An oft-discussed topic (usually over dinner in a dining hall after all other possible topics have been exhausted) is that of the best episode of television to grace our various screens. A 2018 ranking by multimedia website The Ringer anoints Lost season 4, episode 5, “The Constant” as the greatest show this century. A recent — and extremely scientific — survey of The Sun’s editors (or, at least those at the office one evening who responded to my unprompted and completely random question) gave the crown to “Two Cathedrals,” the 22nd episode from the second season of The West Wing. The Ringer ranked “Two Cathedrals” 12th. Clearly, there is room for further debate.
However, for those of us sane, rational humans with fully developed brains, the apex of serialized television is Parks and Recreation season 3, episode 2, more commonly referred to as “Flu Season” (but hopefully soon as “The Greatest Episode in Television History,” if my opinion carries any weight). For some inexplicable and indefensible reason, “Flu Season” did not even make The Ringer’s list. They gave a nod to the Parks and Rec series finale (the ranking did not include multiple episodes from the same series), which they placed at the 41st spot. A travesty, I’m sure you all agree. To claim that “Flu Season” is not the best half-hour among the many in Parks and Rec’s repertoire and to assert that the show’s best episode is worse than 40 other series’ in total is heresy of the highest order.
“Flu Season” opens with local opalescent tree shark (and nurse) Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) describing a flu epidemic overtaking the show’s fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. The hospital, evidently, is overrun with sick patients and Ann is forced to take care of her arch-enemy/tangentially-related-acquaintance April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza). April is mad at Ann for various reasons, but I worry this column will be too long if I try to explain them all. Really, that subplot is less important because Ann refuses to wear any form of flu prevention. This immediately discredits any thread of credibility she carries as a practicing medical professional. I’m only joking; Ann is perfect and she can do whatever she wants. (Side note: You are not a poetic and noble land mermaid, so make sure you take all possible measures to prevent the flu!)
Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) needs to deliver a big presentation to the Chamber of Commerce in order to gain vendors for the upcoming Harvest Festival (the success of which will determine the fate of the parks department). Unfortunately, her allergies are acting up and she is a little tired and her eyes are glassy and she is vomiting profusely and, oh shit, she actually has the flu. This is the crux of the A plot, which follows her attempts to leave the hospital in order to deliver the speech. It tangentially incorporates fascist hardass/state auditor Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) as he tries to alleviate Knope of her responsibilities (read: as he tries to stop Leslie from doing something she really wants to do, which is impossible, you baboons) while hinting at a budding love interest. Leslie gives the speech.
Woven within the A plot is a B plot that follows parks department director Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) and resident goofball Andy Dwyer (the lead of Jurassic World, Chris Pratt). The pair becomes fast friends by bonding over meat, football and not doing stuff (which also happen to be my three favorite things after watching Parks and Recreation). Writer Norm Hiscock and director Wendey Stanzler also expertly throw in scenes of Ann taking care of dealing with April and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), which could constitute a C plot, but it’s really more of comedic interludes than a serious storyline. Lowe does an excellent job playing a debilitatingly sick person and also improvised the second funniest line of the episode, “Stop. Poopin’.”
The number one funniest line was also improvised and will probably go down in the annals of television history. As Ben leads a sweating Leslie through the parks office en route to the hospital, Andy is sitting at a computer and utters the immortal sentence: “Leslie, I typed your symptoms into the thing up here and it says you could have ‘network connectivity problems.’” It’s clever. It’s witty. Andy’s naive confidence is perfectly in character and hilarious. Pratt was probably cast in Jurassic World, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and the heretofore unnamed Jurassic World 3 from that one line alone. He likely didn’t even have to propose to his current wife, Katherine Schwarzenegger, but instead just showed her that clip and she popped the question. It’s entirely possible that Chris Pratt actually invented “network connectivity problems.”
“Flu Season” is essential in the development of nearly every core character in Parks and Rec. Leslie further demonstrates that she is no longer the goofy bimbo that she was portrayed as in the first season. Ben shows that he is loyal to the parks department and maybe kinda sorta likes Leslie (hee hee!). Ann (somehow) becomes more attracted to a physical and mentally impaired Chris who is vomiting in drawers and can’t get up off the floor. Ron and Andy are both dudes. Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), not worth mentioning until now, still sucks — but at least he is no Mark Brendanawicz, who is finally, mercifully gone from the show. And April, master of both emotion and the English language, delivers my favorite phrase in the entire series:
“Stay back, slut!”
Jeremy Markus is a sophomore 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.