Entertainment

The 25 Best 'Parks and Recreation' Episodes Ever

parks and recreation leslie knope
Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope in 'Parks and Recreation.' | NBC
Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope in 'Parks and Recreation.' | NBC

Parks and Recreation didn't come out of the gate as one of the best sitcoms of the last decade, but, over the course of seven seasons and 125 episodes, the citizens of Pawnee, Indiana, amassed a loyal fanbase in some pretty unexpected ways. In a world packed with cynicism about government and the people that run it, the 2009-2015 NBC comedy endures not only for being funny, but for providing hope that, with the right public servants in place (especially at the local level), America can be a truly nice place to live, quirky high jinx and all.

Whether it was the impossibly optimistic Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), stern libertarian Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), swag-obsessed Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), indifferent April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), loveable dimwit Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), incomparable Donna Meagle (Retta), level-headed Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), relentlessly positive Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), rainbow-infused space unicorn Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), and even perpetual prank victim Jerry Gergich (Jim O'Heir), each character was good at what they did in their way and always tried to help their fellow citizens.

For a series as uneven yet frequently brilliant as Parks and Rec, singling out the top 25 episodes can be a challenging feat. However, if there's one thing that Leslie and the gang proved, it's that anything can be done if you just find your team and get to work.

boys club parks and rec
NBC

25. "Boys' Club"

Season 1, Episode 4
A running theme throughout Parks and Recreation is the uphill battle women face trying to make it in a government largely run by men. When Leslie and Ann try to crash the guys' regular party, she opens up a gift basket filled with wine to keep the party going. What ensues is an ethical dilemma in which the audience learns just how much Leslie cares about her job. While Leslie had always thought being good at her job meant blending into the boys' club, she learns here that she can do right by Pawnee in her own way, regardless of what the men in government do, say or think.

Another bright spot in this episode is the loyalty the team shows for one another, with Leslie accepting her first official reprimand in order to defend April, who foolishly posted an old video of herself drunk at 19 on a public website. However, the best part comes when the typically apathetic Ron Swanson comes alive for the first time to tell the official investigation committee that Leslie has never broken a rule in her life, "to the point that it's annoying." In his first of many strangely endearing tough guy moves throughout the series, Ron tells the investigators that they'll have to go through him if they want to do anything more than give her a slap on the wrist.

pawnee zoo
NBC

24. "Pawnee Zoo"

Season 2, Episode 1
This episode is one of the first to feature the most underrated character in Parks and Rec: the town of Pawnee, Indiana. Sure, there was the occasional town meeting that demonstrated how wacky the local government can be, but "Pawnee Zoo" gave the little Indiana town its own personality for the first time. It sets up the contrast of Leslie and those around her being incredible at their jobs, but to a completely indifferent and ungrateful community. When Leslie tries to manufacture a photo opportunity by presiding over the wedding of two penguins at the local zoo, she's shocked by the political fallout that arises when it's revealed the animals were both males. Suddenly, she finds herself thrust into the debate over gay marriage. At first, she wants to get the political stink off of her. Soon, she can't help but get swept up in the festivities when the apparently vibrant gay community in the town heralds her as a hero. This episode is at its best when it's showcasing just how extreme and over-the-top the town can truly be and how above and beyond Leslie and her team will go to give them the parks they deserve.

23. "Andy and April's Fancy Party"

Season 3, Episode 9
Although the relationship between Andy and April ends up being one of the cornerstones of the entire series, it started out feeling... weird. The fact that they were dating was a bit of a head-scratcher for fans at first given the vast age difference between them and the fact that Andy had spent most of the series up to that point pining over Ann. So, when they revealed that they'd secretly invited everyone to their surprise wedding, Leslie acted on behalf of the audience and did everything in her power to get them to reconsider the hasty decision. In the end, they go through with it. Like the viewer, Leslie has to come to grips with the fact that sometimes people know what's best for themselves, even if it looks bad on paper. The show not only made a bold decision to marry the two characters, but it stuck to it and made it work pretty quickly.

ron and diane
NBC

22. "Ron and Diane"

Season 5, Episode 9
The episode is a standout for showing both the lengths Leslie is willing to go for Ron, as well as the lengths Tammy II (Megan Mullally) is willing to go just to keep control over her ex. This isn't the first time we've seen Tammy II and the spell she has over Ron, but it's the first time she enters the picture when the stakes are high enough for Ron's life and future to be ruined.

When Ron takes his new girlfriend Diane to a woodworking award show that is honoring him, his downright giddy good mood is ruined when his ex-wife shows up to crash the party. Meanwhile, Tom, April, Andy and Donna realize that they've been kept off the guest list for Jerry's annual holiday party.Things literally devolve into a physical confrontation between Leslie and Tammy II that ends with Leslie being locked in a trunk all night and Tammy II in police custody. In addition, the show leans on one of its greatest running gags when it's revealed that Jerry did, in fact, invite the whole parks department to his party and that he is every bit the mensch the viewer thinks him to be -- despite the way he's treated. It also gives fans a great look at his personal life, which more than makes up for the ribbing he gets at work.

21. "Animal Control"

Season 5, Episode 18
It's important to have an entry on this list that features the late Harris Wittels, especially given what a gem he and Colton Dunn's Animal Control characters are. The writer and comedian died unexpectedly in the middle of the show's run, leaving a void that rippled throughout Parks and Rec, as well as the comedy community at large. In one of the rare episodes he appeared in as one half of the Pawnee Animal Control team, the two potheads give Leslie and Chris a walk through their department and they realize just how out of sorts it is. When Chris steps in a bear trap, he fires both of them. In a hilarious move, they both show up at the parks department later in the episode to reapply for their jobs, while both visibly high. The episode also gets a hefty dose of comedic star power thanks to reliable lunatic Jason Mantzoukas as fragrance mogul Dennis Feinstein. Parks and Rec is not a show that needs to look outside its main cast for laughs, but "Animal Control" packs the yucks thanks to its guest stars.

20. "Filibuster"

Season 6, Episode 5
On the night of Ben's very character-appropriate, '90s-themed birthday party at a roller rink, Councilman Jamm (Jon Glaser) tries to rush a provision through that would disenfranchise rival town Eagleton voters from voting on the upcoming merger that Leslie proposed. (For those in need of a refresher, Eagleton is the adjacent town to Pawnee where everyone seems to have a silver spoon in their mouths.) The rivalry is deep, and Leslie is typically at the front lines. However, when it comes to protecting citizens' civil liberties, she puts her personal feelings about the town aside.

This episode is a classic battle in the ongoing feud between Leslie and Jeremy Jamm. In the end, the good guys soundly defeat the smarmy town council member in a very American way, with a filibuster. Add in some improvisation on behalf of Amy Poehler and you've got a memorable episode for the ages. A special shoutout is deserved for Ben, who tries his best to help his wife from afar, only to come up short. "Unless, we bring the bathroom to her… that's nothing."

NBC

19. "Media Blitz"

Season 3, Episode 5
It's no secret that the show got an extra shot in the arm when Ben and Chris showed up as recurring characters. Not only did they offer some seriously-needed comedic star power, they opened the Pawnee Parks Department up to a larger world of local and state government. However, it's in this entry that Ben becomes a fully-realized and flawed character rather than a one note suit. This episode deserves top marks for giving fans a lot more insight into the character that would eventually win Leslie's heart.

Ben is a man who does great work and thrives in a government environment. However, that's puzzling given his previous history as a young 18-year-old mayor that ruined his hometown with a project called "Ice Town." While trying to promote the upcoming Harvest Festival in Pawnee, the public relations run the team is on gets hijacked by questions about Ben's time as a young mayor. After getting sweaty and vexed by the onslaught, a pep talk from Leslie is all he needs to get his head on straight. This episode proves that Ben belongs in this government-loving group of misfits as much as anyone.

18. "Leslie and Ron"

Season 7, Episode 4
The final season of Parks and Recreation is tricky to evaluate given the two-year time jump. Not wanting to shift abruptly from a show about the workplace to a show about families with careers following the birth of Ben and Leslie's children, the series decided to skip ahead between Season 6 and 7, avoiding their triplets' awkward baby phase. However, one of the more shocking things to happen in that elapsed time was the mysterious falling out between Ron and Leslie.

In this episode, the other members of the former parks department lock Ron and Leslie in the old office overnight in the hopes that they'll settle their differences. It turns out that, when Leslie took everyone to work in the National Parks Department, she didn't ask Ron due to his outspoken disdain for the government. However, when he realized that he no longer recognized the people of the Pawnee Parks Department, he realized that even he needs to be part of something bigger than himself. However, thanks to Leslie's indifference, he went into the private sector instead. This bottle episode is sweet because it really explores not only Ron and Leslie's close relationship, but reveals that Ron, for all his lone-wolf tendencies, is just as dependent on the group as they are on him.

leslie's house parks and recreation
Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

17. "Leslie's House"

Season 2, Episode 14
This is a wonderful installment in the often forgotten romance between Leslie and Justin (Justin Theroux) in which he comes to Pawnee for a date after several successful nights out with her in Indianapolis. However, Leslie starts to worry about impressing him, so she calls on the teachers of the Pawnee Recreation Center, who are all fighting to keep their classes after a round of budget cuts, to use their various skills to make her look impressive. Leslie tries be someone she thinks is worthy of Justin, which ultimately proves to be their relationship's downfall. What makes it surprising is getting a peek at what Leslie's home life is like. While this doesn't really come up again, it turns out her propensity to throw herself full time into her work has made her home situation a… let's just say, hoarder's nightmare. It ends with a brilliant move from Leslie, who uses the investigation into her conduct as an excuse to ask Justin if he enjoyed himself while he is under oath.

practice date parks and recreation
NBC

16. "Practice Date"

Season 2, Episode 4
Ann decides she should probably help Leslie through her upcoming date with a local police officer when she sees her doing crazy things like practicing fake laughs and drafting conversation topics on note cards. However, after Ann subjects Leslie to immersion therapy by roleplaying the worst case scenario, they go out for drinks to celebrate. What started as a fun story about a nervous person before a date quickly becomes the most drunken house call in history when she arrives at the cop's house a day early to ramble at him. For the majority of the show Leslie is either with or pursuing her ultimate love, Ben. However, this installment was necessary to demonstrate what a prize Ben is for her, and what a rough road she had to go down before she found love.

telethon parks and recreation
NBC

15. "Telethon"

Season 2, Episode 22
In this unforgettable installment, the gang finds themselves on the hook for a local charity drive with a uniquely small-town gimmick. Leslie forces the parks department to fill a four hour block in the Pawnee Cares telethon in the middle of the night. However, after being up all night prior, she's hoping a combination of sugar and gumpshun can get her through. What ensues is actually a deeply personal episode that explores some heavy territory for the characters. Ann confides that she wants to dump Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider) after he's revealed that he wants to propose. April starts flirting with someone on the phone to make her crush, Andy, jealous (backfiring when it turns out to be the smarmy Sewage Joe) and Tom is bullied by the owner of a club he wants an ownership stake in. Parks and Rec is at its best when it's exploring the work-family dynamic that these characters exemplify. The episode ends on a sweet note when an exhausted Leslie makes her way to Ann's place instead of going home because she knows that her best friend needs an ear to talk through her breakup. It's a shining example of the group putting each other first.

14. "2017"

Season 7, Episode 1
As mentioned, the decision to jump ahead two years for the final season of the show was a bold move that only got more audacious over time. However, it was up to "2017" to prove to a skeptical audience that, despite the new gimmick, this was still the series that they knew and loved. It pretty much pulled it off.  Not only did "2017," which spends most of the episode checking in on each member of the gang, find every character in both a healthy and reasonably believable place (See Ron's "Very Good" building company), it set up multiple arcs for the shortened season that paid off in the end. (See "Morningstar.")

moving up parks and recreation
NBC

13. "Moving Up"

Season 6, Episodes 21 and 22
Unfortunately, this is a show that had to write many potential series finales. In "Moving Up" the characters' storylines get wrapped up with a nice little bow before the 2017 gimmick takes full effect in Season 7. Tom's most promising business venture gets off to a rough but altogether good start, the Unity Concert is a smashing success and everyone is shifting to new lives that will be beneficial to them. However, what makes this one of the best installments in the series is seeing just what Leslie can get done with the support of her husband and friends. While on a trip to San Francisco, she's offered a job at the National Parks Department that would force her to move out of her comfort zone in Pawnee. Although Ben gets a bit of help from then First Lady Michelle Obama, he convinces her to do what the audience has seen her do with Pawnee on a grander scale.

comeback kid parks and recreation
NBC

12. "The Comeback Kid"

Season 4, Episode 11
After losing her professional campaign managers in the previous episode, Leslie's team rolled up their sleeves to do the hard work of helping her with her town council run themselves. However, in "The Comeback Kid" she learns that the group's help, while sweet in theory, is a disaster in practice. After a series of either half-successes or downright failures during their first task of organizing her campaign announcement, things culminate with an hysterical ice-walking scene set to Gloria Estefan's "Get on Your Feet." When it's all said and done, Leslie has announced her candidacy, embarrassed herself and realized that she needs Ben's help after all. But even more important, Leslie discovers that she's got the most resilient team in America (even if they're in way over their heads). Again, the hilarity of the ice-walking scene cannot be overstated.

11. "Ron and Tammy II"

Season 3, Episode 4
Although this is not the first time the audience has seen Ron's ex-wife, Tammy II, it's the first time that they see the immense power she has over him. For a character that's marked by his earth-tone clothing, strict concern for his personal privacy and abhorrence of other people's emotions, Tammy II has him wearing a kimono and sporting cornrows in a jail cell in a little less than one night. The episode is top-to-bottom crazy with an unapologetic Ron requiring an intervention to get back to normal. It's a staggeringly cartoonish episode for an otherwise grounded series. It would not be the last time fans would see the Ron and Tammy saga play out on screen, but it was certainly the episode that established the high stakes. Add in a dash of Tom getting the crap kicked out of him in a library, and you've got an episode for the ages.

halloween surprise parks and recreation
NBC

10. "Halloween Surprise"

Season 5, Episode 5
Despite its name, Halloween plays a surprisingly small part in this very pivotal episode for the series. When Ben finds out that he's won the campaign he went to Washington to run, he's asked to stay and take on another, which would be a big boon for his career. However, Leslie is back in Pawnee about to sign a lease on a house in anticipation of Ben's return. When push finally comes to shove and Ben must make a decision about his priorities, he surprises Leslie in what would become their new home with a romantic proposal. He's about to pop the big question when Leslie stops him because she wants to remember how perfect her life is in that moment. She takes a long time to bask in it before accepting, in one of the sweeter television moments you'll ever see.

Having the main character of a show get engaged would be plenty for an episode to hang its hat on, but this is Parks and Rec. This installment also gives fans a story arc in which Ron realizes that he is ready for a big family, Tom gets the idea for the now-infamous "Rent-A-Swag" and Jerry's even more infamous "fart-attack."

9. "Road Trip"

Season 3, Episode 14
While the relationship between Leslie and Ben always seemed like a no-brainer to most fans, there was a time when their coupling was an uphill battle. No episode of the series exemplifies the struggle these two had at the start better than "Road Trip." When they're asked to pitch Pawnee as the home of a Little League championship, their feelings for each other are at the forefront of the business trip as they both try desperately to hide their attraction. Leslie even goes as far as to create the most unsexy mixtape imaginable. However, the heat between them could only stay a secret for so long as this episode gives us the first kiss between the two after hours of buildup.

ron and tammys parks and recreation
NBC

8. "Ron and Tammys"

Season 4, Episode 2
Not much else needs to be said about this episode other than "Everybody pants now!" Still, this installment in the show packs a major twist by showing just how bad things can get for Ron Swanson, who fans know as an otherwise unflappable figure. When his first ex-wife (Patricia Clarkson) comes to town, Leslie enlists the help of his mother. However, in true Swanson fashion, things turn into a drinking contest that forces Leslie to try and keep up with the tank-like Swanson mom and the cold-as-ice Tammy I. Fortunately, she survives as Ron steps up to down the entire bottle of alcohol. It's another example of his friendship with Leslie being more powerful than even his incredibly storied past with women named Tammy. However, the real reason this episode deserves such high marks is simply Amy Poehler's drunk acting. While trying to hold her liquor, Leslie basically trashes her office and experiences every human emotion under the sun. Although it's a series of jump cuts, Poehler's comedic slurs are true art in and of themselves.  

win lose or draw parks and recreation
NBC

7. "Win, Lose, or Draw"

Season 4, Episode 22
The town council campaign arc of Season 4 is by far the series' best long-running story. While there are a lot of gems to be pulled from Leslie's run against Bobby Newport (guest star Paul Rudd), things all culminate in the finale, where she learns that she won the highly coveted position (after narrowly beating a porn star). While it could have easily felt like a hollow victory, Poehler's acting when she realizes that the crazy adventure she'd been on for the past 22 episodes resulted in her achieving a lifelong dream, is stellar. Regardless of how her time on the town council ended up, her victory speech and the establishing shot of her team proudly looking on is exactly the kind of inspirational comedy that makes this such a special show.

6. "The Treaty"

Season 4, Episode 7
Post-dating life is hard for most couples, but for Leslie and Ben, it's a matter of world war. The conflict going on between the two on-again, off-again characters has to be kept in check so as not to let it affect their government work, specifically Leslie's campaign. However, when the two nerds get behind the wheel of a model U.N., they both secretly work out their frustrations on each other by way of parliamentary procedure. While it gets about as ugly as you'd expect two adults usurping a children's event to be, it's a nice (albeit dark) look at just how much Leslie and Ben care for each other. It also uses Leslie's love of flags to showcase just what a perfect match they are for each other, even if it is in kind of a creepy way. Andy also proves to the audience that he'd be a diplomatic force to be reckoned with thanks to his ability to negotiate for the entire world's supply of lions.

leslie and ben parks and recreation
NBC

5. "Leslie and Ben"

Season 5, Episode 14
Initially written as the season finale, this episode accomplished a great feat -- it married Leslie and Ben in a ceremony that only a true Parks and Rec fan would appreciate. When Councilman Jamm interrupts the impromptu ceremony, he gets a sound punch in the face from Ron. But while it was exciting to finally see someone knock him in the face, it kind of ruined the wedding. However, as the Pawnee Parks Department always does, they rallied and managed to pull off a beautiful ceremony back in the office, complete with Ron giving Leslie away. It's a touching episode that could have just as easily served as the series finale. Scored to "5,000 Candles in the Wind," Leslie surmises it best: "I love my husband, I love my job and I love my friends."

one last ride parks and recreation
NBC

4. "One Last Ride"

Season 7, Episode 13
It's hard to wrap up a series, especially one that's dared itself to jump into the future. However, Parks and Recreation decided to continue with its glimpses into the future of these characters by writing a fitting end to almost everyone in the series. While the finale's ambiguous nature may be a point of controversy among critics, it provided a fitting, optimistic and funny end to all these characters. If, to you, the show can't be summed up with the words "optimistic" and "funny," then you've frankly missed the point and shouldn't bother attending Jerry/Garry/Terry/Larry's funeral in 2048. It's hard to say goodbye to an entire town of people, but Parks and Recreation found a way to show that hard work pays off in the end.

3. "The Fight"

Season 3, Episode 13
When the Parks Department is lured to the Snakehole Lounge to help Tom promote his new beverage, Snake Juice, the gang quickly learns that the drink is no joke. They become drunken messes faster than anticipated. So much so that they're unable to truly look at each other the next day. While getting to see how all the characters (especially Ron) handle drinking too much is fun, it's the strain on Leslie and Ann's relationship that takes center stage in this one. When Leslie gives her friend far too much prep material for a job interview with the Pawnee Health Department, she's upset to find Ann partying the night away. The two get into their famous "no offense"/"offense! That's rude!" debate, and find themselves at odds for the first, and possibly last time, in the entire series. And if that isn't enough of a sell for this episode, you need look no further than Ron dancing.

2. "Flu Season"

Season 3, Episode 2
Not only does this episode pack Rob Lowe's best performance as Chris Traeger to date (e.g., "Stop... pooping"), it also serves to show us the absolute might of Leslie Knope through the eyes of her future love, Ben. When the entire town is stricken with a nasty flu outbreak, no one is safe. Ann ends up taking care of Chris, Leslie and April at the hospital and cycles through a whirlwind of emotions. She's tortured with demands by April, who is upset about her kissing Andy. Meanwhile, her new boyfriend, Chris, is having a complete physical breakdown, which makes actually him less intimidating to her for the first time. Leslie, however, proves to be the most difficult patient, as she sneaks around stealing everyone else's medication so that she can give an important presentation at city hall. She escapes the hospital and gives a near-flawless presentation that exceeds their expectations, prompting Ben to realize how amazing she is for the very first time. From beginning to end, this episode doesn't stop being interesting and fun. Ben (a.k.a. Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap) being impressed by Leslie is just the cherry on top.

1. "End of the World"

Season 4, Episode 6
This episode takes a wild premise and just runs with it. When the local cult, the Reasonabilists, rent a park to welcome the coming apocalypse, the gang can't help but get swept up in the hysteria believing that this is their last day on earth. We find Andy and April trying desperately to make each other happy by completing a bucket list, Tom trying to throw the greatest party ever thrown, Ron selling woodwork instruments to fools and Leslie doing everything in her power to be with Ben when the doomsday clock strikes midnight. The gang may all have separate storylines here, but "End of the World" finds a way to pack that perfect balance of heart and comedy into something that's truly memorable and sets the tone for what the series would ultimately become -- a group of misfits that are good at their jobs trying to make their time together count. While there are certainly more emotional or funnier episodes of Parks and Rec, there are none better than "End of the World."

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Tyler McCarthy is an entertainment journalist with a particular interest in all things "nerd culture." He has written for outlets such as The Huffington Post, Fox News, International Business Times, Den of Geek and Thrillist. He is based out of New York City where he continues to cover film and television news daily.