By The Taste Basket Team
A good deal of us here at The Taste Basket will attest to the notion that NBC’s Parks and Recreation has been the greatest sitcom on network television for the entirety of its seven-year run. It’s a bold statement, but it’s one we own especially in retrospect.
Before we tearfully bid farewell to the show this evening, we reflect on the good times: our favorite episodes, characters, and emotional takeaways from Parks and Rec, all for your reading pleasure.
When I was watching Season 1, if you were to tell me that the always-frowning, cold-as-ice, and miserable-wherever-she-was young intern April Ludgate and Ann Perkins’ lazy, airheaded, frat-boy/man-child boyfriend Andy Dwyer would eventually become one of the most refreshingly authentic and endearing couples on TV, I would’ve pulled an April and declared that “everything you are saying is stupid.”
Early on, Andy was like a crippled puppy dog, with two broken legs (as a result of THE PIIIT), desperate for Ann’s attention even when she’d clearly had enough of his irresponsibility and mooching. Ann would soon move on, and Andy was left longing to win her back. Andy was always a great-hearted goof, so oblivious to his own simplicity that you couldn’t help but love the guy, and if you didn’t and still don’t, you might have network connectivity problems. However, April was always a bit difficult to latch on to as a character, which is exactly how she’d want it, because she was constantly so annoyed at everything and everyone, only throwing us small peeks at her kindness and humanity as the show progressed.
And yet, their chemistry happened so naturally, slowly but surely, sparked by April’s unconditional draw to Andy’s lack of inhibitions and traits that drove Ann (April’s frenemy) crazy. In the tenth episode of the second season, “Hunting Trip,” April and Andy are left together in the office throughout, with the team off shooting at birds and each other, and it’s so fun to watch their friendship really take shape. It’s also comforting to see April smile and laugh, seemingly for the first time on the show, which served as a trigger for her to be happy anytime she and Andy were together. Some sweater-swapping, gum-sharing, and a Summer Catalog cover later, the two threw a wedding ceremony disguised as a “fancy party,” and were married. In April’s vows, she says “I guess I kind of hate most things, but I never really seem to hate you” as Andy promises to protect her from dangers, not caring if he has to fight an ultimate fighter or a bear or him, (pointing to the marriage officiator who is clearly a woman), and with that, the characters sort of meld together to form April-n-Andy, the seemingly unlikeliest but ultimately most fitting couple on Parks and Rec.
It’s also crazy to notice how much they’ve each individually grown as people as a result of being together. April quickly becomes an extremely caring (on her own terms), mature, and motivated person, especially when it comes to supporting and encouraging Andy in whatever he wants to do (except eat noodles discovered at the bottom of a dumpster). Andy himself is still the same guy, but he has some direction, prompted by undying support from April. It’s been a blast to watch this couple over the course of the show, and it’s a testament to the show’s fantastic and well-rounded writing that I tend to forget that they aren’t real.
To April-n-Andy, I awesome sauce you, and I wish your Halloween parties were a thing. I know what things are. Farewell and I wish you the best of luck in D.C.!
Favorite Episode: Season 3 Episode 16 “Li’l Sebastian”
Favorite Andy Dwyer Moment: Andy goes in to talk to Ann because he’s not feeling well. “Just got a headache. And I’m seeing double, and I got a song stuck in my head. And my teeth hurt. Also, I’m…hungry.”
I remember years ago hearing Conan O’Brien talk about his personal approach to comedy. This might’ve been around when Late Night was ending, when he would eventually make one of the best goodbye speeches ever. In the interview, he said sentimentality had no place in comedy. For a while, I thought it was true. I always thought about that old Larry David Seinfeld manifesto, “No hugging, no learning.” This is all until I started watching Parks and Recreation. This show expertly combines comedy and sentimentality, teetering on the edge of sweet without becoming saccharine, always reeling itself back.
Parks and Recreation is a show that is both dry and affectionate. Take for example, the episode “Halloween Surprise” in Season 5. At first, it just seems like Jerry is really gassy. Tom is repulsed enough to ask, “Seriously Jerry, did you eat farts for lunch?” It turns out Jerry is having an actual heart attack and is rushed to the hospital. Despite the ruthless abuse the group doles out on poor Jerry, they visit him in the hospital. When Jerry worries about paying his medical bills, Leslie arranges a garage sale to raise money. Jerry’s heart attack is subsequently referred to by the Parks Department as a “fart attack.”
A more recent example from the final season, “Leslie and Ron.” The titular two are forced to settle their differences while locked in an office together against their will. I couldn’t take much more of their animosity towards each other, it was killing me. After hours of interrogation and torture from Leslie, Ron admits that he felt abandoned by his Parks Department friends. It is revealed that Leslie stood Ron up for a lunch date. There is such an overwhelming amount of love and respect between them, in spite of their vastly different values. Their friendship is pieced back together to Willie Nelson’s “Buddy.” They spend the rest of the night getting drunk and dancing to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which prompts Leslie to thrust her butt outwards at the precise moment that Ron blows his saxophone, mimicking a fart. I just realized I picked two flatulence related moments from the show. Figures.
There’s a tendency to shy from big emotion as a writer. Partly because you just don’t want to deal with it. The mushy stuff seems like too big of a monster to tackle. It’s safer to stray on the side of indifference. Parks and Recreation is a show that has created vulnerable, endearing characters with incredible skill and wit, which is why it is one of my favorite comedies. I am so sad it’s ending.
Favorite Episode: Season 4 Episode 11 “The Comeback Kid.” The below scene cracks me up.
Favorite Element of the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness: Crying: Acceptable at Funerals and the Grand Canyon.
Those who are not as dedicated to Parks and Recreation as they should be often mistake Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) for a pretty one-dimensional character. There is no denying Ron is a patriotic, steak-eating woodsman who prefers a whiskey in his left hand and a rifle in his right. However, those of us who have spent countless nights in our underwear watching him on Netflix know there is so much more to him than a mustache and value packs of discounted beef.
You don’t need to dig very deeply to see the complexities of Ron Swanson. In fact, as he illustrates quite literally in his Pyramid of Greatness, he believes part of the foundation of “greatness” is frankness; “cut your B.S.” I admire him for being true to who he is, and honest about his ideals. He is uncomfortable and awkward while hugging the people he cares about, yet he is giddy with child-like excitement over a free breakfast buffet. He has his weaknesses, a large one being his satanic ex-wife Tammy (played by Offerman’s real-life wife Megan Mullally) whose vagina turns him into a sex-crazed maniac with cornrows.
I appreciate Ron’s love of seclusion and the open air. He is soothed both by a campfire at his cabin and shooting a deer in the face. He believes in self-reliance. He uses his keen wood working skills to craft his own wooden furniture, and he buries gold. Ron makes a beautiful character because he works at both ends of his spectrum. He believes in both hunting his own meat and yet he consumes massive amounts of bacon and eggs at JJ’s Diner. He is not afraid to admit when his boundaries need to be stretched. For example, although he usually steers clear of ethnic foods, he is still able to try the Meat Tornado burrito Andy brings for him.
Ron can be easily mistaken as your “man’s man” stereotype, a divorced woman-hating misogynist. Even Leslie, in Season 2 Episode 10 “Hunting Trip,” accuses Ron of believing he hated her tagging along on the expedition because she is a woman. He responds “I don’t care that you’re a girl, I just don’t like change.” Ron genuinely seems to show no bias between men and women. He says, “I like a strong, salt of the earth, self-possessed woman at the top of her field,” yet I believe that rings true for all the people in his life he looks up to, man or woman. In the third season, Ron teaches a nine year old girl his libertarian views, addressing her as “ma’am” and bestowing upon her a claymore landmine. His unique sort of sentimentality, (and yes, his charming mustache) truly touch my heart. What he hates is indecisive, carbonated water-drinking, Canadian hippies, and who can blame him?
Favorite Episode: Season 3 Episode 9 “Fancy Party,” mostly for the Lord of the Rings joke (which, I really have to agree with Ben on) and Ron pulling his tooth at the very beginning.
I have reason to believe that the everyday Parks and Rec enthusiast identifies with the show more inherently than in any other way. I’ve found that, more times than not, I’m at a loss for the right words in group settings where we’re all piggybacking off one another, highlighting our favorite episodes and insert-character-here-isms, playing a game of “recap” comparable to say, I don’t know—I Love You, Man‘s Peter Klaven and Sydney Fife post-Rush concert. Then this happened and then that happened and oh, it was so great.
This effect—the inability to express oneself succinctly in regards to why Parks and Rec is in fact so great—is a testament to Mike Schur and the gang’s storytelling prowess. And as much as the writing team is responsible for the show’s natural sincerity, so are the members of its incredible ensemble cast who bring the characters and their fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana to life.
But it isn’t just the leads. In fact, I might argue it’s the recurring and bit characters who really round out the show’s at-once eccentric and homely setting (Might? I’m going to).
If that’s the case, here’s where Parks succeeds and The Office doesn’t so much. A sitcom about small town government demands a string of ventures outside the office building, and with Leslie Knope’s many tenacious plans for Pawnee (and, by extension, the many curveballs its often simple, incompetent, and/or vain Paunch Burger-chomping, Sweetums-sucking citizens will throw her) we have a show that’s maybe more fun to write and definitely more fun to watch.
Consider the cases of Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir), and Donna Meagle (Retta) as precursors to a noticeable spike in character development. We shouldn’t forget that these three were only guest stars in the first season. Andy was essentially a device; his fall into the infamous “Pit” establishing Leslie’s first conflict as deputy director of the Pawnee Parks Department. After Pratt charmed the producers, however, he secured a spot in the main cast. Though O’Heir and Retta only followed suit in Season 3, their characters had prior been fleshed out considerably—Jerry, as the painfully well-meaning office punching bag, and Donna, as a high class serial dater and the perfect companion to Tom Haverford (Treat ‘Yo Self Two Thousand ‘Leeeeven).
It’s no doubt that in the succession of these characters, the Parks team had found a groove. Spanning the show’s seven seasons, we learned about Pawnee and all its colors from the introduction and recurring usage of a slew of secondary guys and gals, often played by the best and brightest in comedy. What’s better? Each side character seems to establish a certain side of Pawnee. Joan Callamezzo (Mo Collins), Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson), and The Douche (Nick Kroll), for example, show the town’s ignorant, buffoonish media. Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser), Fielding Milton (James Greene), and Ethel Beavers (Helen Slayton-Hughes) are great accessories to the continued depiction of Pawnee’s government system, and Leslie’s time on the City Council. Orin (Eric Isenhower) and Greg Pikitis (Cody Klop) represent the troubled Pawnee youth. Pawnshop owner Herman Lerpiss (Richard Burch) gives us the wrong side of town.
But that’s just scratching the surface. We’ve seen cameos and recurring guest spots from Paul Rudd, Jenny Slate, Henry Winkler, Alison Becker, Kathryn Hahn, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Louis CK, Jason Schwartzman, Ginuwine, and most recently Werner Herzog and Bill Murray. Parks and Recreation writers/producers Joe Mande and Harris Wittels* often step in to play obnoxious social media proponent Morris and a stoner Animal Control employee, respectively.
Then of course there’s Jean-Ralphio Saperstein (Ben Schwartz). He’s the wooooooorst.
You can pick your favorite, but you can’t deny that due in great part to all of these vibrant bit players, Pawnee has fully realized itself. Yes, to me, it all feels so real—and that’s the mark of phenomenal television. I’m going to cry tonight for sure.
Favorite Episode: Season 2 Episode 7 “Greg Pikitis,” which not only serves to introduce one of Leslie’s greatest nemeses, but FBI Agent Burt Macklin in all his glory—plus, it’s the first Halloween episode of Parks in a string of consistently hilarious ones. But I also love Season 6 Episode 6 “Filibuster,” where Ben’s Early ’90s birthday party falls at the mercy of a filibuster for former-Eagletonian voting rights, which Leslie impressively performs in roller skates. A great few lines from Councilman Jamm, notably, “I’m a blades guy” and “Hey man, leave my gong alone. The reverb is the best part.”
Favorite Amateur Claymation Short: Requiem for a Tuesday, dir. Ben Wyatt.
When the Parks and Rec finale airs on Tuesday, February 24th, it will be not only the end of a show, but also the end of one of the most iconic characters on television today: Leslie Knope. Intense and loud, Leslie’s love of waffles and government work have charmed audiences for the past seven seasons. We watched her career in government rise and fall (many times quite literally), and we fell in love with her big dreams and bigger heart.
Watching the show, I think we all wished we had a friend like Leslie. Fiercely loyal, having Leslie Knope in your corner seemed like the ultimate trump card. She was always thinking of others and wore her love and appreciation for her friends on her sleeve. She expected a lot out of the people she loved, but she knew that they could do whatever she set them to, so we believed they could too.
Leslie Knope is not only a great friend, but a great feminist icon. Leslie fought every episode for her place in the world, embodying the struggle of women everywhere to find a way to navigate a world where men are in charge and women are defined, not by the work they do or the ideas they have, but by their blonde hair or pie-making abilities. Leslie Knope pushed back against all of those who sought to bring her down, even when the odds seemed insurmountable.
Leslie Knope is a legend, both in her fictional world and in our real one. We raise a waffle to you, Ms. Knope. Thanks for a great seven seasons.
Favorite Episode: Season 4 Episode 11 “The Comeback Kid.”
Favorite Leslie Knope Compliment: “Oh, Ann. You beautiful, naïve, sophisticated newborn baby.”
*Here’s something beautiful from our own Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) in tribute to Parks and Recreation writer and producer Harris Wittels. Rest in peace, Mr. Wittels.
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