Despite its slow start and the overly frustrating citizens of Pawnee, Parks and Recreation rates as one of my favorite shows of all time. From the point Ben and Chris entered the picture to the series finale, Parks and Rec maintained a surprising level of consistency in its humor and storytelling. You can read more of my thoughts on the show as a whole in my ranking of all seven seasons, but today, we’ll be taking a look at the absolute 10 best episodes gifted to us by the creative minds of Greg Daniels, Michael Shur, Amy Poehler, and the fantastic cast and crew of Parks and Recreation.
10. The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show
Season 7, Episode 10 — This episode is kind of weird when you think about it conceptually. It acts as a bit of a send-off for some of our characters, despite the fact that there were still a few episodes remaining in season seven. It’s also worth mentioning how the entirety of season seven feels a bit like a send-off, but that’s something we’ll get into a bit later. “The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show” served as a perfect excuse to bring all the characters together in a big final hurrah, focusing on Andy and all that he brought to the town of Pawnee. It was hilarious, heartfelt, and completely insane in the most charming way possible.
Ron: [in a commercial] “Hire ‘Very Good Building Company’ for all your construction needs. Or do not. I am not a beggar.”
9. Greg Pikitis
Season 2, Episode 7 — One of the few stellar episodes from before Adam Scott and Rob Lowe joined the cast, “Greg Pikitis” was a classic Halloween episode that featured Leslie on the hunt for a teenage vandal and Tom saving Ann’s boring Halloween party. One of my favorite subplots early on in the show was Leslie dating Louis C.K.’s Dave Sanderson, and this episode was perhaps the best interaction between them, as Dave spent their whole date night trying to keep Leslie in check before finally acquiescing and helping her take him down. The only problem was, little Greg was innocent of the crime. Or was he!?
Leslie: [talking to Andy] “You see him, you stop him. Knock his head off if you have to.”
Dave: “Don’t do that.”
Leslie: “Don’t do that. But I give you permission to use excessive force.”
Dave: “Don’t use excessive force.”
Leslie: “Don’t go overboard, just stop him… [under her breath] By any means necessary.”
Leslie: “No, just stop him.”
8. Park Safety
Season 2, Episode 19 — The second episode from season two to make the list (I know, I was surprised too), “Park Safety” mostly gets the nod due to the fantastic performance by Andy Samberg as Carl. Seriously, I was so bummed that they didn’t bring him back for any future episodes. I thought his tick of speaking too loudly would get annoying, but it totally doesn’t — it’s hilarious. The motivation for this storyline, though, was Jerry allegedly being mugged. Of course, by the end, we learn that he faked the whole thing to avoid being made fun of for falling into the lake trying to pick up his burrito — yes, really — and Jerry continued to be the most adorable sad-sack character ever.
Tom: [getting into a golf cart] “This thing is a mess.”
Carl: “WE USED TO HAVE THREE CARS, ACTUALLY. THE FIRST ONE GOT PUSHED INTO THE CREEK BY SOME KIDS. THE SECOND ONE RACOONS GOT INTO. THERE WAS URINE EVERYWHERE. AND THE THIRD ONE WAS RECENTLY STOLEN.”
Tom: “What’s this one?”
Carl: “THIS IS THE SECOND ONE. THE RACOON PISS ONE.”
7. End of the World
Season 4, Episode 6 — “End of the World” is just delightfully weird. Obviously, Leslie’s romantic pursual of Ben was cute and honestly a bit creepy, but I also loved Ron and Chris’ interactions with the Reasonabilists (aka Zorpies). April also takes Andy on a sidequest to check off the items on his bucket list, ending on one of the most beautiful shots in the show’s run. But my favorite story of the episode goes to Tom and Jean-Ralphio’s “end of the world” party, as they sunk their remaining money into a big Entertainment 720 send-off bash. Jean-Ralphio is such a brilliant character that thankfully never wore out his welcome, and this was one of his best guest appearances.
Andy: [after being handed $1,000 in cash] “Have you ever seen this much money in your life?”
Bank Teller: “I just handed it to you.”
6. The Fight
Season 3, Episode 13 — I’m not a woman, so I’ll never truly understand the power of a female friendship, but if it’s anything like the relationship between Leslie and Ann in “The Fight,” I’m not sure I’d be able to handle it. Honestly, it was cute to see the two argue because they were such soulmates up to that point. Ann was always an inconsistent character in my eyes, and I don’t feel like the writers ever knew quite what to do with her. She went from relationship to relationship, becoming a sort of chameleon in her personality depending on the show’s circumstances. This episode was a good way to draw attention to that, while also building her character and relationship with Leslie.
Leslie: “Oh my god, I’m so hungover. I’ve never been this hungover.”
Ben: “I feel great. I ran a 5k this morning.”
Ben: “No, I threw up in the shower.”
5. Leslie and Ben
Season 5, Episode 14 — Leslie and Ben have the best relationship of any lead sitcom characters in the past decade, so of course this episode was going to make the list. I wrote about it in my season ranking, but I see a bit of my wife and me in Leslie and Ben. Their wedding fit the two of them so well, and was perfect in its imperfection. Then, of course, there’s Councilman Jamm, who got what was coming to him by way of Ron. I loved Jamm’s character and the comedy he brought to the show, but I wasn’t always a fan of how he was used from a story perspective. This was a good exception to that, since it wasn’t a battle of wits between Leslie and Jamm, but instead just an act of desperation on his part to spoil her fun.
Ron: [to Leslie] “Before we go inside, I’d like to say something. You are a wonderful person.” [voice breaks] “Your friendship means a lot to me. And you look very beautiful.”
4. One Last Ride
Season 7, Episodes 12 and 13 — I’m counting this as one episode because it’s a two-parter and it’s the series finale. When it comes to cheesy finales, Parks and Rec has to take the cake. And I don’t mean that in a negative way, because this show created so much love for its characters over seven seasons that I absolutely wanted every single one of them to achieve their dreams. The little flash-forwards into the future served as a perfect vehicle to close the book on the characters, and when Ann and Chris came back I almost lost it — but I most definitely did lose it at Leslie’s final line, “Yes, I’m ready.”
Leslie: [after having a library named after her, under her breath] “A f*cking library?”
3. Li’l Sebastian
Season 3, Episode 16 — Another fantastic season finale, “Li’l Sebastian” serves as a wrap-up to the Harvest Festival arc that really drove the show through its outstanding season three. Parks and Rec had gone through some rough waters before this season — struggling to find its identity and voices for its characters — and the Harvest Festival storyline really put it on the right track. But for this episode specifically, part of my love for it comes down to Andy’s final song. If you aren’t singing it in your head right now (or maybe even aloud), you aren’t a true Parks and Rec fan. Bye, bye, Li’l Sebastian…
Ron: “I have cried twice in my life. Once, when I was 7 and was hit by a bus, and again when I learned that Li’l Sebastian had passed.”
2. Flu Season
Season 3, Episode 2 — In addition to containing the single best improv line in the history of the show (see below), “Flu Season” is just an all-around fantastic, funny episode of Parks and Rec. Leslie over-exerts herself in hilarious ways, Andy becomes Ron’s personal assistant, and — as George Costanza would put it — Ann finally gets some hand in her burgeoning relationship with Chris when she takes care of him after he too falls victim to the flu. There are just a ton of standout moments in “Flu Season” that I consider it to be the absolute funniest episode of Parks and Rec. But, the number one episode has that extra special element of emotion that catapulted it to the top spot.
Andy: “Leslie, I typed your symptoms into the thing up here and it says you could have ‘network connectivity problems.'”
1. Win, Lose, or Draw
Season 4, Episode 22 — In the tradition of fantastic Parks and Rec season finales, “Win, Lose, or Draw” takes the top spot on this list. Even more than “Harvest Festival” or “One Last Ride,” this episode encapsulated the love I have for the characters living in Pawnee. Leslie started the series as just another Michael Scott, but by this point it was obvious that she had more talent, brains, and even larger dreams to pursue. I loved the open-endedness of the series finale, but for this one, of course she had to get that happy ending of earning her spot on the city council. It didn’t work out the way she intended, but that experience catapulted her onto bigger and better things. It’s just a very special episode.
Ben: “Your victory speech, Councilwoman Knope.”
Leslie: “Someday, when I’m more emotionally stable, I want to read the concession speech you wrote for me.”
Ben: “I never wrote it.”
And there you have it, my 10 favorite episode of Parks and Recreation. Let me know your favorite episode in the comments below, and be sure to check out my top 10 episodes of The Office!