season 5, episode 5)
The Halloween Surprise, to me, is the emotional climax of Parks and Recreation. Over four seasons we come to love and cherish the whole cast, but Leslie Knope in particular. After all Leslie’s accomplishments, and all the craziness of her day-to-day life captured by the show, everything in Pawnee slows and we see her instinctual, unguarded happiness. Michael Schur, creator and executive producer with a long history of brilliant writing, expertly crafts a glorious television moment that perfectly fit the parameters of the characters and the universe of the show. This is one of the few episodes of television where I can recall specific details of my first viewing because it was so well done and had me so emotionally invested.