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Courtesy of NBC

April 8, 2019

Celebrating 10 Years of ‘Parks and Recreation’

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Ten years ago, the most determined, ambitious and well-organized Parks and Recreation deputy director first graced our television screens. Leslie Knope kicked off Parks and Recreation’s seven-year run by interviewing a little girl about her experience at a local playground. From there, the comedy series blossomed into one of — if not the— greatest shows in history like marijuana in a community garden. I’ll go ape-shit crazy on anyone who disagrees.

If you are unfamiliar with the premise, Parks and Recreation follows the antics of Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) and her colleagues as they navigate the turbulent waters of local government. The documentary-esque style is reminiscent of The Office, but the show is built around jokes and funny events more than its predecessor, which relied on the humor of cringey situations.

The all-star cast, led by Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt, complement each others’ comedic styles perfectly and the chemistry between characters makes them feel like a real (work) family. The writing never feels forced and relationships develop naturally and authentically over the show’s run. Praise should also be heaped upon creators Mike Schur and Greg Daniels. Schur has the sitcom golden touch, having previously worked on The Office (and played the character of Mose) and is the creator of and currently executive producer for The Good Place and Brooklyn 99. All three are fantastic shows but pale in comparison to the eminence of Parks and Recreation.

I originally intended to write a piece commemorating the tenth anniversary of my favorite show, offering astute observations and critical analysis reminiscent of our erudite Cornell faculty. Instead, I decided to list 10 of my favorite episodes in some highly subjective order (except for the number one spot, which is indisputably the best). Preparing to write this article required hours of re-watching — a sacrifice worth making in order to provide adequate justification for my choices. If you disagree with my list, let me know. We can debate further over a plate full of waffles while listening to Mouse Rat’s greatest hits.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Season 3 Episode 16 – Li’l Sebastian

C’mon, it’s the memorial for everyone’s favorite little horse! Show some damn respect.

Season 3 Episode 9 – Andy and April’s Fancy Party

My sister likes this one, so I had to include it.

Season 7 Episode 3 – William Henry Harrison

Quote: “It’s fucking milk.”

Season 2 Episode 23 – The Master Plan

Leslie and Ben meet for the first time.

Season 3 Episode 6 – Indianapolis

Quote: “Give me all of the bacon and eggs you have.”

 

10. Season 1 Episode 1 – “Pilot”

While the first couple of seasons were a bit clunky and the show didn’t find its footing until year three, no top 10 list would be complete without the episode that started it all. Leslie is a bit one-dimensional, Tom (Aziz Ansari) is a bit too much of a player and everyone talks to the cameras a bit too frequently, but The Pit is introduced and we meet most of the show’s main characters. It isn’t one of my absolute favorites, per se, but I would hate not to include arguably one of the most important episodes in the entire series.

Quote: “It’s more than a promise. It’s a pinky promise.”

 

9. Season 7 Episode 4 – “Leslie and Ron”

This one isn’t super funny, but it is one of the most meaningful episodes in the series. It seems like my ranking of the top episodes in a comedy show is off to a great start. Season seven opens after a three-year time leap and the audience is immediately introduced to a rivalry that has evolved between former workplace proximity associates, Leslie and Ron (Offerman). In this episode, they are locked in the old Parks and Recreation office overnight and are forced to resolve their differences before morning. The episode resolves happily, with the duo dressed in yoga clothes and imitating fart sounds with a saxophone. Honestly, this episode wouldn’t have been necessary if the writers didn’t make Leslie and Ron enemies in the first place, but since they did, I’m glad they made up and were friends by the end of the series. Maybe there will be a miniseries covering the three years in between the sixth and seventh seasons? A boy can dream.

Quote: Leslie’s entire made-up lyrics to “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

 

8. Season 6 Episode 3 – “Doppelgängers”

It’s often difficult for a popular show to introduce a whole new cast of characters this late into its run, but Parks and Rec executed it perfectly. By merging the townships of Pawnee and — ugh — Eagleton, the writers brought recurring characters Craig Middlebrook (Billy Eichner) and Ron Dunn (Sam Elliot) into the fold. The episode also featured a couple of one-offs, most notably April’s counterpart, Tynnyfer, who is a real piece of work. Craig’s eccentricity and Ron’s earthiness served to insert additional comedic layers to the already hilarious cast and freshened up a show that was nearing its conclusion. This episode also underscores Leslie’s relationship with her friends, as she has a near-breakdown when Ann (Rashida Jones) reveals she is moving to Michigan and tries to get her colleagues to sign “legally-binding friendship contracts.”

Quote: “She’s the worst person I know. I want to travel the world with her.”

 

7. Season 5 Episode 4 – “Sex Education”

If nothing else, this episode makes the list thanks to Chris Pratt’s “grossest, most perverted sex questions.” “Sex Education,” however, also has Marshall Langman’s abstinence rap, Tom’s battle with electronic addiction and Ben (Adam Scott) and April’s (Plaza) robot congressman. All three plots could serve as the A plot for any given episode, which is frequently the case for Parks and Rec. It’s amazing that the writers were able to fit so much into just 22 minutes. I’d watch this episode over and over again just for Pratt’s reactions to old people sex.

Quote: “What if the banana is soft and mushy and doglegs sharply to the left?”

 

6. Season 7 Episode 10 – “The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show”

As Parks and Recreation was ending, it seemed clear that the writers wanted to leave it on a good note. Thus, we get an entire episode of Andy Dwyer’s (Pratt) television series. The episode’s intro is not the standard theme but rather the Johnny Karate show’s and there are even “commercial breaks” featuring Paunch Burger and Verixxotle (“Proud to be one of America’s 8 companies”). Ben gets knighted, John Cena shows up and a giant spider is let loose in the studio. But we also see a rare glimpse of April’s emotions when she confesses that she is anxious about moving to Washington. The episode is a creative way of furthering the plot and providing a bit of fan service.

Quote: “Now that the show is ending, I’m going to have to start all over again. Hopefully, there’s a pit in Washington D.C. that I can fall into.”

 

5. Season 4 Episode 11 – “The Comeback Kid”

After a few bumps in the road, Leslie attempts to re-launch her campaign for city councilor. All of her friends pitch in. Ann is named campaign manager, Ron offers to build a podium for her upcoming rally and Champion, the three-legged dog, is there for moral support. They manage to get local high school basketball hero Pistol Pete to make a celebrity appearance and everything looks to be going smoothly. But Ron is forced to lose most of his wood, Ann is overwhelmed and the basketball court Leslie reserved for the rally is actually a hockey rink. As a B plot, Ben is out of a job and depressed, so he makes a stop-motion animation. This episode also has one of the greatest outtakes I have ever watched.

Quote: “Get on your feet!”

 

4. Season 3 Episode 10 – “Soulmates”

I can’t fathom why the creators titled this episode “Soulmates” when the more enticing plot is about a cook-off between Ron and Chris (Rob Lowe), but I’ll let it slide. The episode pairs Chris with Andy and Ron with April as they prepare to duel in a Battle of Burgers. The resulting interactions are, frankly, priceless. Andy is amazed by Chris’ food knowledge and the otherworldly produce selection in Snerling’s Grain ‘n’ Simple. April and Ron are both disgusted by vegan bacon and enticed by a “good deal” on ornamental crows at Food and Stuff. An “expert” panel of Tom, Donna, Jerry and Kyle taste both Ron’s beef patties and Chris’ “East-Meets-West Patented Traeger Turkey Burger” to decide the champion. The other plot follows Leslie as she matches with Tom on an online dating service. Not as interesting, but hush.

Quote: “It’s a hamburger made out of meat on a bun with nothing. Add ketchup if you want. I couldn’t care less.”

 

3. Season 3 Episode 13 – “The Fight”

Some of the funniest moments throughout the series are when the characters are drunk, and this episode centers around Tom’s extremely potent new drink, Snakejuice. He starts selling the new beverage at the local bar and everyone who is anyone in Pawnee shows up because Tom is just that important. Leslie and Ann have their first real fight — a drunken shouting match in the bathroom. We are also introduced to April’s alter-ego, Janet Snakehole, her compliment to Andy’s Burt Macklin (you son of a bitch). The highlight is a series of short clips of the characters completely wasted at the end of the night: Leslie babbles nonsense, April speaks rapid-fire Spanish and Ron dances. At the end of the episode, everyone hugs and makes up. Very sweet.

Quote: “Go get me another Snorkjuice!”

 

2. Season 2 Episode 10 – “Hunting Trip”

As I’ve already stated, the first two seasons are not the best, but they do have their bright spots. “Hunting Trip” features Ron prominently, as he first expresses discontent that Leslie wants to intrude on his annual testosterone tradition and later, he gets shot in the head. The writers are clearly still trying to iron out the characters, but whatever they did for this episode worked flawlessly. Leslie has a montage of excuses for shooting Ron (but she didn’t shoot him!), Ron has a series of witty insults about getting shot and Donna has a panic attack after a window in her Mercedes Benz is shattered. This is also the first episode in which Andy and April’s romantic relationship begins to develop, which is monumental. If my description doesn’t sound as funny as a second-place ranking should be, just treat yourself to a 22-minute study break. A lot of what makes Parks and Recreation amazing is the minutiae that help to build the characters or set scenes, such as Ann uttering “Oh, gross” when Leslie gives her a hunting license despite being a nurse or Andy not being able to tell a joke worthy of a spit take despite being one of the funniest cast members. This episode is chock full of one-liners that could be highlights of any other show and they all combine into one incredible moment of television.

Quote: “Is this not rap?” or “Boola boola boola!”

 

1. Season 3 Episode 2 – “Flu Season”

I have watched this episode easily over 30 times. Is that a lot? I mean, I hope so, since I’m kind of obsessed with it. “Flu Season” is the perfect unity between comedy, drama, character development and bathroom humor. Be it Chris’s absolute physical breakdown after contracting the flu (“My brain is on fire. I’m dying.”) or April’s unmitigated yet dry hatred towards Ann, everything about this episode is absolutely perfect. Leslie’s dedication towards the Parks department is displayed in the A plot, where she fights a hallucinogenic bout of the flu on the same day as an important presentation. This also appears to be the onset of Ben’s romantic feelings for Leslie, as he does everything he can to help her and even makes her homemade soup. Ron and Andy discuss football over a burrito called the “Meat Tornado” and contemplate different forms of government while grilling burgers indoors. The craziest part is how Ann, a nurse, somehow does not get sick even though she fails to wear any flu prevention gear. No gloves, no mask, no hand sanitizer. Don’t even try to argue that this isn’t the best episode, because “this ain’t your call, McCluskey.” It’s simply a fact.

Quote(s): “Stay back, slut!” or “Stop. Pooping.”

 

Jeremy Markus is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He currently serves as an assistant arts and entertainment editor on The Sun’s editorial board. He can be reached at arts@cornellsun.com.