As part of Complex Pop Culture's best-of-2013 coverage, staffers and contributing writers will pen short pieces on their favorite TV episodes of the year. The week-long series comes to an end with contributing writer Brenden Gallagher.
It was a year of resonant TV moments, from Red Weddings to Bad Breakings, but when I think back over the television of 2013, the first image that comes to mind is Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) walking the length of a shepherd’s hill in Scotland accompanied by his recitation of Robert Burns’ “O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair.”
Few sitcoms get better with age. Often, after shows hit their stride in their second or third season, they grow stale as they limp towards the magical one hundred episodes required for syndication. Many series that remain consistently funny like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Archer never grow because the characters don’t change. On those shows, we aren’t really watching people, we’re watching joke delivery devices. Parks and Recreation is the rare comedy that grows richer over time as it deftly performs the balancing act of staying deeply hilarious and deeply human.
The key to Parks and Recreation’s continued growth is the development of Pawnee. With each passing season, we are shown new corners of the town that introduce us to fresh characters and deepen our relationship with those we already know. At this point in the show’s run, we know more about Perd Hapley’s media career than we do about the lives of some CBS series protagonists. We’ve watched Jean-Ralphio fail about as often as your standard sitcom father. Episodes like “London” illustrate how much power Parks and Recreation can wield after half a decade of this careful development.
As our knowledge of Pawnee expands, so too does our relationship with Ron and Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). We’ve followed them through loves lost and battles won, and we’ve watched their friendship deepen all the while. We’ve seen them interact with scores of different characters, and we’ve seen dozens of angles on their relationship. Ron and Leslie have been drawn with meticulously fine strokes, as has the world around them. As a result, the simple reading of a poem or a nomination letter can summon up deep emotion from those of us who have been in Pawnee since the beginning. We’re at a point in Parks and Recreation that a knowing glance between characters can make you laugh uncontrollably or well up with seasons’ worth of vicarious emotional baggage.
In the twilight of its run, Parks and Recreation understands the power in small moments. Little gestures of kindness and tossed off jokes resonate because of all the jokes and gestures that have come before and helped to build the world of the series. “London,” is an example of one of those great Parks and Recreation episodes that wears its smallness gracefully; its most meaningful beats are some of its most subdued. The episode’s key moments—April’s (Aubrey Plaza) support of Leslie, Andy’s (Chris Pratt) career decision, and Ron’s Scottish poetry reading—are fully realized, emotional charged, and wholly fulfilling while being played with the intensity of a flute solo.
April’s nominating letter on behalf of Leslie can be read as the epitaph for this show as it nears the end of its run. “She cares about everything and everyone in our town … Her true purpose, her true meaning, is making people’s lives better.”
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