Parks and Recreation, a political satire situation comedy, first aired from April 9, 2009, to February 24, 2015, on NBC. The show ran for 125 episodes, over seven seasons, and had a reunion special in 2020. The appeal of Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope is in Poehler’s charm and it’s her portrayal of her character’s good-natured honesty as she tries her best to navigate local, and sometimes national, politics that is a major draw. In a show that is as well-loved as this one, it can be tough to determine which are the top five best Parks and Recreation episodes, so we turned to expert sources for the consensus.
This show is all about the absurdity of an elected official in fictional Pawnee, Indiana that genuinely loves her community and wants to do right by her them. Although the show ran until 2015, watching the episodes now evokes a sense of America as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. It creates a sense of nostalgia, a trait that seems to be evident with re-watches of many fan-favorite television shows and movies.
Parks and Rec fans love to have the show running in the background even when they are not actively watching it, a practice that may be becoming more common among those who stream shows online. Most Americans can’t help but turn back time and watch the classics, especially during the pandemic. A recent survey of 2,000 adults finds seven in 10 are feeling more nostalgic than ever before. So, which timeless shows and movies are people catching up on again? The top TV series Americans are replaying over and over is “Seinfeld” (18%). The classic sitcom was followed by “Game of Thrones” (17%), “Friends” (17%), “The Office” (16%), and “I Love Lucy” (16%). Other favorites include “The Twilight Zone” (17%), “The Walking Dead” (12%), “South Park” (11%), “The Simpsons” (10%), and “Breaking Bad” (8%).
It’s no wonder people turn to their favorite comfort shows. IIn fact, more Americans use TV to destress than any other relaxation method. Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of the streaming service Philo, a recent poll of 2,000 adults reveals that 55 percent watch TV as a self-soothing technique for relieving anxiety or stress. That’s more than the number of respondents who relax by taking a bath (42%) or by doing yoga (33%). Different generations destress to different TV shows: Over half the poll (56%) seek out “comfort” TV shows or movies that they watch regularly, including twice as many people from the Northeast as the West (68% vs 36%). Meanwhile, 59 percent in the Southeast and 55 percent in the Midwest do the same. Respondents turn to those comfort shows most when feeling stressed (22%), bored (22%), or anxious (20%). On average, they’ve watched their comfort TV shows or movies about 18 different times.
Additionally, another huge aspect of the show’s lasting popularity is the beloved ensemble cast. Nearly every principle cast member has memorable gags and quotable lines that keep fans coming back to rewatch their favorite moments. So why not treat yourself to a viewing of what many fans consider to be the top five best Parks and Recreation episodes of all time? Let us know your favorites to watch in the comments below!
The List: Best Parks and Recreation Episodes, According to Experts
1. “One Last Ride” Season 7, Episodes 12 and 13
With so many disappointing endings to well-received shows, “Parks and Rec” really stands out because of the strength of its final outing. CBR explains: It’s extremely rare that a series’ final episode can also function as their strongest effort, but it helps make Parks and Recreation’s journey even more beautiful. The structure of the sitcom’s shorter final season doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s hard to argue with what ‘One Last Ride’ accomplishes. This last episode focuses on the relationships between the cast and turns the clock forward a decade to show how much everyone has grown and the lasting effects that they’ve had on each other. It’s a celebration of everything that Parks and Recreation represents.”
Today marks eight years since the last episode with Pawnee's finest pic.twitter.com/r2ZDAEOuhC
— Parks and Recreation (@parksandrec) February 25, 2023
Losing the show’s mockumentary format in favor of what almost feels like a clip show, the episode covers every moment. “These include minor character vignettes that range from the unexpected sweetness of Craig (Billy Eichner) and Typhoon (Rodney To) getting married to the absolutely hilarious consequences of Mona-Lisa Saperstein helping Jean-Ralphio fake his death. Framed within a present day plot of the Parks team getting together one last time to fix a swing in a park, the flash forwards also show us the long, happy, and fulfilling lives of the main characters. April and Andy decide to have kids, Garry lives to 100, Ron runs a national park, Tom finally becomes successful talking about his failures, Donna runs a successful real estate firm, and Leslie becomes governor (with subtle hints of becoming president). There’s a lot to juggle and wrap up, but it nails the landing, perfectly balancing the heart, the humor, and the genuine kindness the show was always great at conveying,” writes Looper.
The accolades that this finale has garnered feel entirely earned. Anti-climax or denouement are an often-forgotten part of modern narratives, so when Parks and Rec offered up a richly detailed epilogue it was very well-received. “For its super-sized series finale, Parks dropped all pretense of being a mockumentary. It offered up a string of flash-forwards to different points in the characters’ futures, allowing us to see how our heroes’ lives turned out. Andy and April becoming parents; Ron finding his dream job; Leslie and/or Ben potentially becoming the President. While it makes a revival hard to accomplish, rarely has a TV show had a more complete and conclusive last episode. “I’m ready,” Leslie says in its final moments, even though fans were definitely not ready to say goodbye,” adds We Got This Covered.
2. “Flu Season” Season 3, Episode 2
Flu Season is a classic episode television comedy that was well-written and performed to comic perfection. “We end with this, the funniest episode of the show’s run. It features the best performance Amy Poehler ever gave on the show. The flu strikes the Pawnee government, and everything grinds to a halt. Leslie, though, refuses to stop working, even when she is completely out of her mind. If you just want great, hilarious sitcom writing and actors firing on all cylinders, ‘Flu Season’ gives you all you could want,” explains Yard Barker.
— TVGAG (@thetvgag) August 5, 2019
This highly quotable episode offers the type of referential nostalgia that can take viewers right back to the first time they watched it. Collider explains: “Anyone who enjoys this show even a little can tell you exactly where they were when they first heard Rob Lowe forcefully say the words, ‘Stop. Pooping.’ Quote-for-quote, joke-for joke, vomit-for-vomit, ‘Flu Season’ is the funniest episode of Parks and Rec there is. The first step on the road to the Harvest Festival sees a severe bug descend on Pawnee, giving this already stellar ensemble the chance to let loose both performance-wise and, uh, bodily-speaking. Relative newcomers Lowe and Scott are subjected to true Pawnee insanity for the first time and finally don’t feel like out-of-place part-timers. In Ron’s football toss bonding with Andy—sadly the only person who comes close to a manly-man around the office— Nick Offerman lets loose a chuckle so genuinely pleasant it could power a lightbulb. And then there’s Amy Poehler as a hallucinating Leslie trying valiantly—and increasingly psychotically—to power through her high fever.”
Stellar comic performances abound in this episode. “When the entire town is stricken with a nasty flu outbreak, no one is safe. Ann ends up taking care of Chris, Leslie and April at the hospital and cycles through a whirlwind of emotions. She’s tortured with demands by April, who is upset about her kissing Andy. Meanwhile, her new boyfriend, Chris, is having a complete physical breakdown, which makes actually him less intimidating to her for the first time. Leslie, however, proves to be the most difficult patient, as she sneaks around stealing everyone else’s medication so that she can give an important presentation at city hall. She escapes the hospital and gives a near-flawless presentation that exceeds their expectations, prompting Ben to realize how amazing she is for the very first time. From beginning to end, this episode doesn’t stop being interesting and fun. Ben (a.k.a. Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap) being impressed by Leslie is just the cherry on top,” raves Thrilist.
3. “Ron and Tammy” Season 2, Episode 8
Nick Offerman’s iconic portrayal of Ron Swanson is one of the all-time great character performances in television comedy. /Film has this to say, “As Megan Mullally’s first guest appearance, the episode introduces Ron’s very complicated, hyper-sexual relationship with his second ex-wife named Tammy. While Leslie is making inroads on claiming the land beside Ann’s house, the library department, headed by Tammy, files a planning claim instead. Thinking nothing of it, Leslie meets with Tammy to iron out their differences and seemingly come to a compromise. Tammy vows she’ll withdraw her motion to give Leslie an easy win. Later, Tammy comes to the department, at the behest of Leslie, and she goes to get a cup of coffee at a local diner with Ron. Almost immediately, their meeting erupts into a verbal fight before the two rip each other’s clothes off and dash away to their usual spot, a sleazy motel on the outskirts of town. Tammy wraps her tentacles around Ron, literally and metaphorically. It seems all is lost, but Leslie and Ron confront Tammy together and eventually reclaim plot 48.”
— Parks and Recreation (@parksandrec) November 25, 2022
Played by Offerman’s real-life wife Megan Mullally, Tammy is a hilarious recurring character. Collider explains, “Every great supervillain deserves a grand entrance, be it from the bowels of hell or, far worse, the Pawnee Public Library. Much like Ron Swanson’s dignity, ‘Ron and Tammy’ belongs 100% to Megan Mullally’s Tammy II, crashing back into her ex-husband’s orbit to tempt him back to a life of tell-tale red polo shirts and aggressive motel sex. It’s hard to put into words just how much Mullally’s sultry library temptress changed the course not only of the Ron Swanson character, but of Parks and Rec itself. Suddenly, the meat-loving crank in the corner office was capable of so much more than just surly one-liners, and Pawnee itself started to take on an extra life of its own, a living breathing place much bigger than just Pioneer Hall.”
Cinemablend also praises this episode with its over-the-top comedic moments. “Pretty much any episode with Ron and one of his ex wives is gold. Or his mother, (also Tammy), but there’s something special about Tammy II. Maybe it’s the fact that Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman (Tammy II and Ron Swanson, respectively) are happily married in real life, or maybe it’s just that pure chaotic bad happens when Ron and Tammy II connect, but when Tammy II is on screen viewers pretty much know to prepare for a wild time. Who else could get Ron to cornrow his hair and get married wearing a kimono? There’s a reason Ron can sense whenever she is near and why libraries are no longer a safe place: Tammy II is the most wicked force residing in Pawnee….she sure makes for good TV, though.”
4. “The Comeback Kid” Season 4, Episode 11
The final entry on this list is a tribute to physical comedy. In a very funny political campaign episode, the highlight of this episode is a group of the primary cast falling down over and over. Collider summarizes, “The climactic moment of ‘The Comeback Kid,’ Team Knope’s slippery trek off of a too-short read carpet and across an ice rink to the upbeat tune of Gloria Estafan, is an absolutely flawless minute-and-a-half of sitcom hilarity. Perfectly acted, directed, and paced by everyone down to the three-legged dog. Just long enough to stay painfully funny. ‘Get On Your Feet’ cuts back in just enough times for it to work. It is an absolute gem of a sequence, up there with any scene from Seinfeld, The Office, Arrested Development, Friends, you name it. If it was literally the only thing to happen, ‘The Comeback Kid’ would still land at #1 on this list.”
This picture paints a thousand words, most of them being "couldn't afford enough carpet" pic.twitter.com/p2KFklAXBP
— Parks and Recreation (@parksandrec) March 30, 2023
With great comic timing as well as crisp editing, this episode can elicit major laughs. Movie Web explains, “Leslie’s campaign is in need of help in the middle of season four, so she enlists her closest friends to ensure that the rest of the trail runs smoothly. An event that’s supposed to win her more supporters is somewhat sabotaged as it’s held on an ice rink, and someone (most likely Jerry) didn’t purchase the right sized carpet to walk across the slippery floor. As the group makes their way, sliding around and falling, Gloria Estefan’s ‘Get On Your Feet’ plays over and over again, blasting through the ice rink as Leslie struggles to climb onto the platform that conveniently doesn’t have stairs leading up to it. Meanwhile, Chris (Rob Lowe) discovers that Ben is severely depressed and has been making a little clay version of himself, as well as a five-second video that he’s spent days on.”
The ensemble cast makes this episode especially funny even when all they are doing is falling repeatedly. We Got This Covered writes, “‘The Comeback Kid’ might not be as emotionally satisfying as season four’s finale, in which Leslie triumphs over Paul Rudd’s Bobby Newport in the council election, but this mid-season episode has the advantage thanks to two of Parks‘ all-time funniest scenes: 1.) Leslie and co. struggling to stay upright while ‘Get On Your Feet’ plays after they mistakenly book an ice-rink for her campaign rally, and 2.) Ben’s legendary stop-motion animation, ‘Requiem for a Tuesday.'”
5. “Andy and April’s Fancy Party” Season 3, Episode 9
Romantic comedy can be difficult to execute well. It requires likeable actors, comic timing, and most importantly chemistry between the characters. Andy and April’s Fancy Party somehow manages to achieve all of this. Uproxx explains Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza’s genius in this epsiode: “His hyperactive man-child schtick blended well with Plaza’s deadpan, vaguely sinister mien, and the few times they were front and center in an episode, it was always a wild ride to parts unknown. Here, they steer an episode that excels at both sides of the show’s personality: It’s deeply moving and unimaginably insane. No show could do both so well, and no episode embodied that spirit better.”
Actors Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza showcase a very strong comedic pairing in this episode. We Got This Covered asks the question, “Is it controversial to put the wedding of the show’s secondary couple above Leslie and Ben’s marriage? Maybe, but hear me out. ‘Leslie and Ben’ might be a tad more poignant than ‘April and Andy,’ but the total surprise of the latter — the duo had only started dating a few episodes prior — means its arguably even more important to the series overall. Having these two crazy kids tie the knot so soon into their relationship felt like a mission statement: unlike most TV, this was a show where the characters were going to be allowed to be happy.
Yardbarker also adds that, “In a twist, Andy and April’s fancy party is not merely a party. The young lovebirds are getting married! Andy is a buffoon. April is the most sarcastic, apathetic person on the show (save for maybe her friend Orin). Is marriage a great idea for them? They don’t care, and neither do we, because it’s just so much fun to watch. Oh, and in the end it does work out. Take that, naysayers.”
You might also be interested in:
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.