Parks and Recreation is a special show. There have been very few comedic series over the years that have made me feel as invested in its characters, and I couldn’t be happier with how things wrapped up. It got off to a rocky start and there were definitely some bumps along the way, but Parks and Rec has become one of my all-time favorites, and it maintained an impressive amount of consistency in producing quality episodes and storylines. With all of that in mind…
I love television shows, and I love ranking things. It only makes sense that I combine the two. I’ll be ranking every season of Parks and Recreation, according to science. Science, in this case, means watching every episode and assigning it a score 1-5, with five being amazing and one being not so amazing. Obviously, the most important thing is the comedy, but I also give special props to good concepts, unique episodes, and great stories. It’s all on a sliding scale, so a “one” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a terrible episode, just that when compared to the other episodes, it’s weaker. I then average out the individual episode scores for an entire season, and rank them all according to that final score. Keep in mind that Parks and Rec is one of my favorite shows, so I enjoy watching even its “worst” episodes. For ties, I’m giving the edge to the season that has the stronger “best” episodes, since those are the ones we usually remember. I know, math is scary, but I’ve done all the hard work so you don’t have to.
If you read my rankings of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or The League, don’t compare the scores. The episode and season scores are only meant to be compared to other episodes and seasons of the same show. Comparing shows to one another is a whole other kind of list that I’m not willing to dive into right now. Maybe someday…
Let me know your favorite season of Parks and Recreation in the comments below, and enjoy the list!
7. Season One – 2.5
When I first watched Parks and Recreation, I was wary of it. I was a huge fan of The Office, and respected Amy Poehler, but the show seemed a little too derivative for my tastes. I still gave it a shot and watched the whole first season when it aired. I was not impressed. The show really did just feel like a clone of the superior The Office, and Poehler’s Leslie Knope was like a lesser Michael Scott — complete with the oftentimes grating personality seen in early episodes of The Office. I also really didn’t like Mark Brendanawicz, Parks and Rec’s Jim Halpert analog, and I wasn’t a fan of Aziz Ansari’s comedy at the time, either.
So, I gave up on it. It wasn’t until years later — after friends pestered me non-stop — that I gave it another shot. The first season is still, admittedly, not great. It’s easier to watch after you’ve seen the whole show and know where it’s headed, but it’s not always very funny. But there’s promise, and the show definitely starts to fulfill it in later seasons.
Strongest Episodes: Rock Show, Pilot
Weakest Episodes: Canvassing, Boys’ Club
6. Season Two – 3.08
Season two was a vast improvement for the show, but it still had several things holding it back. Mark Brendanawicz still wasn’t funny. Aziz Ansari’s Tom was still just kind of a dick. And the larger story of “the pit” wasn’t all that interesting anymore. However, Leslie started to develop into her own kind of character. She was still a bit off-the-wall and annoying like Michael Scott, but Amy Poehler’s comedic sensibilities started to shine through, and it became more apparent that Leslie Knope was far more capable and ambitious than Michael Scott — which is something the show would lean heavily on in later seasons.
Then, right as the season was about to end, things changed, and the show would never look back. They basically abandoned the story of “the pit” (at least for a while), Mark Brendanawicz left the show, and we were introduced to two great new characters, Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt. They were fantastic foils for each other, and for Leslie. From here on, it was pretty much all roses.
Strongest Episodes: Park Safety, Freddy Spaghetti
Weakest Episodes: Tom’s Divorce, The Camel
5. Season Seven – 3.08
Even though the scores ended up as a tie, I find the seventh and final season of Parks and Rec to be superior to season two. As I said, season two isn’t bad, but it just doesn’t have the highs of season seven. Still, the final season was far from the show’s best, as fewer total episodes meant duds had more of an impact on the average score. The jump forward in time to 2017 was a great idea at the start, and allowed for plenty of comedy in setting up the new status quo for our characters. But that wore thin after a bit, and it was clear the show was running out of things to say.
I was never much of a fan of when the show took a hard political stance on something. Pawnee was a frustrating city throughout the show, and the absurdity and unfairness to Leslie ruined some of the comedy for me at times. Season seven continued this trend, even though Leslie’s new position should have kept her out of most of the city’s problems. This final season did do a great job of wrapping things up for these beloved characters, though, and gave us what might be the best series finale I’ve ever seen for a comedic show. You could certainly argue that things were a little too perfect by the end, but for a show like this, the happiest ending is what everyone deserved.
Strongest Episodes: 2017, One Last Ride
Weakest Episodes: William Henry Harrison, Pie-Mary
4. Season Four – 3.1
Season four is a lot of people’s favorite season of Parks and Rec, and I can see why. After the fantastic season three, this season focused on Leslie’s bid for a city council seat, and it was a fantastic reason for everyone in the office to be united in a common goal. There was a good balance of Leslie dealing with the idiot inhabitants of her hometown, and there were only a few times where their unbelievable stupidity caused me annoyance. I also loved how the season ended. At the time it really felt like Leslie was achieving her dreams, which only makes her career path afterward all the more special.
Also worth mentioning was the fantastic presence of Paul Rudd as Bobby Newport. He was dumb but likable enough to be a great competitor for Leslie’s seat, and I really liked Kathryn Hahn as his campaign manager, too. She’s a really underrated comedic actress. However, I wasn’t so happy about some other storylines. Ann dating Tom was probably the thing I disliked the most. I understand the writers putting Ann into an “experimental” phase because they didn’t seem to know what to do with her character, but I didn’t believe for one second that she would date Tom. They were too different, and I found their constant bickering and breaking up to be a distraction from other, better stuff going on.
Strongest Episodes: Win Lose or Draw, End of the World
Weakest Episodes: Sweet Sixteen, Lucky
3. Season Five – 3.13
Considering I didn’t really enjoy Leslie being on the city council, it’s surprising to see season five rank so high on this list. I guess that just shows how strong some of the other stories were, and how consistent the show was overall. Really the worst city council stuff was towards the beginning of the season, when Councilman Jamm was just a jerk without much depth or comedy to him. The season also ended with some weaker episodes, and a finale that wasn’t as amazing as most other season finales on the show.
Of course, the highlight of the season was Ben and Leslie’s wedding… and it was perfect. At times the writing of their relationship bothered me because it always felt like Ben was willing to give up everything to allow Leslie to succeed, and it didn’t feel like a two-way street. The problem continued throughout the show all the way to the finale, but I still love their relationship. I’m a lot like Ben Wyatt, and while my wife is less like Leslie Knope, we both see plenty of mirrors from their marriage to our own.
Strongest Episodes: Leslie and Ben, Emergency Response
Weakest Episodes: Women in Garbage, How a Bill Becomes a Law
2. Season Six – 3.23
When I first watched through all of Parks and Rec, I honestly thought season six was the final season. The seventh season hadn’t been added to Netflix yet, and the way things ended in the finale seemed like the perfect way to close the show. I am glad that everyone came back for one final short season, but season six still contains the better episodes overall. I’ve seen a lot of people that aren’t as high on season six, and I really don’t understand why. I for one was relieved when Leslie was voted off the city council. That wasn’t my favorite place for her, as I found her dealing with the terrible citizens to be more frustrating than fun. On the other hand, Councilman Jamm was usually a great antagonist for Leslie, and he was used to great effect in this season.
The season opener in London was also a great diversion, and I’ve already mentioned how perfect the finale felt at the time. Ann and Chris’ exit was heartfelt and appropriate, but to be honest I didn’t miss them much once they were gone. Their loose ends were tied up, and I’m glad they didn’t return until the series was at its close. And a special shout-out goes to Billy Eichner’s Craig, who appeared in season six and was a fantastic addition to the show.
Strongest Episodes: The Cones of Dunshire, Moving Up
Weakest Episodes: Gin it Up, Filibuster
1. Season Three – 3.44
Season three had Parks and Rec firing on all cylinders. We were finally free from Mark Brendanawicz sucking the funny out of the room, Amy Poehler came into her own as Leslie Knope, and the two new characters, Chris and Ben, were here to stay. Season three also contained probably the strongest over-arching story seen on the show — the Harvest Festival. It was a goal that everyone could work together to complete, so there wasn’t as much in-fighting. Leslie could come across as being less-than-fun if she was going against the will of her employees, so it was nice that everyone teamed up together to accomplish this big goal.
April and Andy also tied the knot halfway through the season, and it was adorable. This was before Leslie and Ben were out in the open about their feelings, so it was nice to have a little win thrown in there. Parks and Rec differed from its predecessor, The Office, in that Leslie and Ben only got better once they were together. The “will they/won’t they” was fun for a while, but their relationship only improved as the seasons went on.
Strongest Episodes: Lil’ Sebastian, Flu Season
Weakest Episodes: Camping, Soulmates
And there you have it, my not-so-scientific ranking of every Parks and Recreation season. Let me know what you think in the comments below, and be sure to check out my ranking of the top 10 episodes!