The Top 20 Television Moments of 2015 – Part Two

Posted by Kim and Sage

Another year of television in the books. We’ve laughed and we’ve cried and we’ve flailed. We’ve fallen madly in love and we’ve had our hearts broken. We’ve said goodbye to beloved shows and embraced new ones. It’s the ciiiiiiiiiiiircle of liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife and it mooooooooooooves us allllllllll.

We’ve already posted the first half of our annual year-end celebration of all the hours we spent in front of the telly this year. What else made the list? Read on to find out! –Kim

11) Patricia Arquette wins an Oscar, demands equality for women. 

Patricia Arquette ran the table during Awards Season, picking up every single award there was for her performance in Boyhood.  Her speeches for most of the season were typical. She always pulled out a written speech, which drove me bananas, because GURL at this point you know you are going to win. Memorize your speech. (Says the girl who has never won a major award and had to get up and talk in front of thousands of her peers, so you do you Patricia.)  However all the sub-par speeches were forgiven at The Academy Awards, when Patricia got up in her black and white gown, reading glasses, and fierce red lippy and closed out her speech with this:

“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Cue Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lopez, and every other woman in the audience losing their shit. Does anyone have more fun at awards shows than Meryl? I think not.

Bless you, Patricia, for using entertainment’s biggest stage to stand up for your fellow women. GENDER EQUALITY? What a concept.  –Kim

12) “Buddy” – Parks and Recreation

When NBC decided to burn off the final season of Parks and Recreation by airing back-to-back episodes every week, Kim offered to share my Pawnee recapping duties to lighten the workload. Tag-teaming season 7 kept me sane (and I loved getting to read what my brilliant co-blogstress wrote about Leslie and the gang), but it wasn’t easy to let my baby go. I didn’t get to recap “Leslie & Ron” for the site, and I admit: I was a little bitter about it.

Because this episode was the heart hug that Parks fans had been aching for since the show’s victory lap began. It was disconcerting and friggin’ scary to time-warp to 2017 and learn that Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope were no longer speaking. Every couple is an odd-couple on Parks, but Leslie and her former boss had been a testament to the power of putting friendship and respect over side-of-the-aisle debates. They’d overcome so many differences in all the years they’d known each other; it was their similarities that had pulled them apart. Leslie and Ron are the most stubborn characters on the series (and probably in the fictional midwest in general); and the length of their feud reflected it. Fed up, Ben and their friends lock their Ron and Leslie in the Parks office to work their out their shit. And work it out, they do. After Leslie systematically tries to wear Ron down with jeers about wood (“You guys, Ron loves plastic!”), a friendship flow chart, and her own batshit version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” (“Peter Piper, pee-pee poopy, Daddy ate a squirrel!”), the former work proximity associates finally get down to brass tacks. Pride is everything to Ron. He swallowed it and got burned. And he closed right up for a while.

Leslie: Ron, you were going–
Ron: I was gonna ask you for a job. In the federal government. Just saying it out loud feels dirty.
Leslie: You missed your friends, and you wanted to come up to the third floor and work with us again. I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been for you. God, why didn’t I see that? Ron, I am so sorry. I should’ve been a better friend to you.
Ron: Honestly, Leslie, it’s fine. It was a punctuation mark on a sentence that had already been written. My time in government work was over. Sure, I loved shutting things down and bleeding the rotting beast from the inside.
Leslie: Your metaphors are so beautiful.
Ron: But it was time for me to leave, and I didn’t feel like explaining why to you or anyone. Everything that happened after– the fight we had, not giving you a heads-up when my company took on the Morningstar development and bulldozed the nurse’s old house– I do regret that.
Leslie: I had a good run here.
Ron: But after you and Tom and Donna and April and Terry left, when I looked around this office, nothing was the same.
Leslie: Yeah, well, there’s a way to fix that.

As the sun comes up in Pawnee, Leslie and Ron bury the hatchet in the office where their hard-won friendship was forged, over a bottle of Lagavulin with Willie Nelson’s “Buddy” (Ron’s contribution to the Parks Department BBQ Mix) scoring the montage. There’s a distinct sense of making up for lost time as they give in to their silliest impulses. Parks always takes care of its audience’s emotional needs, and those brilliant fuckers knew that they couldn’t end the Leslie and Ron reunion on an apology and a handshake. Instead, we get to see them having stupid, ridiculous fun together, and we know that their relationship is now even stronger for what it’s been through. –Sage

13) Amber’s baby shower – Parenthood

 The 100th episode of Parenthood was a humdinger. The Bravermans gathered in the hospital as Zeek endured another heart episode. Hank proposed to Sarah in the hospital parking lot and (naturally) she went running, telling him she’d think about it. The Luncheonette was robbed, putting Crosby and Adam at odds regarding its future. Joel and Julia eased their way back to each other after some much-needed make-up sex. But the emotional gut-punch came when the Braverman women threw Amber an impromptu baby shower in the hospital cafeteria. No silly games or outrageous presents. Just Amber’s mother, her grandmother, and her aunts imparting what they’ve learned about being a mom. So simple, yet so unbelievably heart-warming and emotional.

God, the women of Parenthood were amazing. They were all vastly different but all incredibly strong and their advice reflects their characters so perfectly. “Drink wine.” “Embrace and own life’s curveballs.” “Do right by yourself. Don’t ever give up on your dreams.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it all. You can.” “Don’t be too proud to ask for help.” The best part about this is that it’s not just MOM advice, it’s life advice. These words can apply to anyone and what was so beautiful about the women of this show is they all refused to be seen as only mothers.  They have so much love for each other and their bond is unbreakable. (Sarah: “No matter what, I’ll always have your back.” Amber: “I know.”) Then Camille, lovely, strong, elegant Camille, who has presided over all these amazing women as the family matriarch brings it home. “Amber I would say to you that life is short. You cannot know how impossibly fast it goes by. So just enjoy this baby. Cherish this time. Cherish every minute of it.” I’m not crying, it’s just raining on my face. –Kim

14) Lily shows her cards – Penny Dreadful

Ah, Penny Dreadful. The feminist literary horror masterpiece of my dreams.

The creatives behind the Showtime drama were smart enough to cast Doctor Who alum and my future wife Billie Piper, but she didn’t have much to do in season 1 besides cough up blood, be Irish, and look sad. When Brona Croft succumbed to TB and Piper was still on the call sheet for season 2, her future as a “bride of Frankenstein” figure seemed set. HERE’S WHERE IT GETS GOOD.

John Clare aka Caliban aka Mr. Nice Creature forces Victor to make him a mate. Lily, as Brona is known in her second life, is the fantasy of both men: a malleable, amiable flower – innocent and eager to please. They’re both too busy projecting onto her to see her as she really is. They make it so easy to play them, don’t they? Men always do.

In an X-Files episodes about some suburban Satanists under siege by a demon, Mulder asks, “Did you really think you could call up the devil and ask him to behave?” Lily has literally been to hell and back, but Victor and his creature don’t give a thought to the side effects of man-made resurrection. (Though they’ve both lived those consequences.) The audience knows that something’s up though. Lily’s simplicity and purity are too absolute to be genuine. Her motives become clear when she seduces a man and snaps his neck mid-tryst. Lily/Brona has been used by men in life and in death, and she. Has. HAD IT. There’s coldness in this diatribe, but there’s life too. It’s a seering performance, and I believe I stood up and clapped when it was done.

Lily: How can you imagine that I could care for you? Does that face belong alongside this? Doesn’t the world smile on us? Don’t we make a beautiful couple, “thee and me”? Shall we wander the pastures and recite your fucking poetry to the fucking cows? You are blind. Like all other men.
Clare: And you are unlike all other women.
Lily: You tell me how. We flatter our men with our pain. We bow before them. We make ourselves dolls for their amusement. We lose our dignity in corsets and high shoes and gossip and the slavery of marriage! And our reward for this service? The back of the hand. The face turned to the pillow. The bloody, aching cunt as you force us onto your beds to take your fat, heaving bodies! You drag us into the alleys, my lad, and cram yourselves into our mouths for two bob when you’re not beating us senseless! When we’re not bloody from the eyes, and the mouth, and the ass and the cunt! Never again will I kneel to any man. Now they shall kneel to me.

Billie Piper growling at men to kneel is 100% my aesthetic.

Later, Lily asks the same prostration from Dorian Gray.  (Is “kneel, boy” her catchphrase? I think sooooo…) But him, she has use for. Dorian has no more illusions about his humanity. He lives to take, but at least he’s up front about it. Lily is so done with men who simper to her face, but want only to possess her body (those grody old men she takes to bed) or her soul too (her creators). Dorian can be her partner in honest depravity – a soulmate who also sees the vice and malevolence simmering just under the surface of polite society. What WILL they get up to next season? I can’t wait to find out. –Sage

 15) Team SharNick dances to “Backstreet’s Back” – Dancing With the Stars

Everyone knows that I am Backstreet Boys Trash for LIFE, so needless to say I was ecstatic when Dancing With The Stars FINALLY booked one of the boys. Nick Carter proved to be the perfect type of DWTS contestant. He was naturally talented but still struggled learning some of the specific styles. He was a showman but was not afraid to make himself vulnerable as he opened up about his marriage and their struggles with fertility. But the best part about Nick was that he was completely willing to milk his status as a Backstreet Boy. He knew EXACTLY why people were voting for him and he gave the people what they wanted. Week 4 of the competition was the ALWAYS great theme week of “My Most Memorable Year” (I famously made all my friends watch this night after the HIMYM finale and we all ended up weeping over Amy Purdy).  Naturally, Nick chose the year he joined the Backstreet Boys and he opened up about just how much the boys saved him. All of his boys were part of the interview package, with AJ even showing up for rehearsal.  Nick danced to “Backstreet’s Back” recreating the iconic choreography and basically being just hot as hell with his partner Sharna Burgess (a goddess in her own right).

My favorite thing is how Nick just soaks it all in when it’s done. This man has been through hell and back and it warms my heart to see him in such a good place. I DIE over AJ in the audience screaming for his little bro. I die over Joey Fatone cheering him on because boy banders support other boy banders (HEY GUYS CAN YOU ADOPT ONE DIRECTION TOO, IT’S ALL I WANT). Nick ended up finishing in second place (I blame them returning to the BSB well for their freestyle) but he was always first in my heart. –Kim

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“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.

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“I’ve never been a fan of change.” – Parks and Recreation Recap

Parks and Recreation Season 7, Episode 11
“Two Funerals” 

Posted by Kim

Penultimate episodes of a series usually serve to set up one final conflict to be overcome or it takes its main character out of their normal circumstances in order to bring them back home for the series finale.  Think about it.  Carrie moves to Paris with the Terrible Russian in Sex and the City.  On Friends, Rachel is offered her dream job working for Louis Vuitton in Paris.  Joey Potter ditches Capeside and finally takes that trip to Paris that she’d delayed ever since Dawson Leery (selfishly) kissed her in Season One.  (Question…why is it ALWAYS Paris?  Discuss in the comments.)  This is not the case with “Two Funerals”.  No one is running off to Paris (that is soooooooo Season Six Beslie because they are progressive that way).  Unlike previous finales of Parks, we don’t have any doubt that Leslie is ACTUALLY leaving Pawnee this time.  “Two Funerals” is not about any of our characters having a last-minute crisis of faith.  It’s about Leslie wanting one final giant Leslie Knope shenanigan before she closes this chapter of her life.  It’s about Ben wanting to leave Pawnee, this little town that he never expected to fall in love with, in the hands of someone who will cherish it as he does.  And it’s about Ron opening up himself to a new barber. Because aside from butcher and lover, that’s the most important person in a man’s life.

Ben and Leslie aren’t the only ones moving on with their lives.  The erstwhile Parks Department gathers at Tom’s Bistro (which I like to think was a weekly occurrence for them, especially once Ron and Leslie reconciled) where Donna announces that she and Joe are moving to Seattle and Garry says he is retiring (for reals this time).  Their meal is interrupted by a news alert saying that Mayor Gunderson has died.  Everything in Pawnee is changing, which prompts Leslie to say that there are “too many endings and not enough beginnings.  We need something to BEGIN.”  The Leslie of season one would have been thrown into a spiral by all of these events piling on top of each other.  She would have dug her heels in and fought against it with every fiber of her being.  Season seven Leslie, on the other hand, isn’t trying to STOP the change because she knows she can’t.  But that doesn’t mean she isn’t going to throw herself wholeheartedly into a new adventure, which is why she latches on to the idea of helping Tom propose to Lucy.  Because if everything is going to change, at least it’s going to change with Leslie Knope flair.  “You guys are the happy beginning we all need,” she says, with a manic gleam in her eye.  Some things will NEVER change.

Leslie, being Leslie, throws her whole ass into planning the perfect over the top proposal for Tom, complete with banners and a short film that features Jean Ralphio as a bad guy and Tom as a James Bond-esque hero.  She focuses on the proposal with the steamroller focus that she normally reserves for well…everything in her life.  She berates the banner makers (she’s spent over 100K there, so they have to do what she says) and she pays no mind to wreaking havoc in the jewelry store when Jean Ralphio destroys a display case.  (He threw himself into it because he not so secretly is madly in love with Leslie, right?) Tom goes along with it, because it SEEMS like this is the kind of proposal that the man who co-founded Entertainment 720 would do, right?  What Tom comes to realize over the course of the episode (and it really comes into sharp focus the moment he sees Lucy) is that he’s not that person anymore.  Sure, he will always be a baller with red carpet lined shoes but he’s evolved enough as an adult to know when it’s time to just keep it simple and be honest.  It’s the reason that Lucy was always my favorite of Tom’s various women: she always saw past his ridiculata and just saw HIM.  A sweet guy who will always appreciate the finer things in life and always tries just a little bit too hard.  He doesn’t NEED to impress her, she’s already impressed. So he calls the big show off…and Leslie, god bless her, shows how far SHE has come by taking a step back.  Well…not too far back, she still wants to see it happen after all.  Just knowing Tom is doing it is enough for her.  As Sage just said to me on gChat, Leslie thrives off people’s joy.  It’s her very life force.  (Which is why Amy Poehler is going to be SO VERY PERFECT as Joy in Inside Out this summer. I can’t wait.)

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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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“Daddy want pie.” – Parks and Recreation Recap

Parks and Recreation Season 7, Episode 9

“Pie-Mary” 

Posted by Kim

In its 7 season run, Parks and Recreation was (WAS…sniff) never been a show to shy away from gender issues.  It was only a matter of time before they tackled how wives of political candidates are treated.  Over the course of her career, Leslie has faced how she’s been treated as a woman when SHE has been the driving force of her life (“Women in Garbage” for example) but now she’s in the backseat for Ben’s congressional campaign.  How does that turn the tables for her?  That is what we explore in “Pie-Mary”.

The thing with Leslie Knope is that she has never been a woman who is content to just sit back and smile and wave.  If you ask Leslie a question, she’s going to answer it.  If you want her opinion on something, she’s going to give it to you in a hour-long dialogue where she probably ends up telling you her entire life story.  Leslie is passionate about her life, the people in it, and the things she believes in.  It’s what made Ben Wyatt fall in love with her in the first place and it’s what scares the bejeezus out of Jen Barkley, campaign manager (well that and the fact that every surface in the Knope-Wyatt house is sticky).  “It’s the smarties that freak people out,” she says, trying to prepare Leslie for what’s to come.  Leslie (naively) believes that the voters WANT a spouse who is more than a puppet because that’s the kind of person SHE would want to see.  Jen’s expression says it all: “Oh, honey”.

Of course, it takes all of three minutes for Jen Barkley to be proved right (she usually is).  Ben and Leslie attend a press conference that is meant to be promoting how the Gryzzl Headquarters will be revitalizing the economy of a forgotten district of Pawnee (you know, important stuff) but the conference quickly turns to Leslie’s decision not to participate in the annual Pie-Mary. Leslie’s response of “The last contest’s loser was all women” immediately provokes the press into asking Leslie if she is making a statement by skipping the Pie-Mary.  This leads to them questioning her skills as a mother, whether she values family, and how much her haircut cost (“None of your business, but thank you for noticing.”).  I’d laugh if this weren’t OH SO CLOSE to what actually happens to political spouses in life.

By the time Ben and Leslie get home, Mike Patterson and his family values cronies are openly attacking Leslie on the air, claiming “she’s saying women who love their families are stupid”.  Leslie sees only one option to avoid completely torpedoing Ben’s campaign: Divorce.  Or just entering the Pie-Mary.  Whatever is the lesser of two evils, I guess.

Leslie, Ben, and their spare can of whipped cream are interrupted by a knock at the door (that sounds like a dirty fanfic in the making).  It is NOT one of the triplets, as Leslie initially feared, but Elise from the Indiana Organization of Women (remember how desperately Leslie wants to win their Woman of the Year award? Foreshadowing).  Initially Elise is there to praise Leslie for not entering the Pie-Mary but when she learns Leslie plans on entering after all, she warns that they WILL protest her if she does.  Basically, Leslie is screwed either way and this frustrates the HELL out of her.  This is about BEN, after all.  Leslie believes in Ben and believes in what he could do as a Congressman.  She believes that he can do a lot FOR women once he’s elected…so why shouldn’t she participate in a stupid pie making contest if the end result is his victory? Leslie, for once in her life, is looking at the big picture here.  She’s spent much of her career focusing on the small battles, not the wars…but for Ben?  For Ben she sees the big picture.  And that’s worth sacrificing a small pie slice of her dignity.

Of course as Leslie is waxing poetic about what a feminist her husband is, this happens…

Did anyone else get the vibe that Ben was getting into a little bit of roleplay for some sexytimes since the kids are all asleep?  I mean I know he’s pointing at his belly but he could also be pointing elsewhere and there IS the spare whipped cream and OMG have I been reading too much smutty fan fiction this week?

(Sage: No, you can never read too much smutty fan fiction.)

Once Elise leaves, Ben comes up with the perfect solution.  He will be his own wife and enter the pie contest himself.  Frankly, I think it’s what he wanted to do all along.   He gleefully says that they will change the idea of what a pie is.  After all…there’s crust, filling, and then more crust.  What are pies really?  They are just sweet calzones!  And we all know there’s never been a calzone that Ben Wyatt didn’t love.  Other than the ones that betrayed him.

At the pie-mary, Ben and Leslie are very proud for how they’ve beaten the system.  By having Ben enter, they are showing that tradition gender roles don’t matter to them (which keeps the IOW off their backs) but they are still there representing a great Pawnee tradition (which should keep the Family Values people at bay).  Everybody wins, right? Ben, in his customized apron, proudly gets up and presents his calzone pie…right as a men’s rights group shows up to protest his apparent emasculation.  They demand that Ben be freed (“From what?” #bless) from the tyranny of his wife.  “Behind every successful woman is a man she has oppressed,” the ringleader Kipp Bunthart declares.  Leslie tries to explain that Ben WANTED to do this (“He has five personalized aprons!!”) but Kipp immediately fires back a statement that almost every woman has said at some point in her life.  “So he was asking for it because of how he was dressed?” Men have had it VERY hard recently, don’t you know? Everything is so pitch perfect, I basically seal clapped for the rest of this storyline.

Like it or not, Jen advises Ben and Leslie to hold a press conference so they can apologize for all their offenses (“Ignore the fact that you’re right and put on your blandest outfit.”).  Naturally, the conference is full of men’s rights protestors holding up signs, including a GENIUS “Yes All Men” sign.  Leslie starts her scripted apology but Ben Wyatt, prince among men stops her (“My wife is a very independent woman…so I’m not going to let her speak.”).  He’s not going to allow Leslie to apologize for being who she is.  Above anything else, Ben and Leslie are a TEAM and Ben refuses to allow Leslie to compromise who she is.  She wouldn’t be the woman he wants standing by his side as he pursues his political career if she changed who she is so she could fit some pre-determined mold. But above all else, she wouldn’t be the woman he married if she did.  And that, ladies and gents, is why their marriage is one we should all aspire to have.

 

 

 

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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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