Parks and Recreation Season 5 Review “Ben and Leslie; Correspondents’ Lunch”

Back in October, NBC was riding high. Revolution was a legitimate hit, Sunday Night Football was its usual dominant self, and The Voice fatigue didn’t set in as the show continued to do solid numbers. For a while, the once beleaguered network became number one in the all-important demographic. These numbers coupled with Bob Greenblatt tacit desire to move on from his low rated critical darlings almost seemed to doom Parks and Recreation. It seemed like an unjust end for a show that viewers watched become the best comedy of television. In typical Parks fashion, we hoped for the best, but knew chances were slim at best. Of course, we know how this story has changed: NBC pulls an NBC and quickly sinks back to the bottom once its top three shows go on hiatus. This downward movement all but ensures Parks and Recreation will return for a sixth season. However, this season of the show wasn’t written with a sixth season in mind. Mike Schur and company set out to provide viewers with the best possible ending you can give a show without totally tying everything up. It may seem like a macabre way to write television, but if it produces more episodes like “Ben and Leslie”, then we should hope more of our shows go about writing in this way.

Originally written as a possible finale, “Ben and Leslie” gives viewers a little something for everyone. Ron Swanson goes into full-fledged superhero mode (including knocking a man unconscious and ripping Ann’s sconce out of the wall to make wedding rings), Chris gives Ben a framed copy of their Pawnee assignment letter, a Lil’ Sebastian impersonator shows up, Ben and Leslie end up getting married in the Parks Department, and DJ Roomba keeps the reception lively before Andy and Donna close the show with “Bye, Bye, Lil’ Sebastian”. During the episode, Leslie remarks that all her dreams are coming true. For Parks fans, if Ben and Leslie had been the end, it would be safe to say that all of our dreams for the show had come true as well. Had it been the farewell episode, it would have been a very satisfying end that rewarded fans for sticking with the show all the way to the end.

Fortunately, the show doesn’t end there. Unfortunately, the show has now reached this transitional period where it could be quite interesting watching the characters trying to find themselves. In “Correspondents’ Lunch”, we watch Ben and Andy begin their transition into the next phase of their lives. After watching Andy play the happy doofus for 4 1/2 seasons, it was difficult to watch him be so bummed out over failing the Police Academy Test. It’s good to watch him bounce back, and the interactions between him and Ben should be pretty funny to watch. Still, the positioning of this episode is a little weird. All of the beauty, humor, and heartfelt moments from the first episode are almost instantly wiped away when we start the second one. As Alan Sepinwall suggested over at HitFix, Ben and Leslie would have been better paired with “Emergency Response” over the Whoop Ass Can carrying Leslie Knope that we get in “Correspondents’ Lunch”. At the end of the day, it’s good to have more Parks and Recreation. The narratives are going to have to restart, but it will be fun to see where they go.