by Charity Erickson
My last On Pop Theology piece explored the newest addition to the McConaissance oeuvre, the seriously serious HBO show True Detective, and its struggle to say anything really meaningful about…anything. I received a small amount of (mostly warranted) pushback on social media, but there was one comment that simply went beyond the pale. One comment that bothered me to my very core. I was told that if I couldn’t handle the “weighty themes” of True Detective, that I should just go watch Parks and Recreation.
This pisses me off. Not so much for the condescension (for which the commenter apologized), but for their gross misreading of Parks and Recreation. Because under the bucolic facade of Pawnee, Indiana and Leslie Knope’s fiercely optimistic pursuit of parks excellence, we find a desperate world of thwarted desire, corruption, the futile pursuit of hopeless causes--and Aubrey Plaza’s lifeless eyes. This show is some twisted, messed up shit.
If you dare to plunge into the dark and debauched world of Parks and Recreation, here are ten episodes to highlight the show’s nihilistic despair:
1. Rock Show – Season 1, Episode 6
Hapless troubadour Andy expounds upon the ultimate brokenness of the human condition, setting the doctrine of original sin to music in his song “The Pit:” “The pit/I fell into the pit/You fell into the pit/We all fell into the pit.” Look upon this work ye mortals and despair!
2. Pawnee Zoo – Season 2, Episode 1
Leslie Knope comes under fire for performing the wedding of two gay penguins and highlights the conspiracy of control surrounding institutionalized religion. How can a belief system based on love separate one penguin from the mate of his (and the zoo’s) choosing?
3. The Stakeout – Season 2, Episode 2
Has there ever been a greater miscarriage of justice than the racial profiling of Tom Haverford? And by a government employee no less. For shame!
4. Sweetums – Season 2, Episode 15
As Leslie attempts to introduce healthy snacks to Pawnee concession stands, this episode focuses on the issue of theodicy by asking us: “If sugar is so bad for us, how come Jesus made it taste so good?”
5. Galentines Day – Season 2, Episode 16
You will fall in love with Chris Pratt. You will develop an agonizing and unattainable crush, and it will be emotionally debilitating. If you have never before actualized the total experience of human suffering, this will do it for you.
Except for that, this episode affirms all that is true and beautiful in the world. Sorry. I really do try to be a hateful cynic but sometimes I just can’t deny the weepy feels that rise up from the very core of my soul. Oh god. *sniffle* I just hope he’s happy. *sob*
6. The Fight – Season 3, Episode 14
This is where things get real. This episode is raw and risky; never before on television have we seen something so honest and viscerally disturbing as the hangover everyone suffers the morning after imbibing Tom Haverford’s Kahlua-style liqueur, Snake Juice.
This drunken, debased romp achieves its Sodomesque pinnacle when the manliest man of all, Ron Swanson, is shown strutting his stuff while wearing a woman’s hat--a hat extravagantly embroidered with gaudy, retro beading, no less. God will judge!
7. Li’l Sebastian – Season 3, Episode 16
“Who are we? Where are we going in life? What is the meaning of all of this? These are questions that Li’l Sebastien never had to answer. Because he was a horse.” Enough said.
8. End of the World – Season 4, Episode 6
Armageddon is nigh! And how do the godless citizens of Pawnee respond? With lavish parties and the scandalous playing of flutes. Over the course of the episode, characters deal with regret, disappointment, and the cold and ever-near embrace of death.
It is my favorite episode of the series.
9. Ben’s Parents – Season 5, Episode 6
The beautiful Rob Lowe cries for twenty-one minutes. For part of that time, he is also eating shrimp cocktail. What devilish monsters would do this to Rob Lowe?!
10. Ann and Chris – Season 6, Episode 12
Nothing gold can stay, folks. Nothing gold can stay. *a single tear*
Charity Erickson and her husband live and work together in the north woods of Minnesota. Check out her blog for more of her writing and follow her on Twitter @CharityJill.
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