Aired: February 4th, 2010
[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]
When choosing between great episodes of great shows in order to make it on this list, Parks and Recreation probably posed the biggest challenge. The show’s second season was a revelation, and its back half had numerous highlights, and choosing between them was more difficult than I had imagined. In most similar instances, I had a gut instinct that drove me in one direction, something in particular I wanted to be able to recognize about that show or that episode over the course of the past year.
With Parks and Recreation, there are simply so many options – I recently watched through the entire second season on Netflix, and admittedly have also seen the first six episodes of season three, and the sheer bounty of greatness made this decision difficult even while disqualifying the Season Three episodes which won’t air until early next year (one of which would definitely be a contender).
I ended up choosing “Sweetums” because it does a number of things which were key to the season’s success. While “Telethon” is the best individual vehicle for Amy Poehler and perhaps the best reflection of the entire ensemble, “Sweetums” highlights the wonderful, complicated relationship between Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope, a relationship which helped set Season Two apart from the show’s earlier episodes. Their tete-a-tete over Ron’s ability to drive after drinking brings out the best in both characters, whether it’s Ron’s whiskey-fueled harp building or Leslie’s “O Captain, my Captain: Ron Swanson, A Swan Song” eulogy; at the heart of their friendship is a sort of begrudging respect for the other’s fundamentally different approach to their life, and “Sweetums” laid the groundwork for Ron’s belief later in the season that even if Pawnee could use less government, it could not exist without Leslie Knope.
And yet let’s be honest: “Sweetums” is really here because of DJ Roomba, the simplest of jokes that just makes me irrationally happy. Every time I hear someone talk about the Black Eyed Peas, I’m thinking “On an Endless Looooop,” and every time I think about whether or not Jerry deserves the constant punishment he receives I think back to his homicidal tendencies in this half-hour. Tom moving out of Wendy’s house is not exactly a comic masterpiece, but the story still captures the growing camaraderie between the employees (and some early moments in Andy and April’s relationship, which remains one of my favorite parts of the season).
I’m also partial to these glimpses into Pawnee’s business history – the Sweetums story is incredibly charming, a nice bit of social satire which morphs into parody (“Sorry, Shoelace!”) and even gave Rashida Jones something to do other than be in a relationship (which was a welcome change at this point in the season). Combine with the sugar high scene, one of the show’s most euphoric, and “Punk Ass Book Jockeys,” and…well, if you can’t beat ‘em, “Sweetums.”