This is it, friends—the countdown to the series finale of the happiest show on television, Parks and Recreation. Over the next few days here at Nerdy Girl Notes, there will be several posts dedicated to saying goodbye to this show that has impacted both the television landscape and so many people (myself included) in such a positive way.
Today, I wanted to take a look back on my fondest Parks and Rec memories by counting down my Top 10 episodes of the series. This was the toughest Top 10 list I’ve ever created because there were so many phenomenal episodes to choose from. It was a Herculean task, but I settled on the 10 episodes I return to the most often, the 10 episodes that make me the happiest—because that’s what Parks and Rec is all about.
This is by no means a definitive list of the best of Parks and Rec, but I hope it inspires you to share your favorite episodes with us in the comments!
10. Soulmates (Season 3, Episode 10)
This episode was filled with fun elements: a classic Chris/Ron showdown over their culinary skills, Ann helping Leslie create an online dating profile, the awkward hilarity of Leslie going on a date with Tom without him knowing it was a date…But the real reason this makes my list of favorite episodes is twofold. First, it gave us the brilliance of Aziz Ansari’s monologue about his nicknames for food, which I can (and often do) quote word for word. (I can’t be the only one who now uses “sammies” and “chicky-chicky parm-parm” in everyday conversation.) Also, it gave us Leslie and Ben’s first meeting at what would become their wildflower mural. The final moments of this episode—with Ben suggesting he and Leslie eat lunch together at her favorite place in the world—felt so real in their simplicity. Watching it unfold for the first time felt like watching two real people slowly falling in love, and it was then that I knew I’d found a new TV couple to love with all my heart.
9. Pie-Mary (Season 7, Episode 9)
Parks and Rec is at its best when it mixes satire and sincerity, and “Pie-Mary” was a perfect example of that winning combination. The emotional core of this episode involved April and Ron spending quality time together before her big move to Washington, and those two characters are always magic together. The episode’s satirical side came out in the rampant sexism surrounding Leslie and her role in Ben’s congressional campaign. Her final speech was a brilliant takedown of the sexist way women in politics—and working wives and mothers in general—are treated. It was some of Amy Poehler’s best work because you could feel her passion for the things Leslie was saying, and that connection between the show’s leading lady and what it’s asking her to say has always been an important part of what makes Parks and Rec so special.
8. Halloween Surprise (Season 5, Episode 5)
This episode would have made the cut for its ending alone, but there are so many other things to love about it, too—from plenty of great Leslie/Ann interaction (especially the “Ann auction”) to Ron and Andy trick-or-treating with Diane’s daughters. But let’s be honest; the ending of this episode is why it made this list. Some TV scenes become not just happy TV memories but happy life memories, and the ending of “Halloween Surprise” is a happy life memory for me. Ben proposing to Leslie is still one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever watched on TV. It was some of Poehler and Adam Scott’s best work, and it was so true to these characters and their relationship. More than anything, though, it was a moment where I saw a character I relate to so strongly find true love and happiness with a man who chose her as his future. “Halloween Surprise” makes me—a Leslie Knope looking for her Ben Wyatt—feel hopeful, and that’s always a great feeling to get from a television show.
7. Road Trip (Season 3, Episode 14)
I’m guessing you’ve caught on to the running theme of this list: I love great episodes for Leslie and Ben’s relationship. And “Road Trip” was one of the greatest. Leslie trying to distance herself from Ben was hilarious (I’ll never forget her telling him “I’m allergic to fingers,” as he tried to get an eyelash off of her cheek.), but they didn’t work—and we’re all better off for their failures. Ben’s confession that he liked spending time with “the town” and “its really nice blonde hair” was perfect because Ben’s story is a story about a man who fell in love with a woman and with a town—because to love Leslie is to love Pawnee. Just like “Soulmates,” there was something so genuinely sweet about watching these two characters come together in this episode, and it culminated in that perfect, surprising kiss that I’m pretty sure I replayed about a hundred times the day after the episode aired. And if it’s not enough that this was the episode where Leslie and Ben finally kissed, “Road Trip” also featured Ann playing matchmaker (“Ask him about his penis!”) and the perfection of Rob Lowe’s air-banjo skills.
6. Leslie and Ron (Season 7, Episode 4)
Leslie and Ron’s relationship has always been the backbone of Parks and Rec—it’s a relationship between two people who respect and care for each other even though they’re incredibly different human beings. So it was fitting for the final season of Parks and Rec to have an episode devoted entirely to this dynamic, and it turned out to be one of the most honest and moving episodes the show has ever produced. Nick Offerman has never been better than he was in this episode, and the show itself seemed to hit new heights using a bottle episode structure to examine these specific characters in a way that touched on universal truths about the way friendships change over time and the way we can hurt one another without anyone ever being the bad guy. It was deeply emotional, it was perfectly executed, and it was a fitting tribute to the show’s two most beloved characters.
5. Citizen Knope (Season 4, Episode 10)
I watch “Citizen Knope” multiple times every Christmas season, and I cry literally every time I watch it. If Parks and Rec’s motto is “No one achieves anything alone,” then this episode is the perfect example of that defining theme. Throughout the episode, there were fun moments for Ben (including his first encounter with Barney the accountant), and Jean-Ralphio had one of my favorite episode tags in the show’s history (responding to “You’re fired!” with “That makes sense.”). But the episode’s most enduring moments are its last ones, with Leslie’s friends all chipping in to help her run her city council campaign, using their own unique strengths to give her the best Christmas gift imaginable. My favorite scenes on this show are the ones where everyone comes together to help one of their own, and this is still my favorite example of these characters supporting each other. Parks and Rec is a show that has always run on the belief that “nice” isn’t a synonym for “boring,” and “Citizen Knope” used that belief to create one of my favorite Christmas TV episodes of all time.
4. Ann and Chris (Season 6, Episode 13)
For as beautiful as Leslie and Ben’s love story is, perhaps the greatest love story Parks and Rec ever gave us was the love story of a beautiful tropical fish and the well-meaning human steamroller who became her best friend. Ann and Leslie’s friendship was such an important part of Parks and Rec, and “Ann and Chris” was a beautiful way to pay tribute to that friendship as the show bid farewell to Lowe and Rashida Jones. This episode dared to say what’s so true in real life but so often ignored in the media: The first and most formative loves in our lives are often our best friends. The scene where Leslie and Ann said goodbye was filled with such genuine warmth and real love, and it was the perfect way to honor one of the best female friendships in TV history.
3. Flu Season (Season 3, Episode 2)
It still makes me mad that Poehler didn’t win an Emmy for this episode. “Flu Season” is the funniest episode of Parks and Rec, and it featured some of Poehler’s best comedic work in the show’s seven-season run. Whenever I need to spend 30 minutes laughing, I put this episode on, and I always feel better after it’s done. From Lowe’s perfect delivery of “Stop pooping!” and Chris Pratt’s legendary “network connectivity problems” piece of improv to Poehler’s mental cartwheels and belief that the floor and walls switched places, every scene featured at least one moment that makes me laugh out loud even after all these years. And if you can’t see the unparalleled sweetness in Ben falling in love with Leslie’s perseverance and coming to her bedside with soup and waffles, then you must be in a constant state of fevered delusion worse than Leslie’s in this episode.
2. Leslie and Ben (Season 5, Episode 14)
This episode is my TV happy place; it’s where I go when I need comfort, warmth, and a good happy cry. “Leslie and Ben” combines all of the best things about Parks and Rec into one half-hour: friends coming together to help one another, supportive romantic and platonic relationships, a “5,000 Candles in the Wind” sing-along, and a strong belief that good things should happen to good people. Parks and Rec is a show that celebrates love in all its forms—the love a person has for their job, their friends, their city, and their romantic partner—and “Leslie and Ben” is all about love. It’s an episode that wears its heart firmly on its sleeve and isn’t afraid to be positive. In short, it’s Parks and Rec at its most sentimental, and that’s Parks and Rec at its bravest and best.
1. The Debate (Season 4, Episode 20)
“When you love something, you don’t threaten it; you don’t punish it. You fight for it. You take care of it. You put it first…If I seem too passionate, it’s because I care. If I come on strong, it’s because I feel strongly…” With those words (written by Poehler), Parks and Rec went from being a show that I liked to my favorite show on television. “The Debate” is my favorite Parks and Rec episode for more reasons than just Andy’s movie reenactments, the perfect satirical nature of the debate itself, and the first use of “I love you and I like you”—although all three of those are valid reasons to love it. It’s my favorite episode because of Leslie’s closing remarks and what they meant to me as a young woman listening to them for the first time. Leslie is a woman who intimidates people with the intensity she brings to everything she does; her passion is too much for a lot of people to take. But she never let that stop her from caring deeply about the people, places, and things that matter to her. And in this episode, that ability to feel strongly is what made her successful, what drew people to her. Nothing that’s ever aired on television before or since has resonated with me like those closing remarks. They inspired me as a young woman to never lose sight of the fact that passion and intensity are traits to be proud of, that I should never be ashamed to feel things strongly. There are those rare television episodes that make us better people for having watched them, and I know for a fact that I am a better me because I watched “The Debate.”