Title Flu Season 2
Two-Sentence Summary Tom attends a sommelier competition to find someone to hire for his restaurant, only to discover that Craig is a great—and very enthusiastic—sommelier. Meanwhile, Ben’s frustration over his parents selling their lake house leads him to the discover that he wants to start a family with Leslie now, which coincides with Leslie discovering that her nausea might not be a flu symptom after all.
Ben: I want to start our family. I mean—I know things are crazy. But there’s no “good” time, and I want to do it now.
Leslie: Well buddy, I’ve got some good news for you…
My Thoughts A lot of fun things happened in “Flu Season 2.” Andy thought karate could be used as first aid. Bo Burnham showed up as a 17-year-old country singer with the worst attitude imaginable. Craig tried to bring it down a thousand notches. April pretended to be a sommelier. And Ben got drunk on blueberry wine and went to one Ron (the Pawnee version) to another (the Eagleton version) for advice.
But in the middle of all of the hilarity and hijinks, something momentous happened. LESLIE KNOPE IS PREGNANT. THERE IS GOING TO BE A LITTLE KNOPE-WYATT BABY IN THE FUTURE. BEN AND LESLIE ARE GOING TO BE PARENTS.
(Sorry about the caps—some things just need to be virtually screamed from the rooftops, and your favorite TV couple having a baby is one of those things!)
My favorite thing about “Flu Season 2” was the way it played with expectations, subverting them from the moment we learned the episode’s title through its blissful conclusion. I thought this was going to be another episode where a flu epidemic was used to create excellent moments of comedy, much like its predecessor, “Flu Season,” was back in Season Three. So imagine my surprise when it became clear that Leslie didn’t actually have the flu. The scene at the drugstore where the revelation dawned on Leslie was so great because it dawned on the audience at the same time. By allowing us to go into the episode thinking it was going to be about the flu, the writers kept us (and Leslie) from immediately putting together the oldest cliché in the book: woman + throwing up = pregnancy.
While the title may have led us to believe that this episode was going to be about something else, I shouldn’t have been surprised that it ended up featuring a huge step forward in the progression of Ben and Leslie’s story. The original “Flu Season” used the flu as a vehicle for Ben to see just how special Leslie is and for Leslie to see how much Ben had come to care about her. I’ve always believed that was the episode when Ben went from being intrigued by and maybe attracted to Leslie to starting to really fall in love with her. So it makes perfect sense to me that “Flu Season 2” ended up also being about something a heck of a lot deeper and more meaningful than the flu.
One of my favorite things about Ben and Leslie’s relationship has been the way many of its big moments have happened in relatively unimportant episodes in terms of their placements within a season—their first kiss, first “I love you,” and their engagement all happened in episodes that didn’t scream “THIS IS THE TIME IN A TV SEASON WHERE A MAJOR DEVELOPMENT HAPPENS!” The same thing happened here, and it even happened in microcosm within the episode itself. Leslie found out she was pregnant midway through the episode instead of right at the end, and it wasn’t some big, dramatic revelation. I thought Amy Poehler played Leslie’s reaction perfectly: You could feel her shock and just the slightest sense of her being overwhelmed, but there was a lovely sense of happiness in her performance too. Being pregnant isn’t a source of angst or drama for this woman; it’s something that makes her happy.
Leslie’s interactions with Andy seemed to reinforce the idea that she’s going to be a good mother. This plot worked so well because Chris Pratt’s inner child allows Poehler to play the straight woman to his antics, which is something we don’t get to see enough of with Leslie. After many episodes this season featuring her acting over the top, it was fun to get this reminder that Leslie can actually be the mature one in a situation.
I love when Poehler just sits back and lets Pratt do his thing because Andy’s childlike enthusiasm is hilarious. Whether it’s picking out candy or singing “Johnny Karate” songs, Pratt has a way of making Andy’s juvenile behavior endearing and not annoying. And he manages to balance it with surprising moments of emotional maturity, such as the genuinely sweet scene when he told Leslie not to be afraid of her growing family. I’m sure we all knew he was going to get his wires crossed there somehow, but that didn’t stop the imaginary dog-petting from being funny.
While Leslie was facing new responsibilities, Tom was doing the same on a much different scale. It’s been fun to continue to watch him work hard to make Tom’s Bistro the best it can be, and I like that so many of his fellow Parks Department friends supported him—even if it was only because there was free wine at the sommelier competition. I found this storyline funny, but it’s not one I’ll remember when I look back at this episode later on. It had a nice, steady string of jokes, especially coming from April. And, as a devoted Craig fan, I loved seeing him get more screen time and a chance to fulfill a dream of his own (because Parks and Recreation does that for even its most minor characters). But it was really just some funny filler as Leslie and Ben worked in separate ways to come to terms with the idea of having a family.
While Leslie’s acceptance of her pregnancy was played with uncharacteristic and really beautiful restraint by Poehler, Ben’s journey towards realizing he wants to be a dad as soon as possible was as far from “restrained” as it gets. Last season’s “Partridge” showed us the enjoyment to be had by all when Ben is under the influence, so it was fun to see Adam Scott play drunk, rambling about his dog that got left at a synagogue and Ron’s lack of interpersonal skills (which Ron took as a compliment). The blue teeth and increasingly disheveled look they gave Scott as the episode progressed was a nice touch, too.
Ultimately, Eagleton Ron didn’t have the answer Ben was looking for in terms of getting rid of his anger about his parents selling their lake house. (Not even his baby snow owl spirit animal could help!) Instead, it was Pawnee Ron who reminded Ben that maybe happiness isn’t going to come from a lake house but from the family he wanted to take to that lake house. Ron’s embracing of his own role as the head of a family has been such a statement of growth for his character, and it was lovely to see him share the peace that being a father has given him with a man who was about to find out that he’s going to be a father, too.
Dramatic irony is one of my favorite literary devices (check out my Once Upon a Time recaps if you don’t believe me). So it was all kinds of fun for me to watch Ben in this episode come to terms with wanting a family—all the while knowing what Leslie was going to tell him as soon as he got home. Once again, there was no angst or drama about what Ben’s reaction to her pregnancy would be. We knew—and Leslie knew—from the moment he started talking that they were on the exact same page without Ben having any idea that Leslie was pregnant. Scott played Ben’s enthusiasm with such genuine hope and joy that it was impossible not to smile at the thought of what was coming, and Poehler’s reactions told me that Leslie felt the same way.
When Leslie told Ben that she had good news for him, I loved that Ben didn’t even need to hear it to know what it was. There was no overplayed comedic trope of making the husband guess or having him be clueless. This is a man who understands his wife, and he reads the joy on her face and responds with his own soft smile. The subtlety in Scott’s reaction was about as flawless as it gets, and it was a genius decision to have that be the final note of the episode. We spent the majority of it waiting for Ben to learn this huge news, and once again our expectations were subverted because we don’t get to see him directly hear it. But this was better, because it felt so real that anything more would have cheapened it. The warmth, hope, and happiness in both of their smiles was enough to show us instead of telling us how much this moment meant to both of these people.
And it meant so much. We’ve watched these two characters become friends, fall in love, fight for that love, support one another through career changes, get engaged, get married, and have a happy first year as husband and wife. We know that both of them will make good parents—with Ben’s innate kindness and understanding working in tandem with Leslie’s warmth and ability to encourage.
Leslie Knope has come a long way since “Flu Season.” She’s always had a good job and great friends; now she also has a strong marriage and the chance to be a mom. The question of “Can a woman really have it all?” has always felt outdated to me, and it seems to be the way the writers at Parks and Rec feel, too. Why can’t a woman have fulfillment in different areas of her life? No woman is going to be the perfect career woman, friend, wife, and mother—and Leslie will never be perfect at any of those things, thank goodness. But she works hard at everything she does, and she has people in her life who support her. So why can’t she have a life filled with purpose on more than just one front if that’s what she wants?
The balance between family, friends, and career isn’t easy to achieve, but women shouldn’t have to feel like they can’t have success in one area of their lives without being a failure in another area. And Leslie Knope is fictional living proof that it’s not ridiculous to want a multifaceted life that’s fulfilling on many levels, and that such a life can actually be achieved. It won’t ever be a perfect life, but it can be good; it can be happy. And that’s what Leslie Knope has—a good, happy life.
It’s no secret that television in general has been less than happy lately, with characters dying and couples breaking up all over the place. But I should never have doubted that—just when I needed it—Parks and Rec would swoop in with some of its patented Pawnee sunshine and remind me that not every show I watch is going to go out of its way to depress me. Happy relationships don’t have to be something for television shows to run away from; they can be the building blocks of a great show. Parks and Rec finds greatness in simple moments of happiness and love, and that’s a rare achievement in television that should be celebrated.