Parks and Recreation just began its seventh, and final, season. While this show never reached the heights of popularity, or prestige, of other NBC sitcoms such as The Office or 30 Rock, it built up a devoted audience of its own, and created some of the best comedy in recent years. The future for this cast is bright—Chris Pratt’s now a movie star and Amy Poehler is still one of the most talented people in comedy. As the series moves on, into the year 2017 with its recent season premiere, we can’t help but get a little nostalgic for the past. Let’s take a look back at the best episodes of Parks and Recreation.
Fittingly enough, “Time Capsule” now feels sort of like its own time capsule, what with the different romantic situations characters were in, and also because the Twilight books play a key part in the plot. Will Forte makes his sole appearance in the world of Pawnee as a guy who is willing to go to great lengths to get the beloved vampire-teenager-werewolf love story into the city’s time capsule. The “B” story about Andy and April, and April’s short-lived boyfriend Eduardo isn’t great (unless you like The Dave Matthews Band), but the rest of the episode more than makes up for it.
Stories involving Ron’s second ex-wife named Tammy, who will make another appearance later in this list, had been getting a bit stale, but “Ron and Diane” wrung more out of Megan Mullally’s delightfully bonkers performance. It also added a nice twist, when Ron’s new lady, Diane, became more concerned about his friendship with Leslie than with Tammy and her raw sexuality. Plus, it’s always fun to see Ron in the world of woodworking. The side story about Jerry’s Christmas party is a nice secondary piece of humor that gives all the other characters something enjoyable to do.
The first season of Parks and Recreation, by popular consensus, was uneven and indicative of a show trying to find its footing. “Pawnee Zoo” was the first episode of Season Two, and showed that really talented people working in front of and behind the camera can lead to great storytelling. This simple tale of a gay penguin wedding began the recalibration of Poehler’s performance as Leslie Knope, which turned her into one of the best characters on TV. It’s also a very funny episode, even if it still has to deal with some of the problematic residue of Season One.
The first “Ron & Tammy” set the table well for the upcoming sequel, and is quite funny. But… “Ron & Tammy: Part Two” gives us Ron Swanson with cornrows. Checkmate. It has other very funny things as well, and it includes the fine pairing of the peppy Chris and the dour April—an excellent comedic juxtaposition.
This one was a funny parody of political sex scandals, this time with Leslie unfairly at the center. This was also one of the best “Leslie gets tired of Pawnee and thinks about leaving but then realizes she loves the town too much” episodes. Ron is typically hilarious, Joan and Perd both show up. “Christmas Scandal” is also one of the earlier episodes in the Andy-April love story, which makes it somewhat notable.
“Tom’s Divorce” is basically here for two things. One, the gang’s trip to Jurassic Fork, a dinosaur-themed restaurant. Two, the trip to the Glitter Factory, AKA the preeminent strip club in Pawnee. Ron happily piling breakfast food from a buffet onto his plate in a strip club is a thing of beauty.
Halloween, and holidays in general, never have meant as much to Parks and Recreation as they did to The Office, but “Greg Pikitis” really made good use of it. Louis C.K. has his finest appearance as Dave the cop, and Leslie gets her own personal Professor Moriarty in teenaged menace Greg Pikitis. Also, this is the first appearance of Andy’s character Bert Macklin, a gift that keeps on giving.
The hour long opener of season six sees the gang sent off to London, and the cast actually heads across the pond to get into all sorts of wacky antics. Ron gets married. Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa show up, along with their father, played by former Bob Newhart Show guest star Henry Winkler (which is probably a negative to the misguided folks who don’t like the hijinx of the Saperstein family). Sometimes a sitcom can’t sustain a full hour of television. “London” earns every minute.
This was another big event episode from Season Six, where two main characters—Rashida Jones’ Ann Perkins and Rob Lowe’s Chris Traeger—leave the show. Both were given a sendoff worthy of the characters, and it was a really well-crafted episode of television that managed to be both funny and dramatically resonant. Ann, that transcendent little seahorse, got the grandest of goodbyes from Leslie Knope.
Like most great romances, the courtship of Leslie and Ben ended up with one of them on trial for possible violations. The stakes are high, the execution is on point, and Ethel Beavers is maybe a criminal, if April is to be believed. “The Trial of Leslie Knope” is a nice showcase for the entire main cast.
Amy Poehler’s best moments as Leslie usually require Leslie to be in some state of physical duress. In “Telethon,” Leslie is left to host the titular telethon from 2 AM to 6 AM, and of course she’s also been awake for hours upon hours beforehand. This leaves her delirious, and hilarious—and also Detlef Schrempf is in this episode! There’s a nice early appearance from Perd too.
Weddings are sitcom staples, but “Andy and April’s Fancy Party” involves a surprise wedding featuring two oddball, less-than-bright characters.There were no ads promoting a “special event” on the show or anything. Just a simple marital event filled with laughs and emotions. And then in the secondary story Donna compares Ann to Nell, from the movie Nell. It is a fine bit of comedy to fill the time around the big wedding events.
The race for city council between Leslie and Paul Rudd’s dopey, but genial Bobby Newport took up the bulk of the latter portion of Season Three, and it all culminated in “Win, Lose, or Draw,” where we see the final results of the election. The episode does a splendid job dealing with Leslie’s swirling emotions, and she gets a great moment in her acceptance speech at the end, but it’s also a very funny episode. Maybe Leslie’s time on the city council wasn’t as successful as it could have been, but the journey to get there was tremendous.
Some episodes of Parks and Recreation are emotionally resonant and feature really smartly crafted stories. Some just consist of everybody getting super drunk on Snake Juice. It’s a very silly episode, brimming with hilarity, although it does make some time for Leslie and Ann to deal with their first big fight. Of course, in the end, they remain the best of friends, because Leslie is nothing if not devoted.
Sleep deprived Leslie is great. Drunk Leslie is great. However, sick with the flu Leslie is truly the best of the best. The town is in the grip of the flu, and this episode wrings all the humor out of it possible. There are also some major things at stake, as Leslie has a big speech to give while she’s basically hallucinating from a mix of illness and an excess of flu medication. Truly, it is a comedy tour de force, and that’s what lifts “Flu Season” to the top of this list.
Chris Morgan is an Internet gadabout who writes on a variety of topics and in a variety of mediums. If he had to select one thing to promote, however, it would be his ’90s blog/podcast, Existential Parachute Pants. (You can also follow him on Twitter.)