I gave myself an extra day to pick this one, so I wanted it to be a good choice—and a happy choice. After last night’s finale of The Bachelorette and its beautiful proposal (I know this ending surprised a lot of people—myself included—but I think Chris was the perfect choice, and I think Desiree was finally able to see that), I started thinking about my favorite television proposals of all time. Of course there are the ones from The Bachelor and The Bachelorette that make me cry every season (I’m such a softie), but there are plenty of fictional ones too: Monica and Chandler, Jim and Pam, Ryan and Jenny, Chuck and Sarah, Seth and Summer, Meredith and Derek…
And Ben and Leslie.
Ben proposing to Leslie isn’t just my favorite proposal scene in television history; it’s one of my favorite television moments ever. The acting, the writing, and the element of surprise all combined to create something truly special—something that makes me cry just thinking about it (so you can only imagine how hard I still cry while watching it).
The thing I’ll remember most about this moment is just how surprised I was by it. This happened in the fifth episode of the season—not a premiere, a finale, or any kind of sweeps episode. I started crying as soon as Ben walked into the room because it meant he was choosing Leslie instead of a job in Florida, but little did I know just how committed he was to choosing this woman as his future. When he got down on one knee, my reaction mirrored Leslie’s: Oh my God, what are you doing?
At that point, I couldn’t stop crying if I wanted to. Sometimes a scene just makes you feel so warm, happy, and hopeful that all you can do is cry. From a pure performance standpoint, Amy Poehler and Adam Scott have never been better than they were here. From the little cracks in his voice to the unshed tears in her eyes, they both gave themselves over to this moment, and we as an audience reaped the benefits. Scott’s delivery of each line is filled with a kind of sincerity that makes you believe everything Ben is telling Leslie. And Poehler reduces me to a blubbering mess every time I watch the part where Leslie looks away and takes a deep breath (around the 0:57 mark in the video), as her happiness overwhelms her. Leslie’s reaction is so perfectly true to this character, and Poehler makes that reaction resonate with a kind of quiet joy so radiant it’s impossible to look at through dry eyes.
This scene is more than just emotionally powerful—it’s important. Part of the reason it makes me cry so hard is the hope it makes me feel as a young woman who believes it’s not crazy to find a man who will support your dreams and love you for being ambitious, intense, and more than a little ridiculous at times. I have always identified with Leslie, and I am forever grateful to Parks and Recreation for creating this beautiful character who doesn’t have to sacrifice one dream (love) for another (career). That a genuinely nice, hard-working, ambitious woman exists as a main character on television is a great thing in and of itself, but the fact that she is loved to the extent that she is loved by a genuinely nice, hard-working, intelligent man is incredible.
I don’t think I can articulate my thoughts on the importance of this scene and what it says about this relationship any better than I did in my review of the episode, so I’ll stop trying and leave you with these thoughts:
My favorite thing about Ben and Leslie’s relationship has always been that Ben never forces Leslie to give up any of her dreams—to curb any of her ambitions—to be with him. In fact, it’s Ben who—once again—makes a sacrifice for love because that’s the man he is, not because Leslie demands it of him, either. He loves helping other people make their dreams come true—that’s why he excels at managing political campaigns. But the person whose dreams he most wants to help bring to fruition are Leslie’s. There’s never any resentment or any indication that it’s strange or revolutionary for this male character to sacrifice so much for the woman he loves; it’s just who he is. He’s not at his happiest managing campaigns; he’s at his happiest with Leslie. She’s his future.