Happy 100: The Top 10 Parks and Recreation Episodes (So Far)

In honor of tonight’s 100th episode of Parks and Recreation, here are my 10 favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows.

Note: As always, there is a good chance that there are some significant spoilers below, so read/view at your discretion.

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A Year in Review: The Top 10 Shows of 2013

Anyone who says that there isn’t anything good left on television clearly isn’t looking very hard, if at all. There was almost too much great television this year. from intensely satisfying final seasons to incredible showings from a wealth of new series and everything in between, 2013 once again proved there has never been a better time to be a TV addict.

Note: As always, there is a good chance that there are some significant spoilers below, so read/view at your discretion.

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What’s on the Horizon: What to Look Forward to in 2013-2014

Goodbye barren wasteland of summer programming, and hello new fall shows. This year’s newcomers have plenty of work to do: with long-running favorites such as Fringe, The Office, and 30 Rock ending last season, and a huge wave of cancellations, there are going to be many viewers who are looking for the next big thing. And yes, I know I don’t always back the winning horse, as my list from last season clearly demonstrates. Among that list, 3 (Ben and Kate, Go On, and Last Resort) ended up being cancelled and The Following turned out to be one of the worst things I’ve ever had the misfortune of looking forward to. But that’s part of what makes this whole process so much fun.

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Breaking Bad – “Blood Money”

Breaking Bad - "Blood Money" [S05E09]

From left: Dean Norris, Bryan Cranston

Rating: A-

Although it’s a series chock-full of highly memorable moments, Breaking Bad has never really been one to jump right out of the gate with story, instead letting the tension slowly build over the course of its seasons. But when Walt pauses in the driveway and that garage door comes rolling down, we know – that with only 8 episodes left – Vince Gilligan and company have clearly decided to forgo that route.

From the beginning Breaking Bad has never stopped reminding us that Walter White is, above all else, unrelenting in his pride. It’s been his greatest motivator throughout the series, and his inability to control that hubris will also be his downfall. Walter didn’t need to keep a trophy from Gail, he didn’t need to antagonize and kill Mike. he didn’t need to keep making meth long after he had any reason left to do. And he didn’t need to walk back into that garage and stir up the hornets nest with Hank. But over these last 5 seasons, that’s exactly what we’d expect from the man that we’ve come to know, revere, loathe, and fear. Walter isn’t stupid – there’s no way he could have gotten to where he is if he were – but he is dangerously impulsive when he feels threatened – and there’s also no way he would have gotten to where he is if he weren’t.

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Community – “Intro To Felt Surrogacy”

Community - "Intro to Felt Surrogacy" [S04E09]

The puppet cast of Community

Rating: A

When Dan Harmon left Community, I told myself that I wouldn’t let his absence affect my enjoyment of the show. But if my thoughts on the season 4 premiere and most of  the season (I certainly wasn’t the show’s biggest supporter for those first several weeks) were any indication, I clearly let it get to me. Those episodes just felt like a cheap imitation of Community, episodes that tried too hard to capture the another man’s vision and never searched for its own voice.

So when I learned of the premise for “Intro To Felt Surrogacy,” I went into the episode fully expecting to be disappointed. And initially I was. The puppet gimmick just seemed like another instance of the show grasping at straws, desperately trying to tell its fans, “See, we’re still the same wacky bunch that pushes the boundaries of what the show is about!” But it wasn’t the same show, and that was my mistake I made on my initial watch.

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Parks and Recreation – “Partridge”

Parks and Recreation - "Partridge" [S05E17]

From left: Amy Poehler, Adam Scott

Rating: B-

“Partridge” is an episode of missed opportunities. It’s a missed opportunity to give Ben a chance at redemption. It’s a missed opportunity to give Ron an actual challenge. It’s a missed opportunity for Ann and Chris to have an actual conversation about why they’re giving their coupling – albeit completely non-romantic, for now at least – another try. But before any of these issues have a chance to evolve into something more than mild inconveniences, they’re resolved just as quickly as they show up.

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The Americans – “Trust Me”

The Americans - "Trust Me" [S01E06]

From left: Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell

Rating: A-

The idea that a television show could have us sympathizing with Soviet spies would have been unheard of in the 1980s, and possibly met with charges of treason. Which makes what The Americans has been able to accomplish all that more special. The television landscape is now filled with big name anti-heroes – Dexter Morgan, Walter White, and Don Draper, to name a few – but no one has tried to put the spotlight on a once feared and despised American enemy. Many reviewers have commented that what the The Americans is doing is akin to making a show about terrorist sleeper cell agents living in the United States, and maybe 20 years down the line we’ll get that show. And although I do not have the experience to argue the quality of that comparison, a brief history lesson will show that the analogy is probably more than apt.

There’s something beautiful about the way The Americans approaches its material – it is at times brutal and unyielding, yet it is also delicate and hesitant. It finds a great balance between action-packed, tense espionage and the internal struggles the characters battle every day, all the while capturing the ever-present sense of impending danger that permeated the Cold War era. And it is that constant atmosphere of fear that fuels the storyline for “Trust Me.”

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Parks and Recreation – “Leslie and Ben”

Parks and Recreation -

From left: Adam Scott, Amy Poehler

Rating: A

Like a few past Parks and Recreation episode, “Leslie and Ben” was written with the mindset that this would be the show’s final episode. But unlike the show’s past potential series finales (“Win, Lose, or Draw” being one of them), “Leslie and Ben” had an amazing feeling of finality and goodbye, acting as a heartwarming culmination to a season that already felt as if it were wrapping everything up. And just like those past episodes, “Leslie and Ben” was a brilliant showcase of the incredible writing and acting talent behind this wonderful little show about the lives of a few kind folks in a quirky small-town.

If I can pick out one flaw with the episode it’s this: this was a difficult episode to review. Because I don’t think an entire review of synonyms for ‘perfect’ makes for a particularly interesting read. And if it feels like I’m putting the episode up on a pedestal, it’s because it unquestionably belongs up there.

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Community – “History 101”

Community - "History 101" S04E01

The cast of Community, plus Fred Willard.

Rating: C-

It’s sometimes fun to have my expectations be challenged. After season 8 of The Office I thought the show’s quality could not possibly sink any lower, until season 9 happened. Conversely, my interest in 30 Rock was waning until season 7 – and a perfect finale – reminded me why it was and will remain one of my favorite comedies. So while the news of the creative changes and issues among the cast over on the set of Community made its way around the Internet, I found that I wasn’t too worried about the departure of showrunner Dan Harmon. While Harmon creative vision would be missed, I felt that an established show like Community wouldn’t suffer too much as a result.

I guess I don’t always like having my expectations challenged.

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Fringe – “Liberty” / “An Enemy of Fate”

Fringe - “Liberty” / “An Enemy Of Fate” [S05E12/E13]

From left: John Noble, Joshua Jackson

Rating: A-

Fringe is an odd case. At its best it stands toe-to-toe with the other juggernauts of television dramas, and at its worst it is forgettably uninteresting. Had the show ended in season 1 I would have hardly cried about its untimely demise – although it featured an interesting array of “fringe science” cases, there was never anything to suggest that the show was trying to jump aboard the coattails of The X-Files almost a decade too late. And despite more than its share of bumps along the road, I’m grateful to FOX for allowing Fringe to end on its own terms (and on that note, can we please stop labeling FOX as the network that cancels good shows before their time?).

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