This was almost a tie between my actual choice and Season Four because I love the latter so much. Paul Rudd is in it! But I had to go with Season Five for one big reason. As much as I love Leslie and Ben as a couple, the first part of the fourth season dragged (even though I adored the episodes “Pawnee Rangers” and “The Treaty,” which may be more because I was involved with Model UN* in high school like a true nerd) until “Smallest Park,” when they finally threw their caution into the wind. The plot picked up quickly after that, and we could actually focus on everyone as opposed to just Leslie and Ben’s relationship woes.
In contrast, Season Five started off with “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington,” which has a politician-studded guest cast, and saw Leslie losing faith in herself. It’s like when you graduate from high school and go off to college: you were Big Shit as a senior, a benevolent – or possibly malevolent, depending on your level of douche bag – ruler of your small world, and suddenly you realize how small your pond was when you’re surrounded by people with more experience and knowledge than you possibly could have imagined. Of course, this is Leslie we’re talking about, so naturally, she bounces back and becomes even more determined to help her hometown. This, also, leads directly to the recall vote 21 episodes later: her steamroller nature and desire to help people, even when they don’t want it, is both her downfall and her bridge to better things.
Since I’m doing entries on all of the main cast (except Mark because screw him), I’m not going to go too deeply into the other characters’ arcs during Season Five, but I will say that they all really start to mature here. The characters’ subtle growth is what makes Season Five my favorite. In most TV comedies, the characters have a standard setting and don’t really go anywhere: Seinfeld, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia**, Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends, etc.; but in Parks, while the core traits remain intact, each individually transforms. April isn’t the bored intern any longer, and Andy has more drive than he has had since he wanted to win April back in Season Three. Chris gets so many more layers with his struggles with depression, and Ben’s foray into campaign management showed how far he’d come since his time as mayor of Partridge, MN. I think Rent-A-Swag is my favorite Tom invention, and I love seeing him do what he does best. Ann’s entire arc from this season is incredibly inspiring, too, choosing to date herself and really decide what she wants out of life. Donna and Garry don’t get a lot of big moments – Garry’s family life is one of those things that just makes me so goddamn happy – which, of course, is sad, but there’s just enough of them to keep me satisfied (and then Season Six and Seven happened).
Alright, I’m definitely going to get more into this season when I get to my favorite episode, so I’m gonna stop here and go grab myself a chai latte. See you tomorrow for my least favorite season!
* My first and favorite was when I represented Djibouti.
** I loooooooooove this show so much, okay? It’s just that they aren’t supposed to learn anything by the end of the episode or change or whatever because they are intrinsically awful people.