Every Season Of Parks And Recreation, Ranked - SlashFilm (2024)

Television Comedy Shows

Every Season Of Parks And Recreation, Ranked - SlashFilm (1)

NBC

ByValerie Ettenhofer/

Once a quintessential comfort watch, "Parks and Recreation" now stands apart as a monument to a more optimistic political landscape. The series is an Obama-era comedy through and through: bipartisanship is possible and necessary, hope matters above all else, and the most malicious and clueless among us are typically confined to town hall meetings and election losers' montages. It can be tough to rewatch Greg Daniels and Michael Schur's documentary-style comedy in a post-Trump era (though technically, the show did drop a new episode in 2020), but it can also be rewarding: the jokes are sharp, the relationships surprisingly true-to-life, and the ensemble is even better than you might remember.

Still, even nine years after the show came to an end, certain universal truths about the "Parks and Rec" viewing experience hold true. Season 1 is bad to the point that it's often considered skippable, while season 2 picks up its slack immediately. The show is at its best when people are falling in love or doing silly local events and holiday celebrations (these two features, interestingly, often go hand in hand), or when chipper Pawnee resident Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is still a big, dream-filled fish in a small, silly pond. There's no right way to rewatch "Parks and Recreation," but it's worth preparing yourself for a few highs and lows as you curate your experience. As with every TV show, some seasons of "Parks" are simply better than others — especially with a decade's worth of hard-won political hindsight.

7. Season 1

I imagine few pieces of feedback set storytellers' teeth on edge quite like "skip the first part," yet that's probably the most common sentiment you'll hear if you ask "Parks and Recreation" fans about season 1. The show's truncated first season delivers just 6 episodes, and it serves as a lackluster introduction to Pawnee and the world of Leslie Knope. Since the show was originally conceived of as a spinoff of "The Office," early episodes foreground that show's cringe-inducing humor and mean-spirited attitude. "Parks and Rec" would eventually be known as one of the most winsome shows on primetime, but at the start, it was a drag.

Still, you shouldn't skip the first part. Season 1 is by now widely accepted as a mostly-ignorable false start, but it plants some of the seeds that would grow into the show's best relationships in later seasons. Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson appears fully formed, while Aubrey Plaza has star power right out of the gate. Most of the first season's jokes don't land, but the few that do center Leslie –- who's still being sketched out as a character in front of our eyes –- or the clownish random townspeople who would eventually become a sort of mascot for the series. Plus, you get to see the show's most boring character, Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider), fall into a pit.

6. Season 7

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NBC

By its final season, "Parks and Recreation" had accumulated so much public goodwill that it felt like the show could do no wrong. Yet looking back, the time-jumping final season shows a few cracks. Schur can write a happy straight-ish couple like nobody's business, but season 7 takes the approach of a nuptials-filled Shakespearean comedy, seemingly believing that these characters will only be happy if every single one of them couples up and/or has kids. The show that once mined comedy and inspiration from small, relatable wins ended up taking its characters down a disappointingly predictable path, ending not just with a flurry of romances and domestic situations, but with Leslie and Ben (Adam Scott) moving on to major U.S. politics –- an ending that seems more like a punishment than a fairy tale with nearly a decade's retrospect.

Despite the less-than-perfect way the show's ending plays in 2024, the final season does plenty right, too. This season is when the show finally realizes that Poehler and Offerman can carry the emotional weight of its premise on their own, and rewards them with a self-contained episode ("Leslie & Ron") that sees them reconcile after years of unexplained frustration. The pair's across-the-aisle friendship requires some suspension of disbelief these days, but it's still a joy to watch the two actors go toe-to-toe. Other season 7 highlights include: the return of Megan Mullally and Jason Mantzoukas, the fake Pawnee commercials in Andy's final Johnny Karate episode, a prescient plot about data mining and evil apps, and the finale's casual, last-second twist.

5. Season 6

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NBC

There's nothing outright wrong with "Parks and Recreation" season 6, but in some ways, it feels like the season time forgot. The seventh season is remembered for its weddings, babies, and promotions, and each season before this is defined by its own excellent character milestone (season 5, for example, sees Leslie marry Ben and work as a city council member). Yet season 6 features a mash-up of disparate plotlines that are the hallmark of what typically turns out to be a penultimate season: a sign that the show is creatively winding down. Unsatisfied with focusing on Leslie's day-to-day life on the city council, the show moves quickly to a re-election plotline, then to her pregnancy.

What it lacks in narrative coherence, though, season 6 makes up for in hilarity. This season is responsible for a handful of the show's most enduring jokes, from "The Cones of Dunshire" to the Eagleton doppelgangers. This is also the season in which Ron reveals the will he wrote as an eight-year-old (it include symbols that only the "man or animal" who kills him will understand), while Chris (Rob Lowe) coins the term "boob hats," and that counts for something. Plus, the political commentary here is sharp, whether the show is skewering the messed-up filibuster system or increasingly ill-informed and outlandish politicians (Councilman Jamm, anyone?).

4. Season 5

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NBC

By season 5, "Parks and Recreation" had gone from an underrated gem to a series that had fully entered the pop culture zeitgeist, and the writers knew it: the season features an excellent balance between callbacks to recurring bits and totally new comedic territory. There's another great Halloween episode and an animal control redux, but there are also fresh, indelible storylines that see characters get out of their comfort zones –- like when Chris gets depressed or Rashida Jones' Ann decides to pursue single motherhood. Season 5 also includes the first big "on location" episode when Leslie visits Washington D.C. The gang would later go to London, too, but the show's always at its best when they're back in Pawnee.

The show's fifth season is also among the best for fans of Leslie and Ben's relationship. "Halloween Surprise" features Ben's genuinely surprising, butterfly-inducing proposal, while "Leslie and Ben" sees the two get married with a wedding planned in just a few hours. This show isn't just a rom-com, but its central couple is among the best the small screen has to offer, and it's a genuine delight to see the two geeky friends fall in love with each other. Poehler and Scott are endlessly funny, but they also have great chemistry that turned every major Ben and Leslie episode into event television during the show's original run.

3. Season 2

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NBC

Joke for joke, the second season of "Parks and Recreation" is perhaps the show's most rewatchable. As the new kid on the block at NBC with something major to prove after its iffy first season, "Parks" upped the comedic ante every week during its sophom*ore year. Season 2 reveals the sheer depths of Pawnee's strangeness for the first time, dropping endearing bits of lore about characters like Ron's sex-crazed librarian ex-wife Tammy and local ne'er-do-well Greg Pikitus. This season also establishes Galentine's Day, a holiday that "Parks" pretty much singlehandedly willed into existence in the real world.

It's also the season that sees Andy (Chris Pratt)and April fall for one another in a romance that benefits greatly from the show's mockumentary format. While April shoots daggers at the cameras each time they capture her sincerely emoting, Andy is all golden retriever joy at the slightest sign of reciprocation. It's easy to forget that before he was one of the biggest (and most polarizing) stars in the world, Pratt was casually delivering one of the funniest performances on TV here. Also incredibly funny: the deeply Midwestern episode "Hunting Trip," April's mistaken belief that March 31st isn't a real day, and an episode centered around an adorable possum who's treated as the town menace. "Parks" did more than hit its stride in season 2; it quickly became the most enjoyable comedy on TV.

2. Season 4

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NBC

For one season and one season only, "Parks" achieved the perfect balance between silly small-town politics and satire of the country's real, rapidly deteriorating political landscape. Season 4 manages to approach Leslie's politics with a light enough touch to make her ambitions feel acutely relatable for anyone who's ever been underestimated –- yet not too alienating upon rewatch in the current, fractured political climate. And while later seasons taint the purity of the show's optimistic fictional world with cameos from real-life politicians (Joe Biden! John McCain! Newt Gingrich!), season 4 does the wiser thing by creating a ridiculous politician all its own: endlessly clueless nepo baby Bobby Newport, played by Paul Rudd.

The season focuses on Leslie's city council campaign and expertly mines that overarching plot for belly laughs. The show's funniest episode may be "The Comeback Kid," which is responsible for both the scene in which Leslie, her campaign crew, and a three-legged dog named Champion slip and slide across an ice rink in an attempt to get to a podium (all while "Get on Your Feet" by Gloria Estefan plays) and the scenes in which a depressed Ben attempts to make a claymation movie and a calzone restaurant. Plus, season 4 finally gets Leslie and Ben together for good in the swooningly romantic "Smallest Park," an episode directed by acclaimed filmmaker Nicole Holofcener. If you want to reminisce about a time when it felt like all our dreams –- personal and collective –- might really come true, you can't do much better than season 4 of "Parks."

1. Season 3

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NBC

"Parks and Recreation" season 3 is the series' ultimate sweet spot. It retains the rapid-fire joke-writing of the sophom*ore season and lays the groundwork for season 4's broader political satire. The season, which aired in 2011, was born into the relative salad days of the Obama administration, and as such, it's chipper in a way that feels like true comfort television –- without the sting of too-true satire or naive bipartisanship that later seasons evoke. This season is the show's most believably wholesome, full of blossoming relationships, an increasingly powerful comedic ensemble, and singularly hilarious running gags.

The "Parks" team also makes what may have been the single best decision in the show's history in season 3, choosing to keep Lowe and Scott's characters – who were originally slated as guest stars – on board and make them central to the story. It's a total pleasure to watch Leslie and Ben develop feelings for each other, and to learn –- through hilarious means, like his train wreck of a TV interview in "Media Blitz" –- just how weird Ben is. Scott does great work here, but it's clear that as the show develops, the scripts become more and more perfectly attuned to the strengths of each and every actor. In addition to its central love story, season 3 brought us flu season, Jerry's (Jim O'Heir) controversial hidden talent for painting, and Pawnee's rivalry with Eagleton. It also brought us L'il Sebastian, the most special and majestic mini-horse to ever walk the Earth. "Parks" may have ended, but L'il Sebastian's memory lives on –- like 5000 candles in the wind.

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Every Season Of Parks And Recreation, Ranked - SlashFilm (2024)
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