This Thursday sees the birthday of Aziz Ansari, the comedian and author whose recent outings — the book Modern Romance, the TV show Master of None, his 2015 stand-up special Live at Madison Square Garden — have revealed him to be a smart and sensitive writer and performer fascinated with the minutiae of the way people interact with each other today.
Which is why it seemed like a good idea to remember his seven-year stint as Tom Haverford, shallow whiner and local government employee on the NBC sitcom Parks & Recreation. I mean, it’s almost always a good idea to revisit Parks & Rec, one of the best sitcoms of the last decade, but right now feels especially timely. Not only does Ansari’s birthday provide a topical excuse, but with government seeming more and more like a tool to be abused to hurt others in the U.S., why not remember happier times with (admittedly fictional) people who want to use it to do good, instead?
The entire series is available on Netflix, but if you just have, say, 300 minutes or so, here are the ten episodes you should focus on.
S2 E5: SISTER CITY
Dignitaries from the Venezuelan sister city to the series’ home of Pawnee, Indiana visit, bringing with them all kinds of cultural misunderstandings, and the chance for Fred Armisen to enjoy playing a clueless, casually evil foreign middle manager. He does it worryingly well.
S2 E10: HUNTING TRIP
Leslie (Amy Poehler) tries to prove that she’s as good as all the men in her office by accompanying them on a hunting trip. Not only does it turn out that she’s probably better than most, but she ends up having to deal with the reality that some dudes shouldn’t have access to guns at all.
S3 E2: FLU SEASON
What is most fun in life? Apparently, getting to watch everyone pretend to be really, really sick for half an hour. Who knew that fake flu could turn out to be so entertaining? (Note: this being the first episode on the list from the third season, it’s also the first time Adam Scott and Rob Lowe show up in the show, and their appearance makes everything better.)
S3 E4: RON & TAMMY PART TWO
The previous season had proven that the traditionally unflappable Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) was defenseless against his ex-wife Tammy (Megan Mullally). What makes this episode such a wonderful follow-up is how willing everyone involved is to go to extremes exploring just how defenseless he is.
S3 E9: APRIL & ANDY’S FANCY PARTY
Parks & Rec was, at heart, an exceptionally sentimental and romantic show, so it’s no surprise that it did big declarations of love particularly well. The “fancy party” in the title of this episode turns out to be a secret wedding, as Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt’s characters reveal that they’re tying the knot… much to their friends’ surprise and outright shock.
S3 E13: THE FIGHT
Never mind the titular fight between Leslie and Ann (Rashida Jones); what makes this episode so amazing is what happens when everyone tries to celebrate the launch of new alcoholic beverage “Snake Juice.” You only wish your friends were this entertaining when drunk.
S3 E16: LI'L SEBASTIAN
Sure, the very idea of being upset over the death of a fake miniature horse seems ridiculous now, but try watching this episode and then tell me that you don’t get just a little (no pun intended) choked up over how much the death of Li'l Sebastian breaks the hearts of everyone in town. He just tried so damn hard.
S4 E4: PAWNEE RANGERS
It’s a good old fashioned battle of the sexes as Leslie and Ron lead their respective youth camp programs into war with each other, but more fun can be found in watching Tom and Donna (The always watchable Retta) try and fail to cheer Ben (Adam Scott) up after a break-up by spoiling him… only to discover that doesn’t really work on everyone.
S4 E20: THE DEBATE
If only real world politics worked the same way that this episode — written and directed by Poehler, which earned her an Emmy nomination — did. Paul Rudd guests as a local idiot celebrity running for city council, and for all his natural charm, turns out that he can’t defeat honesty and smarts. Like I said, if only…
S7 E4: LESLIE AND RON
The final season of the show jumped three years into the future, throwing a number of character relationships into a spin — like the all-important friendship between Leslie and her former boss, which had ended mysteriously at some point, leading to this shut-in episode where the two are forced to try and make up, with touching, hilarious results. (Spoilers: Booze is necessary.)
S7 E7: THE JOHNNY KARATE SUPER AWESOME MUSIC EXPLOSION SHOW
Sure, the chance to watch an episode of the fictional TV show starring the show’s resident idiot savant is fun, but what’s even better are the fake commercials that air as part of the show-within-a-show. After seven years of making nice funny, seeing the writers embrace the chance to be mean via commercials is a blast.