Relationship Deep Dive: Pawnee Parks Department

Key art for Parks and Recreation's Pawnee Parks Department
Source: NBC

Type: Platonic
Show: NBC’s Parks and Recreation
Featured Characters: Leslie Knope, Ann Perkins, Ron Swanson, Ben Wyatt, Chris Traeger, April Ludgate, Donna Meagle, Tom Haverford, Andy Dwyer, and Jerry Terry Gergich

Pawnee Parks Department, there are so few words to describe them. Parks and Recreation portrays friendships in a way that is truly impeccably rare on television. Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins alone are the epitome of how women should be with their best friends. And while they would be enough if they were the only ones, the entire department is magic together. In what may be the most difficult of choices I have made in my writing career, I have attempted to culminate seven of my favorite moments, which showcase friendship on this series at its absolute finest. The moments that were unbelievably difficult to choose but manage to bring characters together in ways that are beautifully refreshing.

It’s not easy to write about Parks and Recreation because it is the comedy show of dreams that has reached an unparalleled level of perfection and years later, I still compare so much to it. It is the show where people are celebrated because of who they are and teamwork is valued above all. And if that is not perfect then I do not know what is. (There is a current show on air that might come close, but since it is only its first season, we cannot say just yet. Still, Parks and Recreation reigns, and it’s largely because of the Pawnee Parks Department.)

First and foremost, through the Pawnee Parks Department, Leslie and Ann deserve their own segment. (And yes, they will eventually get their own relationship deep dive.) There are a number of phenomenal female/female friendships I could think of, but Leslie and Ann will always be number one. The extraordinary way the two love one another never fails to astound me, but most importantly, it is the fervency in which they support each other with that makes them ideal. It is also the beautiful detail of how late in life they met each other. That is not something we discuss often, but it is a lovely one.

Leslie and Ann are each other’s person—the moment they meet, their lives change completely. And if friendships do not stir our worlds making us the best versions of ourselves then we have not chosen the correct people to stand by our side. A best friend is the person you force to watch all eight Harry Potter films even if they are not a fan, and the best of friends will stay in each other’s lives even when they are no longer geographically close.

Leslie and Ann are prime examples of what best friends should be like. They have serendipitously come into each other’s lives at a time where they had no idea they needed one another most. And while there are a number of reasons why their friendship is ideal, on top of the list is overpowering love. As human beings, our mind is susceptible to negative thoughts—belief that we can easily push people away because of the mistakes we make, continuously wondering whether or not we will always have them, but because Leslie always reminds Ann that she is a beautiful tropical fish, that concern was nonexistent with them.

When a best friend is like a sister, you never give up on them. You make sure they have everything they need, you make sure they are taken care of. And even when you are hurt, you forgive them and they forgive you. And for Leslie and Ann, loyalty has and would always be unwavering. When they looked at each other, they saw only their gifts—the characteristics that made them uniquely special and wonderfully brave.

One of the most exquisite lessons Parks and Recreations teaches its viewers is that “no one achieves anything alone”, and no matter how strong both women are individually, they have always needed one another. For instance, when Leslie tells Ann to text her every three seconds that everything is going to be okay. Or when Ann was going to choose a sperm donor and she needed Leslie to help her with it. Whatever it was, the two of them were not afraid to ask one another for help, and when friendship reaches that place of comfort, it is a sisterhood.

The things Leslie and Ann have done for each other are unmatched. But what I adore most deeply is how well they speak of each other when the other is not around. The reality is, when we have best friends, we love them with every fiber of our beings and there is a different attachment to our girlfriends—when we are later married, they are still so incredibly important to us because they were not just placeholders until we find our soulmates. They are soulmates. And it’s always been easy to note the way they both believed that no one would actually be good enough for their best friend, but one day someone would come close. It is that very belief that allows them to continuously rise to their highest potential because they know there is someone out there who will always root for them.

Again, Leslie and Ann are in a way each other’s soulmates. I’m sure we all have one—that one person whose presence in our lives has completely changed us. That one person who is there for us even when we are not at our best or we have fallen and stoped believing in ourselves. That one person who will continue believing in us even when we stop. The one person who we can talk to about anything and everything.

Above all, the best of friends look out for one another—they are the people who understand us even when we have lost sight of who we are, and Leslie and Ann understood one another deeply. Whatever happened in life, Leslie and Ann would always have each other. Leslie and Ann cared about every little thing that defined their best friend. They cared about the nuances no one even noticed. They cared about each and every little emotion retiring the fact that the best of friends will always notice and love every part of us. Theirs is forever.

And now, without further ado we shall discuss seven moments in Parks and Recreation history that have literally exemplified friendship.

1. Leslie’s Campaign Team

Leslie Knope has done a lot for the Pawnee Parks Department, but all that aside, she has done even more for her friends. She’s been there through every heartache, every crazy ex, every flu, every ridiculous dilemma, and ultimately every happy moment. And when Leslie’s campaign team quit on her, her friends stepped in to take over.

“Citizen Knope” is not only one of my all time favorite TV Christmas specials, but it is in my top five of Parks and Recreation episodes. “Citizen Knope” perfectly showcases each of the elements that make this series special. And it is the most perfect exhibition of what a solid group of friends should look like.

No one loves the government more than Leslie Knope does, but that was not going to stop her friends from choosing to put their personal beliefs aside for her. And with each of them acutely choosing to help her in ways they know they are especially good at, they turned her campaign into an ultimate success. And the best part of “Citizen Knope” is that it was only the beginning.

Friends put their lives on hold for each other—they willingly and lovingly give their all to help another in need, and this is what happens with Leslie’s campaign. As a team, they victoriously win an election all while having a great time with one another. Leslie could have had a professional team, but the memories they all created were something else.

Something out of this world and profoundly special. They did that. Whatever she needed, they would do it.

2. Leslie and Ron

Much like Leslie and Ann, Leslie and Ron deserved a separate category from the Pawnee Parks Department, but I figured it would be best to take readers back to one of Parks and Recreation’s strongest episodes. “Leslie and Ron” is TV perfection. We all have a couple of TV episodes we turn to when we are not having the best day, and “Leslie and Ron” easily became one of those episodes for me.

As I had said in my episode review for the episode ““Leslie and Ron” did the best job of exhibiting the heart of Parks and Recreation. Friendships and dreams – creating special things from nothing.” The entire episode gorgeously illuminates why Leslie and Ron are such an incredible duo. At their best, Leslie and Ron were like siblings—in spite of Ron choosing to refer to them as “work proximity associates,” no one knew him as well as Leslie did—at least until Diane came into the picture.

To enter into season seven knowing Leslie and Ron were no longer on the same team was not easy, but viewers knew that when the two of them reunited, it would be epic. And epic it was for in a single episode, even if you had no clue who these two people were, you would know right away that what they have is special.

It still breaks me that it all started from Ron missing his friends. We will meet hundreds of people in our lives, but only a few will leave their mark on us. Only a few will impact us in such a way that we will miss them even when they are right next to us. And for Leslie to understand the deep pain Ron felt served as one of the most poignantly evocative moments in the show’s history. There are people in the world who would not forgive that, but Leslie Knope is not one of those people, and Ron Swanson is too important.

From the very beginning, their relationship was insane—as Leslie states: she should not have even been hired, but at the end of the day, they needed each other. They would work best together and somehow even before everything, universal forces made sure these two would wind up being in each other’s lives. And to have Willy Nelson’s “Buddy” play on the background as they made their office a home again felt so incredibly right. The songs lyrics embody the two as friends and their walk towards J.J’s Diner reiterating their love for breakfast food made for an effortlessly superlative scene.

And as I had mentioned in my episode review, I feel the need to bring it back because just as I’d felt passionately about the scene then, I feel it today, too. “Leslie Knope received a gift without having planned one to give. Even when Ron was angrily demolishing Ann’s house and stepping on everything that reminded him of the sadness he is feeling from missing everyone, he knew that someday, he would patch things up with Leslie. He knew that he should savor a part of Ann’s house and what better part than her door. THE SYMBOLISM AND DEPTH OF THIS GIFT MAKES ME SO HAPPY THAT I FELT IT WAS APPROPRIATE TO SCREAM IN CAPS FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER IN A REVIEW. (And still, the only time I have ever done this.)

Ron Swanson gave Leslie Knope a photograph inside a frame built from Ann Perkins’ door. And that is without question, one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever heard of and seen anyone giving another person. Symbolically doors represent entrances, transitions, endings, and beginnings. Ann’s front door was always open to Leslie. And later on, it was open to everyone else she welcomed into her life. As Leslie pointed out, so much has happened behind that very door that has changed them all in wonderful ways. It amazes me and in so many ways makes me insanely proud that the writers chose to have Ron save the door. It’s sheer genius. Although Ann’s house is no longer there, the welcoming presence is not only perpetually in Leslie’s hands but it represents the transition between the entire group. The change in their friendship. The inevitable changes which authenticate that in the end, the will remain stronger than ever. Their hearts will always be open to one another no matter where they end up in life. The door into the other’s life will never close again.

3. The Finale

I don’t think there will ever come a time where I’ll be ready to talk about the Parks and Recreation finale because it was magic—purely brilliant in every way. In some cases, when life changes too drastically, relationships change along with it, but in this case, love only grew. When reunited back in their old office, they were finally home again. Some would whine, others would cry all the tears, but nonetheless they loved and gave tirelessly. And as we all love to dream, our kids will be best friends with our best friend’s kids. And then they’ll fall in love and we’ll pretend we disapprove when in reality our souls are doing somersaults. In any relationship, equally as vital as trust is the ability to communicate, and this team understood each other perfectly. This team always knew how to communicate because even when they didn’t, they still somehow did.

The way work is celebrated on Parks and Recreation never fails to floor me. Because they worked hard together, every goal they cared for was achieved. Everyone may not have been as passionate as Leslie for instance, but because they loved spending time together, everyday was an adventure. The office was home and it didn’t matter how much time passed because they’d always find their way back to each other.

But I can’t end this paragraph without including the very words that inspired me to find my team and get to work.

“When we worked here together, we fought, scratched, and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better. That’s what public service is all about: small, incremental change every day. Teddy Roosevelt once said ‘Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love. I started my career more than thirty years ago in the Parks and Recreation department right here in Pawnee, Indiana. I had a lot of different jobs, including two terms as your governor. And soon, a new, unknown challenge awaits me which to me, even now, is thrilling because I love the work. Not to say that public service isn’t sexy because it definitely is, but that’s not why we do it. We do it because we get the chance to work hard at work worth doing, alongside a team of people who we love. So I thank those people who walked with me and I thank you for this honor. Now, go find your team and get to work.

4. Ben and Leslie’s Wedding

Ben and Leslie’s wedding is one of my favorites for a number of reasons, and their beautiful love story aside for now because you know I will write about them too, it is what their friends do that once again showcases why this team is so superb. I am not entirely sure if this wedding would have worked out if it were any other team because no one would know how to handle such situations as beautifully as the Pawnee Parks Department. Each of their friends had a job perfectly set aside for them in a way that felt serendipitous. (As all things on this show seem to occur.) Ann would make the dress. Tom would write the “dope” vows. Jerry would officiate. Donna would sing. Andy and April would get the signed marriage licenses. Chris would accompany Ben to find rings. And Ron would make the rings then walk Leslie down the aisle. I can cry just thinking about how gorgeously everything works out in the end. I’m now crying. Shocking.

And it is like this because the couple saying “I do” loves one another with unwavering gratitude and adoration. It works out because there is nothing this group of individuals would not do for one other. It essentially makes for the best wedding gift, too—good friends choosing to go above and beyond to make one night impeccably magical. And my most favorite part of this is that there were absolutely no complaints. Ron ended up in jail but he did not regret punching Dennis Feinstein for a second—for Leslie and Ben, he would do anything. Ann felt as though she was prepared for this moment from the very beginning. It all came down to a choice–a choice to give their time to celebrate a couple in love by valuing their desires more than anything.

5. Ben’s Bachelor Party

Parks and Recreation’s most noted friendship is Leslie and Ann’s, but the men are pretty solid, too. And Ben’s Bachelor Party turned everyone’s Bachelor Party is one of the great exhibitions of the loyalty within the Pawnee Parks Department. For any friendship to be gold, loyalty and selflessness must be the foundations—and amongst these men, they are. I had actually forgotten how much I enjoyed this episode until I rewatched it recently, and it is nothing short of exceptional.

I loved watching them do things they would absolutely hate to do otherwise just because they knew it is what their friend wanted. And that is ultimately what friendship is—choosing to do things for those we love because it will make them happy. They did not need a bachelor party for all the men, but it turned out to be one of the best nights of their lives because each of them experiences supreme joy at one point throughout the night. And then, as if that weren’t enough to literally make me cry, they made an award for Chris because he was not to get his dream Bachelor Party yet. I am literally too emotional right now. (I hope you’re all reading that in Chris Traeger’s voice. It’s been a while.)

6. Treat Yo Self

“Treat Yo Self” became a thing in all our lives and I am immensely grateful for it even though my bank accounts are not. But hey, we all deserve it. And while each “Treat Yo Self” day was a special depiction of how wonderful Tom’s friendship with Donna is, one of my favorites is when they took Ben along with them. The best of friends don’t just make you buy all the things because you deserve them, but they are the ones who notice you are not okay even when you say you are. And that is why it is so fantastic that Ben was invited—he needed the day more than anyone.

And then he proceeded to cry in a Batman costume, which it was glorious. But “Treat Yo Self” is not just about the elaborate goods, it is about reminding those we love that heck yes, they deserve to have great things. They may not need them, but they deserve them. And that is one of the things the Parks department was especially good at—they were always there to remind each other of the fact that they are special, flaws and all, which meant that they should never settle for less.

7. Jerry’s Sweet 16

There were a lot of moments I wanted to choose instead of this, but I needed to write about the fact that even though the Pawnee Parks Department constantly made fun of Jerry, he was just as much a part of their circle as anyone else. And his sweet sixteen party is the perfect example of that because when Leslie realized she forgot, all hell broke loose. She needed to make things right. She needed to make sure he experienced something special. And though she fell asleep, it was still wonderful that he knew, his team cared enough about him to throw him a surprise party. Jerry was an interesting character and though most of the time he was not praised as the others are, it never changed the fact that they cared deeply for him. Their team wouldn’t be the same without him. They needed him.

In conclusion, Leslie, Ben, Ann, Ron, Chris, Donna, Andy, April, Tom, and Jerry (Lol, total accident, but let’s keep it) were all great people—undoubtedly flawed, but nonetheless they had great hearts. And because they all cared so deeply for one another, they gave and gave without asking for anything in return.

Even when business was involved, at the end of they day, they meant the absolute world to each other. No matter how much time passed, the love they shared for one another was eternal. These people believed in each other with a fervency stronger than their fascination with Li’l Sebastian. This show has taught me and presumably many others one of the most vital lessons we could ever learn in life: “no one achieves anything alone.” In this day and age, it is easy to feel as though we should have everything together. It is easy to feel as though our burdens should be carried alone. But time and time again the Pawnee Parks Department reminded us that it’s okay to ask for help. In a time of a global pandemic we all learned just how much we would rather be annoying our team in person than through zoom meetings. We learned just how important companionship truly is and how much we might have taken advantage of.

The best adventures happen when a group of people lovingly work towards a common goal. Where there is love, there is everything, and this group made each other fearlessly stronger and happier. Whether they all helped Tom with his business, April making sure Donna’s wedding went perfectly, or the endless attempts to keep the Tammys away from Ron, Parks and Recreation was filled with incomparable moments showcasing that this department is the epitome of a perfect team.

The best thing about the Pawnee Parks Department is that they knew one another so well, they never offended each other with their jokes. And if they did, if there was ever a moment, even if it took years, an apology would follow. They never cared about their failures, but rather through thick and thin, they comforted and helped each other reach their highest potential. And whenever they got together, they were there to offer the best advice they could.

In their own unique way, each character brought something beautifully meaningful to the team. It did not matter if they didn’t care for what was happening, they would be there regardless. No matter what happened, they’d be a text away (or now a zoom call away). And even when things got ugly, they would come out stronger in the end. They came into each other’s lives at the times they needed one another the most and stayed–through the good and the bad, near or far, nothing ever changed their love for each other. And in the end, they played the greatest role in each other’s lives. They’re infinite (and I don’t use that word lightly).

Do you have a favorite memory showcasing the best of the Pawnee Parks Department? Share with us in the comments below.

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