“These people, in this room.” – Sage’s Top 15 Episodes of Parks and Recreation, Part 1

parks ice rink

Posted by Sage

Thought I’d run out of things to say about Parks and Recreation? You thought wrong. This show is a gift, and I find something new every time I watch it.

I’ve been ruminating on a best-of Parks list since we found out that season seven would be the last. It’s a show that has several low-key phases: the female Michael Scott era; the pre-Ben and Chris era; the Beslie build-up era, etc. I did my best to treat all those stages fairly in my rankings. I’m happy with the mix I ended up with. I tried to include an Honorable Mention or two, but ended up with an set of extra picks that was 6-episodes long and growing. So I cut it, and limited myself to a flat 15. It was a tough task, but ruthlessness is the name of the game. Or, as Leslie might say: go big, or go home.

Read on for episodes 15-8, and look out for Part 2 early next week.

15. “Pie-Mary” (Season 7, Episode 9)

parks trying to have it all

I don’t know if there’s ever been a piece of television that feels as specifically created for me than this one. During Ben’s run for Congress, he and Leslie decide to skip a traditional bake-off between the candidates wives. Thanks to Marsha Langman and the “Male Men,” their logistical call sets off a ridiculous “family values” debate, wherein Leslie’s commitment to her husband and children is publicly questioned. I’m always here for it when Parks comes into a timely (and in this case, ETERNAL) political issue through a side door. Though the pie-baking competition is a piece of fiction (unless it isn’t – if you’ve got this in your town, let me know so I can come picket it), the uproar that the Knope-Wyatt’s “boycott” of it causes is too, too real. (“Can we have one conversation about feminism where the men are in charge?” – the entire Internet.) In addition to the spectacular takedowns both of our heroes give to “meninists” and the gender roles police, the Pie-Mary competition also loops in old friends and running jokes like Elise Yarktin of the Indiana Organization for Women and Ben’s calzone obsession, which, in my opinion, is the real insult to the pie-making housewives of Pawnee. Stay in your Cal-zone Zone, Ben. Pies are delicious, and this is not their fault.

male men parks

Elsewhere in the episode, Parks did what it did best in the final season, putting sentimental caps on the relationships between its characters. April has always been the cold, distant daughter Ron never had, so of course the news that she and Andy are leaving town would be hard on him. Instead of mourning her loss, Ron loops April in on one last quest – a scavenger hunt for a key that doesn’t even unlock any doors. (The hunt does, however, remind everyone what a giant crush April had on Andy. Woof woof.) I remember writing in some recap or other that Ron always enjoys the doing, and solving a puzzle that offers no reward would seem pointless to so many who need a reason to get out of their chairs and engage their brains. April claims she doesn’t care for feelings, but what she really hates is people who magnify theirs for attention and who pull other people into their problems. Ron is the opposite of that. He wouldn’t dream of making April feel guilty for moving on.

And finally, the unsung BrOTP of Jerry Gergich and Donna Meagle get their moment. Donna notices things about her coworker that the other’s don’t, and she’s got a big, ol’ soft spot for him. And though she takes pleasure in watching him stumble through his days, she knows that Jerry’s perfectly content in his small, bumbling life. And it least she takes the time to thank him for the entertainment. “You’re one of a kind, Garry,” is a pitch-perfect compliment for him. He’s not the smartest or the strongest or the most confident or even the kindest (that honor goes to Ann, I think); to say that he is would be a lie. What he means to me as a character is that it’s okay if the only superlative you can boast among your friends is that you’re the biggest mess. You’re still unique, and you still have value. And there are people who will recognize that, even if they don’t mention it at the time.

Favorite Quote:

Leslie: You’re ridiculous, and men’s rights is nothing.

14. “Woman Of The Year” (Season 2, Episode 17)

awards are stupid parks

Ron and Leslie became such good pals over the course of the show that it’s kind of a treat to go back and remember what an antagonistic relationship they had in the early years. Leslie was the padawan in those days; begrudgingly receiving Ron’s advice on life, work, and being true to herself no matter how he chose to dish it out. In this season two episode, he can’t resist tormenting her with his Dorothy Every Time Smurf Woman of the Year award, even though he thinks it’s worthless. As was usually the case then, Ron isn’t as right as he first assumes, which hints at the mutual mentor/mentee thing he and Leslie would get going later.

Leslie becomes much more discerning; but as a younger woman, she gives honors and traditions more value than she should. She’s the ultimate sentimentalist. If something has been on her bucket list since the age of 9 (when she became a dues-paying member of the I.O.W.), then it’s damn sure going to stay there and she’s damn sure going to get it. (“Winning is every little girl’s dream, but it’s my destiny.”) Before I rewatched this episode, I was primarily remembering Ron’s justified dismissal of awards in general, but I’d forgotten how “Woman of the Year” also boldly calls out false feminism. The I.O.W. doesn’t much care that Leslie is the actually brains and brawn behind Camp Athena; choosing a male recipient will bring them more press. The politicizing of an “ism” so near and dear to Leslie’s heart is unconscionable. When she learns that the organization is more concerned with raising their own profile than doing the work that they claim to be doing, Leslie mentally snatches the membership card out of her past self’s little hands. (“The I.O.W. is a bunch of sexist jerks who need to get back in the kitchen where they belong and leave the real feminist work to actual feminists like Ron Swanson. Oh my god, what is happening?”)

Leslie isn’t the only Pawneean with big dreams in this episode. Tom has an opportunity to buy into the Snake Hole Lounge, the town’s “hottest” club. (And there’s a fun Easter Egg in one of his talking heads, wherein Tom christens his imaginary future hotspot “Tom’s Bistro,” because “the word ‘bistro’ is classy as shit.”) This entrepreneurial ambition leads to what is, in my opinion, the iconic Jean Ralphio scene. We’d met him once before, when he interviewed to be Ron’s new assistant. But JR, we didn’t truly know you until this moment:

What up, Big Teeeeeee…stop. This must be the lovely Donna. Enchanté. Listen beautiful, let’s cut the bull, alright? You want this. I definitely want this. T.H. wants this. Let’s seal this devil’s threeway right here, right now.

jean ralphio donna parks

Mike Schur said once that the peripheral characters in Parks were inspired by the The Simpsons stable of enemies, friends, and neighbors. And while there are dozens of Pawneeans who I’m pleased to see in every one of their cameos, Jean Ralphio is the crown prince of all of them. He’s the most despicably lovable and adorably clueless; plus, his friendship with Tom gave the audience a baseline for Tom’s future development as a person who could be realistic and upstanding, while not giving up his dreams of fame and fortune. There’s also an interesting contrast between Jean Ralphio and Andy in this episode. Those two don’t share the screen much, but we see the stark difference between their worldviews when it comes to helping a brother out. Jean Ralphio invests more in Tom’s share of the club, but he also wants more out of it. (Lest he be forced to stand in the street and wait to be hit by another Lexus.) Andy gives up his aspiration of moving into his own apartment without a second thought, because his thousand dollars would be better spent making Tom happy. We live in a world where people who don’t regularly act in their own self interest are assumed to be stupid. Fortunately, April doesn’t buy into that. This selfless act is pretty much the last straw for her in terms of falling for her human golden retriever of a future-husband, and who among us could ever blame her?

Best Line:

Tom: Jay-Z. Rihanna. Audrina Patridge. Jon Gosselin. Lady Gaga. Snooki….
Jerry: Are these real people?
Tom: …Cash Warren. And Dennis Rodman. These are just a few of the celebrities that wish they could invest in Pawnee’s hottest club. But they caaaaan’t! And you can for the small price of only [echoing] $1,000. The only question is, who’s gonna be my partner? [singing] Mark, I’m talking to you. Donna, I’m talking to you. Jerry, I’m talking to you. Mark, I’m talking to you….

13. “Halloween Surprise” (Season 5, Episode 5)

leslie ben proposal parks

As I put my shortlist together for this post, I got frustrated with myself for picking so many “event” episodes. But hey, it’s not my fault that Parks nails these milestones so hard. I didn’t choose “Halloween Surprise” because Ben proposes to Leslie in the final act; I chose “Halloween Surprise” because all of Ben’s character development leading up to that point made proposing the only reasonable action he could take in that moment. And it happens after Leslie’s made peace with the idea of an extended separation. At least Jerry’s near-death experience was good for something.

parks fart attack

Poor Jerry…scared into a fart attack by his boss and loving, capable nurse.

Anyway,  the Beslie relationship has been wrapped up in career, basically from day one. It was their devotion to their individual callings that first drew Ben and Leslie to each other, or rather, how both of them used their positions to better lives. (Even when Ben was cutting budgets, he was doing it in the name of saving entire towns.) They’re so in tune with each other; it’s usually outside circumstances that threaten their happiness bubble. In this case, it’s opportunity that Leslie would never – not for a billion dates with Ann Perkins, the most beautiful woman in the world – ask Ben to turn down.

ann date auction

For Leslie, it’s never been a question of trusting Ben. It’s a question of missing, and of putting their life on hold. I love the Jen Barkley character so incredibly much – not just because Kathryn Hahn is a treasure, but because this is a couple with potential who need to be pushed. Jen eventually adopts them both; and her ruthlessness and straight-talk deserve a lot of the credit for where Leslie and Ben end up professionally by the series end.

“Leslie, you don’t have to plan your future,” Jerry tells her. And Jerry is the patron saint of rolling with the punches. Several characters end up facing physical manifestations of their fears in this episode; and they embrace them, like Chris does his paunchy, older self. Leslie’s fear is loss of control. It’s a beautiful, empty house that’s waiting for life to fill it up. Ann’s is her “ex” boxes lined up next to each other, and the thought that she might have let her own interests go unexplored in favor of being a good girlfriend. And Ron’s is a pair of shrieking children that drive him way outside of his comfort zone but are part of the package if he wants to be with Diane. Donna’s, like mine, is pesky Twitter trolls accosting her in person.

donna live tweeting parks

Leslie stops Ben before he can pop the question so that she can take a mental picture of a perfect moment. Those perfect moments are few, but holding on to them can offer a lot more stability than a daydream of what comes next. In conclusion, Adam Scott’s face will be the death of me. Mark my words.

Favorite Line

Donna: Getcha foot outta the water, dumbass. It’s BLOOD LAKE.

12. “Road Trip” (Season 3, Episode 14)

ben and leslie kiss parks

Ben and Leslie are sent by Chris on a work field trip and subsequently hit their breaking point. The sexual tension is so real, I’m sure it’s about to sprout legs and start walking at any minute. Ann is a pathetic obstacle to their getting together, being more pro-Beslie than lit-rally anyone in the state of Indiana and in the dorms at Johns Hopkins University, probably. I truly hope that everyone reading has been in a situation like this, where time is perpetually in slow motion as you wait for the other shoe to drop and every innocent conversation is as stupidly electric as Leslie-min and Benjamin’s on the couch in Chris’s condo.

Ben and Leslie’s love is as pure as can be, so I’m so pleased that we got an episode that’s dedicated to how badly they’re dying to jump each other’s bones. We are all Ann Perkins watching the mating dance happen (“I’ve got an idea: why don’t you ask him about his penis?”); it’s gone so far that a confession is hardly necessary. But a confession we get anyway, and it happens long before the two victorious public servants sit down for their celebratory dinner. Leslie morphs into the heart-eyes emoji as she watches Ben recommend Pawnee to the Little League board. She’s so used to being this town’s sole champion and defender, and her love for it is a part of Leslie. It’s thrilling for her to find out that this outsider sees what she sees. And if Ben can understand what’s incredible and unique about Pawnee, then he must really know her. (He does.) The inevitable fireworks are delayed when Chris shows up to congratulate his dream team. But sly Ben calls Leslie in on a pointless chore later in order to make his move, and god damn, but that’s a good TV kiss. Quite worth all the build up, I’d say.

ron lauren berkus parks

One of the episode’s B-stories is a personal favorite Ron plot. A fourth grader on a City Hall field trip wanders into Ron’s office in the name of a school report, and gets the full Swanson download on the futility of government. For as little as Ron thinks he cares for children, his instant and obvious fondness for this girl is so telling. (“Don’t sass me, Berkus.”) He talks to her like an adult; she preens at the attention. And when Ron has to backtrack his Libertarian teachings, he still assumes that Lauren will hold onto those views that they agreed upon – not because he wants to be right, but because he knows after one afternoon with this kid that she’s sharper than her “cute reports,” “gold stars,” and patronizing teachers would like her to be. I have a lot of Berkus head canons, but most of them include her growing up to join Ron’s National Park staff.

Finally, Tom challenges the office to “Know Your Boo,” his new rip-off game show. Andy and April deal with newlywed growing pains and argue about Neutral Milk Hotel. The rift is so scary to April that she actually consults Ann (“I’m sorry, my instinct is to be mean to you.”) and makes up with Andy via an adorably monotone cover of “In the Pit.” And once again, Andy shows that he understands how to be with someone better than anybody else on this show: “Maybe April doesn’t think that we’re the greatest band in the world, but, man, she loves me. And I love her. So, you know, who cares?” Who cares?

Best Line:

Leslie: I’m gonna go see a man about some porcelain, you know what I mean? I’m not buying cocaine. I’m going to the bathroom. The whiz palace, as I like to call it. And I’m not calling Ann, so…

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“Any perfect day should involve crying uncontrollably.” – It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Parks and Recreation

parks and rec group hug

Parks and Recreation Season 7, Episode 12 and 13
“One Last Ride” – Producer’s Cut

Posted by Sage

When Kim and I launched Head Over Feels back in 2012, we had a title we loved, a pocketful of pop culture opinions, and enough mimosa ingredients for small brunch party. What we didn’t have was much of a concrete plan. The blog has grown organically, reflecting our changing obsessions and (hopefully) growth as writers. Think of it as the field of wildflowers that inspired Leslie’s favorite mural: a little unkempt, but still beautiful.

From the very beginning, there was one regular feature that I knew we had to include. I had to recap Parks and Recreation. It wasn’t about a defined schedule. It wasn’t about our audience – at that point, we didn’t really have one. It was about me needing to respond to this show in some way other than just grinning like a maniac at my TV screen for 22 minutes a week.

I’ve stuck with Parks since the pilot, though that qualifier only really applies to those first six shaky episodes. And there was significant value in those too. It’s just that when the show plugged into the right vein early on in season two, it became and remained one of television’s most reliable and reliably inspirational comedies. More than that: to me and so many others, Parks has been a companion and a cheerleader. Just knowing that Leslie and her team were out there taking risks and having each other’s backs made me feel more adventurous and less inclined to take my life teammates for granted. The series finale of Parks and Rec has come and gone, but the show’s goofy, optimistic spirit will live on: on Hulu and Netflix and DVD, in gifsets and Swansonisms and my JJ’s Diner t-shirt. It’s like Mike Schur and his team presented us with 125 lovingly crafted scrapbooks, each bedazzled and puffy painted in true Knope fashion.

A Reddit user recently did a cool calculation, plotting the audience response to dozens of series finales. And the proof is right there in green and red: it’s tough to stick the landing. Not for Parks (its finale was rated even higher than the average episode, thank you very much), and that’s because I’ve never watched a show that has takes such wonderful care of its characters.

I watched the finale while eating breakfast for dinner (complete with waffle bar) with Kim and Kelly of The TV Mouse. Fitting, since Parks brought the three of us together in the first place. It was Kelly and my mutual admiration of each other’s recaps that led to our meeting and a treasured friendship. And really, was there any other possible outcome of that first hang than gChat pep talks, marathon TV nights, and us dragging Kelly into the Doctor Who fandom by her adorable curly hair? As far as personality indicators go, appreciating Parks is the most solid one I know.

As sad as I was to see Parks go, I sat on Kim’s couch confident that it would get the send-off it deserved. I was a big fan of the three-year time jump to begin with; it allowed for new storylines and dynamics (Ron and Leslie’s falling out, for example) to be explored without the time it would have taken to develop a proper run-up. In “One Last Ride,” Parks co-opted the nifty trick that made Six Feet Under’s finale one of the highest rated on that Reddit list. We got flash forwards for our Pawneeans. They felt satisfying, but not final. We learned something new about everyone; they got to share some of their future with us. But there was so much more we hadn’t seen, and so many life events still to come. Let it be known that if Parks had given all its characters the FULL Six Feet Under treatment, Kim would still be trying to peel me off her floor.

teach yo self

Instead, Parks time traveled to significant moments in its characters’ lives. Most were milestones. Some, like Donna’s, were small moments of realization. We caught up with Donna and Joe in Seattle, where the former is making that paper while her boo continues to shape young lives as a teacher. Donna’s life has always been about decadence; about giving herself the best that she can offer. But what could be more decadent than getting to enjoy your life with someone who’s fully dedicated to your happiness? Donna has always been quick to accept change. And if the guy who deserves to see her in that little red thing needs something other than a dream vacation to Middle Korea, she won’t think twice about giving it to him.

make up

It’s nice to see that Donna’s maid of honor (“Call Satan’s Niece.”) is still her partner in crime. (And I’d like to request a web series about their two weeks in Venezuela. Did they visit Pawnee’s sister city and sabotage some important, cultural festival?) April already had a hell of an arc in the final season; with all the inane think pieces about the struggle and shortcomings of the millennial, only Amy Poehler and her writers can be counted on to treat a journey like April’s with respect and empathy. A few years into their new lives in D.C., Andy, already king of the kids, is dying to have one of their own. (“Babe, I wanna put a baby in you, babe.”)

"Oh, for the baby?"

“Oh, for the baby?”

April acts like nothing scares her, but the people closest to her (especially Leslie) know that her projected fearlessness is all a front. In past episodes, what panicked April the most was the thought of losing her own identity and becoming a boring adult. (As if that’s possible for any spouse of Andrew Dwyer, who will threaten your OBGYN with a Taken monologue just so your child’s birthdate can officially be Halloween.) But her private conversation with Leslie about Andy’s baby jones reveals a deeper fear: that she won’t be any good at it. And what’s the point if so many variables are up in the air? “You have kids because you and Andy are a team,” Leslie tells her. “And you want to bring in some new team members.” There’s no question that Andy will be the dad to make other kids insane with jealousy; and April is coming around to the idea that she might not fuck everything up. But I think what really helps her decide the issue is the thought of the bigger team standing behind her and Andy. Jack-O-Lantern Ludgate-Dwyer is a part of that too, now. That team gave April everything. So how bad could it possibly go?

a tom

Tom has a rockier road than most of his friends. But that’s because he refuses to settle. The most telling part of Tom’s flash-forward is the scene where he mopes in front a documentary that he made about his own business failures. That’s so Big T. He can’t stop interpreting and analyzing and creating things out of other things, even when he wishes he could. Yeah, it’s a visual gag to see Tom in suit and a wireless mic standing underneath the word “FAILURE” in bold capital letters. But it’s also kind of the story of his life, and it’s not a bad one. I mean, what’s the difference really between Tom’s list of defeats and Donna’s list of “experiences” other than the way that they frame them? Tom has too many ideas to be stuck in one industry for the rest of his life; and Failure: An American Success story will lead to many other crazy ventures, I’m sure. And every one of them will be fueled in part by a Knope-Wyatt gift basket and a Ron Swanson pep talk, because his friends aren’t giving up on him either.

ron

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“5. Be nice to someone.” – Parks and Recreation Recap

johnny karate parks

Season 7, Episode 10: The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show
Posted by Sage

Neither Leslie and Ben’s triplets or Ann and Chris’s Oliver have received much show focus since their births. No great loss: Parks already has its idealized version of childhood in one Andrew Dwyer.

With only a handful of episodes left in its lifetime, Parks and Rec dedicated a full show to Andy and by virtue of that, to the family that’s watched him grow up. It’s a rare meta exercise for the series. The action – aside from a very important sidebar – is staged in real-time, as Johnny Karate takes his final bow.

It’s a clever set-up that satisfies on multiple levels. Firstly, we get to see Andy’s show! It’s zany, heartfelt, completely absurdist and wouldn’t feel entirely out of place on the UHF network. (Anyone for drinking from the fire hose?) Mailman Barry and Pawnee’s tiniest ninjas aren’t Andy’s only sidekicks; Johnny Karate is a Parks Department family affair. Ben plays out his Mister Wizard fantasies as Professor Smartbrain. Carpenter Ron does his best to instill a respect for doing things with your own two hands. And Leslie, because she is an expert, gives tips on how to be brave.

parks boring buzzerparks boring buzzer
I love that Pawnee parents tune in to Johnny Karate every day to see business owners and high-ranking government employees who aren’t too busy to remind the town’s kids to “do something new, even if it’s scary to you.” Leslie, Ron, et. al. do the show because they love Andy, but they’re also reminding their neighbors that this is a town that would never value conference calls over karate singalongs. (Or drenching John Cena in a dunk tank.) Most of what we saw in this episode was beamed out to the whole town, continuing that infinite feedback loop of love that exists between these people and the place they live. It’s why Mailman Barry’s mailbag is loaded down with letters asking the Karate-Dwyers to stay.

Andy’s friends stage a swift and welcome coup during his final show; it becomes Andy Dwyer: This Is Your Life. And what a life it’s been. When we met Andy, he was self-absorbed and immature, holding Ann back just as much as that cavernous pit in her backyard. He had to be raised, in a different way than April. Break the show down to its bones, and Andy was kind of the catalyst for everything that’s happened. (“In a weird way, Andy, I owe it all to you.”) The thing about these people around him is that they take the time to see who you are. Andy’s gigantic heart started to show itself, and everything else grew out of that. Where do you think he came up with the 5 Karate Moves to Success? He’s lived them, my friends.

1. Make Something

parks johnny karate song

The big MouseRat joke was the band’s multitude of name changes, or the songwriter’s preference for lofty, heroic lyrics, but never the quality of the music. Let’s face it: the “shitty band” gag can only go so far. Andy is talented; creating things makes him feel worthy. He almost gave it up a few times, but I’m glad that April helped him realize that there’s nothing silly about making silly songs that make other people happy.

2. Learn Something

parks hug momentparks hug moment
Andy is the first (and to our knowledge, only) recipient of the coveted Ron Swanson Scholarship. He’s not dumb because he doesn’t know things. He’s smart because he knows he wants to. New information is a gift to Andy, something that makes his awesome world even more awesome. (“Did you know that the food you eat becomes energy?” *kicks air* “That’s spaghetti.”)

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Everything We Need to Know in Life We Learned From Parks and Recreation

Posted by Kim and Sage

Tomorrow night, Parks and Recreation goes out on top.

Though it’s profoundly upsetting that NBC felt that it had to burn off the only comedy it has left (and the best one on network television), at least the show is ending on its own terms. This seventh season has felt like a victory lap, one intent on driving home the life lessons that Parks has been teaching us for years.

What sets Parks apart from most of its half-hour sitcom peers (besides impeccable writing and a knockout cast) is its worldview. With its Paunchburger-sized heart firmly in the right place, the show made nice funny again. And its niceness has never felt naive or unsophisticated. Today, we pay tribute to Parks and Recreation by thanking the show for everything it’s taught us about friendship, ambition, teamwork, and whole-assing one thing. Good night, sweet Pawnee. We’ll miss you in the saddest fashion.

–Sage

1) “Anything’s a toy if you play with it.”

Your life can be fun, but it’s up to you to make it that way.

2) “Ovaries before Brovaries”

#LADIESSUPPORTINGLADIES

3) “Do not confuse drama with happiness”

Let the story be the bright side when things go wrong. But don’t sacrifice your happiness just for the story.

4) “Sometimes you have to work a little so you can ball a lot.”

The Head Over Feels Life Philosophy.  No amount of fun comes without some modicum of hard work.

5) “There has never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food.”

As scientists and joyologists have proven.

6) “Whole Ass One Thing.”

Self explanatory, really.  Put your whole ass into whatever you are pursuing.

7) “Dream Bigger”

When they knock you down, go above their heads. You’ll be better off, plus they’ll hate it.

8) “Jogging is the worst.”

Seriously.  Jogging is the worst.

9) “Messy is fun, okay?”

“Ron, messy is fun, okay. My whole life is a giant mess, and I love it.”

Throw out all your expectations of the neat, magazine-glossy existence; the spotless resume; and the bump-free relationship. Embrace the inevitable chaos.

10) “Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim.  That way lies madness.”

The minute you start doing things for the approval of others is the minute you start losing yourself.

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“She’s an exceptional human being who married a well-intentioned goofball.” – Parks and Recreation Recap

april tell people what to do
Season 7, Episode 8: Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington
Posted by Sage

Much has been made of the generation dubbed the “millennials” and their perceived lack of drive and direction. But, like all generalizations, this one is flawed.

That’s why April’s journey on this final season of Parks has been so important. Ambivalence is one of April’s forever charms, and it’s especially fun to watch it run up against Leslie’s relentless enthusiasm. But the heart of April’s character is that her aloofness is often a defense mechanism; she actually cares about things very deeply. She’s allowed herself to be opened up by the people around her and no longer wears her cynicism like armor. Though, most of the time, she’d sooner punch you than admit it.

What Parks has been able to capture about the Millennial experience is the pressure to choose and stay on a path, long before we’ve seen enough of the world to predict what we’ll want. April joined the Parks Department as an intern; succeeded in spite of herself; and now (well, in 2017) finds herself halfway up a ladder she doesn’t want to see the top of. Changing careers isn’t as easy as shining up a resume; competition for jobs and the traditional hiring process make it nearly impossible to jump onto another track.

This is Parks we’re talking about, where no one gets there alone. Instead of admonishing her for her restlessness, April’s friends and colleagues get to work. As you know, I watch more TV than is necessary or healthy. But I’ve never seen anything like what Parks showed us in “Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington.” A group of grown-ups rallied around a struggling young woman in a way that was anything but patronizing to make sure that she had all the opportunities she deserved. And then the choice was left up to her.

april parks being so nice

Andy dusts off the dream job checklist (first mistaking it for his running tally of cool new nicknames: Count Chockula, Apple Juice), and enlists April’s other friends to help him find the ideal gig for her. I have a lot of feelings about the zeal with which Ron and Ben took on this project. (“She’s brilliant, and a very fast learner.”) And even more about Barney, world’s most enthusiastic numbers-cruncher.

parks barney

Meanwhile, April has to come clean. Though I’m certain the Twin Peaks reboot will invite plenty of discussion, it’s been nearly destroying Ben to the secret that April wants to move on. He knows what’s she’s thinking (“Well then, welcome to the Terrordome.”) and that she won’t be changing her mind. It’s time to tell Leslie.

It’s a terrifying prospect for April. Leslie has been her champion, and as usual, she’s done her job a little too well. April doesn’t hold back much emotionally from her anymore; it’s Leslie and Andy who are on the receiving end of most of April’s most sincere moments. I love that wary, “this isn’t going to be good” look that her friends get when they know they need to pull Leslie’s brakes. But for April, this isn’t just about standing in front of The Steamroller. I think that April still can’t believe that people believe in her, and she feels so ashamed when she thinks she’s let them down. (She’s the same with Ron in “Two Funerals.”) She worries – though she’d never say it – that Leslie will regret all the time and manic energy she’s put into developing her Gov Bud.

april leslie parks leslie april love you parks
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“I’m Ben Wyatt and I very much approve this message!” – Parks and Recreation Recap

parks little man dance
Season 7, Episode 7: Donna and Joe
Posted by Sage

Weddings are always special on Parks. The couples are great and all, but the real secret weapon behind these event episodes is that these characters are just really freakin’ good at celebrating each other.

Donna has officially retired the Meagle Motto of “Use him, abuse him, lose him” and is making an honest man out of schoolteacher Joe. As was inevitable, her former Parks colleagues are embedded deeply in the nuptials. Craig is her wedding planner, which is making it somewhat difficult for him to avoid his trigger words (“Flowers, schedule, vow, bride, groom…”); Leslie is a bridesmaid whose main function is to continually tell Donna how beautiful and perfect she is; Tom, as was previously established, is the self-appointed Butler of Honor (and his big moment came with last week’s pre-wedding Treat Yo Self weekend); and April Ludgate may in fact be the best Maid of Honor who ever lived.

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April’s appointment is both a strategic and an emotional one. She and Donna have developed a singular friendship. Neither of them gives a damn about what anyone thinks (except when they do, desperately) and because of their shared toughness, they have little trouble being vulnerable with each other. Within reason.

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Beyond providing moral support and near-hugs, April is also playing the role of bouncer. No better or scarier wedding guest to keep the infamously difficult Meagles in line. She does such a fine job that Donna wonders aloud halfway through the reception what happened to all the drama she’s come to expect from her family. Answer: it’s in the kitchen with Burt Macklin and April the Terminator. The Ludgate-Dwyers have rounded up all the troublemaking relatives (including a contrite Ginuwine) in the kitchen for a talking to straight out of Full Metal Jacket. No one is ruining Donna’s special day. Not on April’s watch.

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With Andy as her reliable second, April neutralizes every threat. But she’s still left with one Maid of Honor duty to fulfill. Like Donna, all of the Meagles are “a lot sometimes,” but that’s what makes them who they are. This toothless crew isn’t the fierce and difficult family who raised her. Joe doesn’t want to change Donna, and it’s that unconditional love that’s mellowed her. (Donna is much like her favorite flower: the orchid. She’s rare, expensive, and men have killed for her.) Ultimately, Donna doesn’t want to change the Meagles either. Not even her estranged brother Lavondrius, who she hates.

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“Now no one gets any popcorn.”

Seriously, can we just take a second to appreciate this serene wedding goddess? Donna is the picture of calm and generosity throughout. This is how a bride with a complete and unassailable sense of self does it. Not by sucking up all the attention in the room (except unintentionally – you saw how she was wearin’ that dress.), but by taking advantage of the opportunity of having everyone she loves in one room by letting them know what they mean to her. Even Jerry got his special Donna moment. And his coworkers of several decades will finally call him by his given name.

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Also, shout out to Craig, who did all Donna’s worrying for her. One hopes that he caught up with Typhoon after the reception for a nightcap.

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Anyway. It’s a good thing that Donna and Joe were keen to share the stage as there was a lot of side business going down. For Ben and Leslie, their newest life choice presents itself in the form of Jen Barkley, the political kingmaker and bossy boss bitch who has always had a soft spot for the Knope-Wyatts.

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Leslie assumes that Jen wants to speak to her about running for office again; Leslie’s been keeping her at bay for years. But Jen’s Gryzzlpad tells a different story. And that story is all about Ben Wyatt for Congress. Jen does not bullshit and she has no time or use for flattery. If she thinks the run is viable, it’s viable. The question is, can their family handle it? Roz is already looking about 2.5 Go, Diego, Go!’s from sticking her head in the oven. We can’t lose Roz, guys. Roz must be protected.

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Leslie’s dreams have evolved so much since we first met her. And they include so many more people now. From the moment Jen dangles that seat in front of Ben, Leslie is on board. She tries valiantly to appear neutral, but Leslie’s never been very good at the hiding of the feelings. (“Ben should be the royal archduke sultan emperor of all inhabitable lands on earth.”) She wants this for him because he’d be amazing at it and because the people she’s dedicated her life to serving deserve a Congressman (or woman) like Ben Wyatt. Maybe this run was something she thought she wanted for herself back in the day, but it’s not anymore. And not for a second does Leslie claim ownership of that long-abandoned goal. They’re really killing it at this marriage thing. Right, Ben?

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“Wouldn’t it be tight if everyone was chill to each other?” – Parks and Recreation Recap

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Season 7, Episode 5: GryzzlBox
Posted by Sage

On Leslie’s strategy board, she’s endeavored to list every possible method of bringing down Gryzzl, up to and including an “act of god.” She’s overlooking the obvious. Gryzzl’s manufactured mask of “chill” may not be its downfall, per se. But it’s certainly the company’s handicap.

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Just like in Ben’s unpublished novel, drones have come for the citizens of Pawnee. (Head canon is that the book is eventually a huge hit, and then a trilogy, and and then a companion film trilogy about post-apocalyptic Indiana runs the box office for the next 3-4 years.) These robots are friendly…ish. Leslie and Ben get their package, and then discover that the rest of Pawnee has been gifted by Gryzzl too. And now we know that there is such a thing as too thoughtful a present. Gryzzl is soliciting the favor of the town by delivering each resident items from their own personal wish lists, no matter how secret. For every loud-and-proud crush on former Vice President Joe Biden, there are physical conditions that should only be known to a man’s wife and his genital doctors. There’s no doubt that Gryzzl has been mining their data.

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Usually, this is where Leslie convinces Pawnee that the bad thing they’re experiencing is bad for them, while they fight her on it. But not this time. The tech company has overestimated the town’s love of gadgets and underestimated their need for privacy. It takes one town meeting for Leslie and Ben to gather support for their defense against Gryzzl’s invasive tactics. Even chanting guy is on board.

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Actual music to Leslie’s ears.

I’m not one to poo-poo technology, considering that most of my personal and professional lives happen with the help of one device or another. But Parks is laying down truths here, portraying the way that the advancements that aid you in your work, your friendships, and your general existence also have the power to steer you if you’re not careful. We don’t care enough about the sanctity of the data trails we leave behind. For years we were told that our privacy meant nothing in the face of national threats and that giving up that privacy was our duty as Americans. Tech companies have capitalized on that loosey-goosey attitude towards information. Our lives will be better and more streamlined with our data in their hands, they tell us. And “What are you gonna do?” they seem to taunt. “Not be on Facebook?” It’s a fair question.

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“Imma put you on Front Street.”

But even perpetual Tweeters like Donna and me have the right to know how and for what purpose our business is being monitored. “The internet is no longer optional,” Ben says in The Perdple’s Court. “It’s a necessity for everyone.” Using the argument that we’ve somehow opted in just by virtue of being first world citizens of the 21st century assumes that we’ve thrown in the towel. And even if your office looks like a goddamn jungle gym, schemes like the mid-December 2015 revision of the town-wide WiFi agreement reveal Roscoe and his Gryzzl brahs to be a more cunning than they let on.

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Considering that the wireless agreement was signed, the Wyatt-Knope team made some valid and damning arguments, and that “Judge Perd is not a judge” he has no choice but to shrug his shoulders and declare a mistrial. Leslie knew that the court held no power, but had hoped to shame Gryzzl into decency. Fortunately for them, they’re shameless.

More realness happens over in the B-story, which involves Andy Dwyer’s cash cow of a children’s character and the undervaluing of creative work. Andy has never been driven by a paycheck. He’ll do all the work and drive everyone home after, all with a smile on his face. But even trusting Andy knows that there’s something wrong when the station asks him to sign away his rights to Johnny Karate. Every other writer whose been offered a byline or a link-back as pay for their work (or professional recording artist who’s ever been “invited” to audition for The Voice) knows this struggle. The work is fun. This does not make it invaluable. If it were, Hank Muntak wouldn’t want to own it.

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“Weird and sad and unnecessary.” – Parks and Recreation Recap

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Season 7, Episode 3: William Henry Harrison
Posted by Sage

Leslie Knope has never been one to give up easily.

With National Parks and Gryzzl going head-to-head as Newport’s final contenders for the land they’ve put up for bid, Leslie is the dog with the proverbial bone. No stone is too small or weird or insignificant to remain unturned; she’s on a mission to find some kind of geographical/historical/anthropological evidence to support the preservation of the family’s fancy acreage. The creeping decrease in the population of Indiana Brown Ants won’t do the trick, nor will an impassioned plea by the Reasonalists. (“Hail, Zorp.”) Leslie decides that victory will come to her via Indiana’s own Ol’ Tippecanoe. Yes, William Henry Harrison – “Barely a President” – is a local boy and once owned a hunting lodge that stood on the land in question. Leslie wastes no time in throwing her boundless manic energy into fluffing this connection up enough to make it feel even a little relevant.

Leslie is a champion of lost causes. So much so that, during the course of this series, she’s nearly had to be dragged by her friends – kicking and screaming – away from projects that threaten to take over her life and leave her depleted. And that’s why it’s so painful to see her be as finished she is with Ron Swanson. Leslie, who can find the William Henry Harrison in anything, can’t find anything in this relationship worth salvaging. Or maybe it would hurt too much to try and then fail.

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This stalemate is breaking Ben Wyatt. Ron and Leslie’s vow of avoidance sends Ben (and newly minted notary public Terry) literally around in circles, as they try to wrangle the ex-friends’ signatures for some point-of-sale paperwork. But much like the legendary Shailene Woodley/Morgan Freeman beef, this one is leaving emotional turmoil in its wake. It’s also just plain inconvenient. To not see someone – in a town this small – requires a lot of pre-planning and footwork that leave poor Ben exhausted and confused. Where’s his Pawnee family? I think it distresses him to see them splintered. And I’m willing to bet that he can tell the difference between a Leslie who counts steady Ron among her most trusted advisers and the one without regular access to Swanson wisdom.

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“WHAT.”

Ron and Leslie even each other out. They soften each other’s edges. They’re like those organisms that need each other to co-exist. Without their respective checks, both of them have just become more them. Ron has retreated back into himself. He’s made sure his only “work proximity associates” are ones he won’t be in any danger of forming an attachment to. (Like Roscoe, the VP of Cool New Shizz.) And Leslie has gone Full Leslie, psychotically clinging to the Newport land and dragging her team along with her. She’s latched her star onto Pawnee historian Bill Hagerty, author of a book so boring the description alone made Andy cry.

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Per Bill’s WHH revelation, disappointment after disappointment threaten Leslie’s relentless positivity. The only signs that a historic hunting lodge once stood on that land are a few rocks, a bag of old cheeseburgers, and Harrison’s old wig, which has gone a little stiff. Undeterred, Leslie sets her sights on the town’s museum to the dead president, and it’s the kind of bizarre, useless landmark that only an April Ludgate-Dwyer could love.

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