Parks and Recreation has only been off the air for four years, but it’s already hard not to miss Pawnee and those who lived there. Although it began in a more satirical bent, the show found its footing when it realized it wasn’t a mere clone of The Office. Specifically, it got better once it realized its main hero, Middle American bureaucrat Leslie Knope, was worthy of affection, not ridicule. The same went for her gaggle of weirdo co-workers, who populated the fictional Indiana town’s eponymous department. Over seven seasons, from 2009 to 2015, Parks and Rec walked a fine line between batty comic invention and good vibes, able to toss off a bizarre one-liner as easily as it could find the space to pluck at the heartstrings.
Predictably, there were a lot of stand-out episodes. Quality control was consistently high for its run, making it an easy show to rewatch (episodes can currently be found on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu). Because of this, it was tough to pick only 15 out of a total of 125 episodes for this list, but somehow, we managed. Here are the 15 best Parks and Rec episodes and a list of honorable mentions that just had to get some affection thrown their way.
Honorable Mentions: Rock Show, Hunting Trip, Citizen Knope, The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show
15. Win, Lose or Draw (Season 4, Episode 22)
The Story: It’s the culmination of the fourth season’s main story arc, in which Leslie — the person most put on earth to work in small town government, or maybe big time national government — found herself struggling for Pawnee’s city council seat against her opponent: rich kid doofus Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd, who’s somehow at once enraging and endearing). Anyway, she wins.
Why It’s On This List: At least happy endings happen in fiction. Even though Leslie’s win was a foregone conclusion, it was still a huge relief, even back in innocent 2012, when the highly qualified female candidate (with a Hillary Clinton picture in her office) wound up trouncing the unqualified wealth monster running against her. It also speaks to how much the show had changed. In the early days, when Leslie was more of a Michael Scott-esque menace, she probably would have lost. But Parks and Rec learned that it was best to be about good vibes.
14. Media Blitz (Season 3, Episode 5)
The Story: We finally get to learn something about Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) — the super-human state auditor whose appearance, alongside Rob Lowe’s Chris Traeger, initially spelled doom for the Parks and Rec department — after reporters dig up his hilariously grim origin story.
Why It’s On This List: One of Parks and Rec’s best strengths is taking characters you thought were one-note, even annoying (most famously, Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer) and finding the lovable goofball underneath. Up to this point, Ben and Chris had been vaguely hissable. Here, Ben gets humanized. We learn why he’s so driven, so exacting, so glum: He’s masking the failure of destroying a town as their overly precocious child mayor. He’s been running from it ever since, but it’s clear, from this episode, that he needn’t run anymore. He’s found his home.