Leslie Knope friends with her whole heart on Parks And Rec, making it her mission to give the best gifts and be there for the people in her life with unflappable dedication and fervor. It’s a lot, but it’s all coming from a place of love so you need to just deal with it and be overpowered by the force of her goodness. The question is, who is Leslie’s best friend? Ben Wyatt, her adorkable husband is, of course, an easy answer, but we’re gonna go ahead and disqualify him for the purposes of this conversation. Instead, we’re looking at two prime, non-soulmate candidates: Ann Perkins and Ron Swanson. To be sure, each has a case to make, and two of our writers are game to try as we both debate the matter and look back on some of the best episodes from both the Leslie-Ann and Leslie-Ron friend odyssey in recognition of Thursday night’s one-off return on NBC.
“The Fight” Season 3, Episode 13
Leslie and Ann have their first major fight thanks to a bottle of Snake Juice and Ann’s refusal to prep for a job interview (that Leslie forced upon her).
Jason Tabrys (Team Ron): I feel like before we can even decide whether Ron or Ann wins the blue ribbon here, we need to discuss Leslie’s penchant for treating her friends like paper dolls, arranging their lives in a way that pleases her. Is Leslie, herself, best friend material with this bad habit?
Jessica Toomer (Team Ann): Leslie certainly suffers from “know-it-all syndrome,” but her heart is always in the right place and I think that’s what makes it forgivable. I also suspect you’re trying to postpone this debate because you’ve chosen the wrong side to argue for and I refuse to let you use Leslie as a scapegoat. You picked the mustachioed meat-eater, make your case, or let’s move on.
Jason: I’m not stalling, but I do want to take a moment to note my respect for booze. This isn’t an appreciation of it, though that could also be warranted. It’s respect, and a little bit of fear. As you see in this episode, booze can be a truth serum, of sorts, nudging people to more easily spill when it comes to the mistakes they think their friends are making (in this case, related to Ben and Leslie’s pacing and Ann’s taste in men). I’m team Ron all the way on all the things, but I’ll acknowledge that it’s a win for your side that Leslie and Ann can find a way to move past a night of copious drinking and truth-telling. Hell, it’s impressive that they survived Snake Juice at all.
“Ron & Tammys” Season 4, Episode 2
Ron’s first ex-wife, Tammy 1, and his mother, Tammy 0, begin exerting their control over his life so Leslie enters a “prairie drink off” to win Ron his freedom from both women.
Jessica: Lots of regret and shame is the official slogan of Snork Juice for a reason, but even more deadly than that vial of rat poison is Ron’s legion of ex-wives: The Tammys. We meet Tammy One first and Leslie is woefully outmatched. What’s worse? She doesn’t even know it. Perhaps, if Ron was more forthcoming about his personal life, this entire fiasco could’ve been avoided.
Jason: I like my friends to try and preserve the mystery and live lives independent of me. Ron doesn’t feel the need to lean too heavily on other people. He’s the perfect friend to sit stoically with, forsaking all touchy feeliness. Still, Leslie is the opposite of that and her heart is so quakingly big that she has to be the savior when people don’t want or can’t convey their need to be saved. Is it as big as her liver after going up against Ron’s mamma in a drink off? Only medical science can know.
Jessica: Isn’t that the rub though? Should Leslie have to literally risk her life just because Ron refuses to share anything of meaning with her. I adore their workplace friendship but at the end of the day, that’s all it really is. If Leslie wasn’t so involved in the Parks and Rec department, would these two even have a relationship?
Jason: You’re dealing in hypotheticals. Leslie’s life is her job. All of her friends are connected to that place, even Ann. She met Ann at a town forum. Got closer to her because of efforts to clean up the lot next to her house and closer still when they started working together. Ann is a work friend and Ron is a work friend. It just so happens that they both have non-work things spill over into their day to day at city hall. That doesn’t mean they’re bad friends, just terrible employees.
“Ann’s Decision” Season 5, Episode 12
Ann decides she’s ready to have a baby but her sperm donor candidates fail to impress Leslie.
Jessica: Harsh, but fair. Still, Ann and Leslie’s friendship feels exponentially more intimate than whatever she has with Ron. Case in point: this episode, which sees both women wade through potential sperm donors when Ann decides she’s ready for motherhood. It’s clear Leslie doesn’t agree with this path, but after she voices her opinion, she still tries to help Ann in her pregnancy quest. I think the mark of a good friendship is understanding that your differences don’t have to be deal-breakers. Of course, that also means sometimes you need to compromise your own views to support the other person. I think Ron Swanson would probably label the term “compromise” the fallacy on which the bureaucratic quagmire that is local government is built, no?
Jason: Ron and Leslie are so opposite that every minute he tolerates the incursion that is her friendship qualifies as a compromise. Still, he lets her get deeper into his life than almost anyone. It’s also worth pointing out that while Ann and Leslie’s friendship is more intimate, attaining an intimate friendship with Ron Swanson is a harder won glory. With that said, I recognize the powerful emotional connection a more immersive friendship delivers… you know, from stories and what other people tell me. So while I see a lot of value in the Ron/Leslie dynamic, I’m starting to cede territory in this fight because there’s no Ron/Leslie moment that compares to the heartache and destruction endured when Leslie and Ann experienced real distance from each other.
“Ann & Chris” Season 6, Episode 13
Leslie throws a going away party for Ann and Chris before they leave Pawnee for good but she runs into problems when her plan to surprise Ann leads them both on a scavenger hunt.
Jessica: I feel like you’re luring me into a false sense of security here, but fine, I’ll go with it and concede a small victory to you in return. Is it unfair that Ann ends up leaving Pawnee, which gave the show an excuse to highlight the entirety of their friendship with this going away episode? Probably. But you’ve got to admit watching them scramble to get Lot 48 opened so they could personally break ground together before Ann took off for Michigan was the perfect tribute to their friendship.
“Ron & Jammy” Season 7, Episode 2
To win a crucial re-zoning vote, Leslie enlists Ron’s help in prying Councilman Jamm from Tammy 2’s evil clutches.
Jason: No Swanson fan would diminish the power of completing a long-in-development project, though they might remark that said project only took so long because it was bogged down by governmental bureaucracy. Permit me, however, to add that while that achievement was a defining triumph for Ann and Leslie, Ron faced his (and any other human person’s) greatest fear in a seductive, magnetic, soul-sucking ex with only Leslie and the confidence earned by his relationship with a total non-Tammy (a relationship partially made possible by Ron’s softened edges and willingness to let people in thanks to his friendship with Leslie) and came out unscathed. Improvement, the rarest of human achievements. Made possible by the rarest of friendships.
Jessica: Dial it back. Was it nice to see the dynamic duo back together again to take on Tammy Two? Sure, but this whole de-radicalization session was instigated by Leslie in an effort to sway Jamm to her side … and away from Ron’s. The only reason she recruited Ron’s help was that Jamm was in too deep, and the only reason Ron gave his aid was because he can’t stand weakness or pathetic imitations of his mustache. Nothing felt solved in this episode, just backburnered and that’s another strike against the friendship between Ron and Leslie. Both are willing to let grudges fester for the sake of their own pride. Ann would never.
“Leslie & Ron” Season 7, Episode 4
The Parks and Rec gang lock a feuding Leslie and Ron in their office in a bid to get them to hash out their differences and resume their friendship.
Jason: I always thought it was a weird tonal shift to go from the de-escalation pact to the heights of antipathy that we see in this episode before the eventual thaw. But I think it’s important to look in awe at a friendship that can mend rifts, even long term ones. It takes a big person to admit their wrong and a big friendship for two people to do that and also be vulnerable. Especially when you consider how big a move that is for Ron. Though, I will acknowledge that it’s something Ann and Leslie also did as well.
Ultimately, our quibbling doesn’t really matter. Both of these characters had amazing TV relationships with Leslie that, honestly, portrayed some of the best parts of friendship. I’m ready to extend the hand of peace and understanding here and say, in the most un-Swanson-y of ways, that perhaps this contest should end in a draw and the declaration that Leslie can, in fact, have two best friends. Will you meet me halfway?
Jessica: How very Ann Perkins of you. But yes, I suppose in the grand scheme of things, Leslie needed both Ron and Ann, her cunning, pliable, chestnut-haired sunfish as her best friends to truly succeed — in her career and in life. And really, they’re both a giant step up from Parker Posey’s Lindsay Carlisle Shay. She once fed waffles from JJ’s Diner to a dog. WAFFLES!
Jason: On this, we can agree. Dogs are amazing. Mine is my true best friend, but that doesn’t mean I’d share my waffles with her… or anyone, to be honest.
‘Parks And Rec’ is available to stream on Netflix.