Amidst a sea of television shows that illustrated the most dour aspects of our society, Parks and Recreation was always a beacon of hope. Despite revolving around the often cruel world of politics, Parks never let itself become cynical, thanks in large part to its effervescent main character. At the heart was the show’s power couple, Leslie and Ben, whose love story was often the warmest and brightest thing coming from our televisions. There were many great moments between these two in their five seasons together. Too many to possibly compile in a succinct list, and that’s often the trouble with these things. If you were to write this list, you might have ten completely different moments than I have here, and you’d be just as right as I am. (In a show so consistently excellent, there is never a way to include every single great moment.) Many of the ones I’ve chosen come from Seasons Three and Four, when Ben and Leslie’s relationship was often a focal point, and many moments erred on the side of seriousness. While Leslie and Ben had numerous moments of great comedy, it was the moments that were not looking for a laugh that stuck with me most.
As Parks and Recreation signs off for the final time tonight, it won’t be lost from our collective memory. In its seven seasons, the show has created a host of unforgettable characters and moments, including the best modern sitcom love story on TV. Here are the ten best Ben and Leslie moments from Parks and Recreation.
As flirtation skyrocketed, Ben and Leslie found themselves in a serious conundrum in Season Three. Though they clearly wanted to be together, they were beholden to Chris’ rule that a government superior and their subordinate could not be romantically involved. Knowing that they would likely break the rule, given the proper time alone together, Ben and Leslie attempted to stay apart as best they could. Then Chris forced them to be together by sending them on a road trip to Indianapolis, and what ensued was was a heart-wrenching half hour of close calls, roadblocks and then, finally, mercifully, a first kiss.
Meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time can be nerve-wracking. Especially when your relationship is secret, and could cost you your job. The first meeting between Ben and Marlene Griggs-Knope is incredible. Leslie snaps and loses her sanity for a pivotal few seconds, telling Ben that Marlene is a Filipino woman of no relation to her, later having to backtrack that statement and tell Ben the truth. Naturally, with this new information sprung upon him, Ben is a complete wreck in the meeting. The ensuing quest to reverse Marlene’s initial opinion is magnificent. So magnificent, in fact, that Momma Knope can’t help herself, and takes a pass at Ben. By the end of Season Three, Parks and Recreation was firing on all cylinders. Nearly every decision the writers made worked, and “The Bubble,” both with the Ben and Leslie storyline and Chris’s endeavor to improve the Parks office, is a prime example.
As well as the writing staff handled Ben and Leslie’s initial courtship, they handled their breakup just as superbly. In the few weeks that Pawnee’s top couple spent split, the writers found countless ways to break our hearts. Few are higher, for me, than “The Treaty,” in which Leslie and Ben run a Model U.N. meeting for a local high school. Though there is lots of petty (and hilarious) back and forth between Leslie and Ben during the episode, it’s the moment about nine minutes in—in which the two converse about whether they can remain friends—that always destroys me. “You can’t just chop up the aspects of a relationship into discrete parts and select the ones you want like a buffet,” Ben says, to which Leslie replies, “Why not?” The answer: because it’s selfish. It’s true, and one aspect of Ben and Leslie’s relationship I’ve always admired is its honesty. Parks and Recreation may be set in a nutty fictitious town, but when it came to relationships (romantic and platonic) it was always refreshingly honest, grounded in truth and with a sense of modernity. It’s all over the show, from Ron and Leslie, to Andy and April, to Donna and whatever man she has in her Benz. But Ben and Leslie were always the centerpiece. The Season Four episodes in which the two were separated had some of the best, most honest discussion about relationships television has seen in a long time.
Parks and Recreation has often been thought of as a “small” show. The little show that could, thriving in the minor details, small quips between characters and glances into the camera. But to say that Parks is a small show would be to criminally sell it short because, when it needed to, it handled the biggest moments with the best of them. We are now entering a string of moments on the list that I refer to as “big.” First up comes from “Smallest Park,” in which Leslie finally has to confront the possibility of not working with Ben, and loses her mind. The final scene, Ben and Leslie defiantly deciding to say “screw it” and be together, is one of the best acted sequences in the show’s run. Both Amy Poehler and Adam Scott absolutely nail it.
Few shows would be brave enough to have two characters declare their love by proxy. Parks has always been at the forefront of television creatively, and “The Trial of Leslie Knope” is a great example. Two characters saying “I love you” is hardly a fresh concept, but doing so through official testimony record, is. The episode itself is also a prime illustration of Parks’ ability to meld comedy with heart. “The Trial of Leslie Knope” is a hilarious half-hour of television, that ends with a moonlit kiss beneath falling snow.
Moments don’t come bigger than a wedding proposal. Lucky for Parks fans, creator Michael Schur is no slouch when it comes to penning big moments. He wrote “The Job,” The Office’s Season Three closer that saw Jim leave New York (and Karen) behind to see about a girl in Scranton. He’s written numerous episodes that rank among Parks’ best, and he wrote this beautiful scene. What I’ve always loved about Ben and Leslie’s proposal is how it intimated their love for one another, and their uniqueness as a couple. Leslie is unlike any other person, and she accepted Ben’s proposal in a way only Leslie could.
If there were a lock to make the list, this was it. There’s not much that needs to be said about Leslie and Ben’s wedding that fans of the show don’t already know. For me, it stands as one of a few moments in my television viewing history that can be rated as perfect. The image of the newlyweds sitting in front of the wildflower mural laughing together, enraptured by the other’s company, is sweet, elegant and completely stunning.
Leslie and Ben’s spontaneous trip to Paris immediately struck a chord with me (and clearly I wasn’t the only one) sheerly for the fact that it was a gorgeous montage. But it’s the events that precede it, that make it a truly special moment for these characters. “Second Chunce” comes after a rough patch for Ben and Leslie. Leslie’s run as a city councillor officially ends, and the future is relatively uncertain. The two waste little time feeling sorry for themselves, though, hitching a flight to France. Their trip in the City of Love signifies the strength of their relationship, and the fact that, as long as they have each other, they’ll be just fine.
With Leslie recalled from City Council and Ben taking over as City Manager, the two found themselves once again in an odd working relationship. Though soulmates in their personal life, Leslie and Ben quickly found that they wouldn’t always see eye to eye in office life. This is common ground for television to tread when it comes to on-screen couples, but this storyline thrived thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Poehler and Scott. As per usual, though the storyline may have been ordinary, the way it played out with Leslie and Ben was anything but. How many couples would end up in a fountain just to prove a point?
Ben and Leslie have always been an incredible team. They were Chris’s dream team while working together in the Pawnee city government and a political tour de force during Leslie’s campaign for City Council. They have also always been a great example of a modern relationship, free from sexist ideals. Their recent tag team speech in “Pie-Mary” is a great moment of two people, perfectly in sync, telling the world how things should be.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.