This isn’t my first Parks and Rec-themed Power Poll, but what is surprising is that it’s only my second one. In fact, the very first Power Poll I ever did was one based around Parks and Rec’s minor characters, way back in 2014 (oh halcyon days of yore). P&R is my favorite show of all time, and I’ve seen the entire run an embarrassing number of times. I’ve made a 60” x 80” quilt of Ron Swanson’s face. I’ve even seen Season One. I still think it’s a brilliant show, and watching it is like getting a big hug from a loved one.
What may not be brilliant is this Power Poll, but it’s the last week of the semester, and I have all the mental fiber left in me of an elite strike force legal team, and you’ll just have to bear with me.
Onward to Pawnee!
Ohio State (#1) - Ron Swanson Reaction Gifs
First Place Votes: 10 High: 1 Low: 1 Last Week: 1 Sunrise, Sunset
I know, I know… this isn’t a specific moment. I was originally going to just choose the iconic image of Ron drunkenly dancing in a fascinator after imbibing Snake Juice, but as I perused the gifs, I realized there were many triumphant Ron moments that effectively reflect the Ohio State Buckeyes right now. Fresh off another undefeated season and a successful temper tantrum to overturn the minimum game rule so that they can trot off to yet another CCG, everything is looking rosy for OSU. The only dark cloud for them was the cancellation of the Michigan game - as Michigan flails this season, you have to assume Buckeye Nation is miffed it missed the chance to inflict some historic pain on Michigan.
But yeah, OSU is otherwise a sex-shirt wearing Ron Swanson, rolling into another title game.
Northwestern (#2) - Turkey Can Never Beat Cow
H: 2 L: 3 LW: 4
A personal favorite subplot for me is in the Season Three episode “Soulmates” that finds health nut Chris attempting to ban beef hamburgers from the City Hall cafeteria. Ron Swanson, rarely concerned with anything the government is doing, is roused to action by this attack on beef and “the only part of his job he likes.” Chris and Ron then engage in a turkey burger vs. beef burger cook-off, that involves Ron Swanson in a health food store, which is really all you need to know.
Northwestern this season has been like Ron’s unseasoned beef burger which easily defeats Chris’ fancy turkey burger in the office taste test. They are playing uninspiring football, but it is undoubtedly effective (except, randomly, against Michigan State). You don’t want to get into a rock fight with the Wildcats, because they will slowly and painfully defeat you. Even if no Northwestern grad would ever deign to enter a Food & Stuff, the analogy overall still holds. Unfortunately for Northwestern, Ohio State isn’t a fancy turkey burger— they’re wagyu beef, and the cook-off this week probably isn’t going to be close.
Indiana (#3) - Inspirational Talk by Jean-Ralphio
H: 2 L: 12 (what) LW: 2
Indiana’s moment comes from an ostensibly sad one - Lil’ Sebastian, the beloved “mini horse” fixation of all of Pawnee has passed on after a long, full life. The Parks Department hosts an extremely well-attended memorial service, run by Tom and Jean-Ralphio’s fledgling “premiere, high-end, all-media entertainment conglomerate.” Offering some encouragement to Tom, who has briefly had a moment of good sense and hesitation, Jean-Ralphio says:
Jean-Ralphio: Why don’t you live your life like that cow from the video?
Tom: He was a horse.
JR: Yeah. Because he followed his dreams.
Indiana, like that cow from the video, has followed their dreams this season. In atypical Indiana fashion, those dreams have actually turned out rather well. But in typical Indiana fashion, the rug was yanked out from under them in the form of a rule change that allowed OSU to play in the CCG rather than the Hoosiers. Still, a good season for the Flying Penixes - keep following your dreams, guys.
Iowa (#4) - The William Henry Harrison Museum
H: 4 L: 4 LW: 3
During the final season, Leslie becomes desperate to preserve some land near Pawnee, and learns that William Henry Harrison - he of the 31-day presidency - may have once had a hunting cabin there. Maybe. Her quest eventually leads her to the William Henry Harrison Museum, a sad affair with no visitors and insufficient artifacts to fill the small space. Instead, the museum’s other exhibits include such things as “Other Famous Harrisons” and “Other Things That Were Famous for 31 Days.”
Leslie’s bid for making William Henry Harrison matter is similar to Iowa’s bid to make themselves truly great. WHH became President, which is an achievement to be sure, but it only carries you so far when you have literally no other presidential achievements to your name, thus becoming famous only for dying quickly. Iowa manages to amass a solid win total every year, including this one, but because there’s never any more to it than that, they become an also-ran that likes to punt.
Penn State (#5) - Teddy Bear Suicide and God Hates Figs
H: 5 L: 6 LW: 7
Wannabe rock star Andy’s band is called “Mouserat” for most of the series, but this doesn’t stop him from constantly proposing new band names. The list is a lot of fun: Teddy Bear Suicide, God Hates Figs, Threeskin, Fiveskin, Rad Wagon, Two Doors Down, Jet Black Pope, Scarecrow Boat… you get the picture. Although Andy dreams of rock stardom, his musical success actually comes when he pivots to being a children’s entertainer (an effort that involves the hilarious attempt to make his song “Sex Hair” sound kid-friendly) named Johnny Karate.
For most of the season, the same-old songs didn’t play well for Penn State, and they were the last Big Ten team to get a win. But the last few weeks, PSU has pulled together three straight wins. Is this the start of something big for the James Franklin Experience? Or do the struggles earlier in the season portend the need to reinvent the Nittany Lions more significantly?
Wisconsin (#6) - When the Calzones Betrayed Ben
H: 5 L: 8 LW: 6
A small recurring joke in the series is Ben’s inexplicable yet enduring love for calzones. When Leslie gives him free rein to choose their wedding menu, Ben knows exactly what to do. He brings some of his friends along to the Great Calzone Tasting—and the next day, they are all felled by world’s worst case of food poisoning. “As God as my witness, they are dead to me,” vows Ben.
I’m not sure why Wisconsin is at #6 on this list, because like calzones, they are grossly overrated. However, they still get this scene because in recent weeks, Wisconsin has, ah, pooped their pants, in every game they’ve been able to play in since mid-November. Might be the calzones, might be not having a decent quarterback. Who can say?
Minnesota (#7) - “Wouldn’t It Be Tight If Everyone Was Chill to Each Other?”
H: 5 L: 9 LW: 8
The seventh season brings many changes to Pawnee, chief among them the arrival of tech giant Gryzzl, an amalgamation of Google/Amazon. Committed to their own specific version of cool, the Gryzzlfolk laud their own ability to live by their motto, “Wouldn’t It Be Tight If Everyone Was Chill to Each Other?” They bring the sizzle and flash to such an extent that Ron cannot actually understand what they are saying most of the time. In the end, however, it turns out that Big Tech is anything but Chill to the residents of Pawnee.
Minnesota has been having a similar come-to-Peejus moment this season. The marketing panache of PJ “Row the Boat” Fleck is unmatched, but this season more than any other, potential fault lines have appeared for the Gophers. It’s now well past “Year Zero” and the Gophers have had trouble playing defense to an extent no one expected. However, they beat Nebraska last week, a small kind of achievement, and perhaps can finish strong and assure fans that everything is, in fact, still Chill in Gopherville.
Maryland (#8) - Ben’s On-Again-Off-Again Relationship with the Accounting Firm
H: 5 L: 9 LW: 5
At various points in the series, Ben agrees to work at the accounting firm that desperately wants to hire him. It’s helmed by an overly eager fellow named Barney who loves Ben’s hi-lar-ious accounting jokes. But every time he gets his hopes up that Ben will join their ranks, Ben backs out to take a different job, leaving Barney crushed.
Maryland has at times this season thought they were on their way to a happily ever after thanks to their Fancy New Quarterback, but recent events have proven that Turtle hearts can take a crushing. The jury is out on whether Maryland fans are as resilient in their hope as Barney the Accountant, but hey—at least they had a few laughs this season before the disappointment (hey Minnesota!)
Rutgers (#9) - Jurassic Fork
H: 6 L: 11 LW: 12
This restaurant sadly only makes one appearance in the show, during an ill-fated attempt to cheer up Tom in the midst of the breakup of his green card marriage. Jurassic Fork is a dinosaur-themed restaurant that looks a lot like Casa Bonita but with animatronic dinosaurs. Its motto is “Where the Only Thing That Will Be Extinct is Your Appetite.” Later in the series, it is mentioned that Jurassic Fork has closed due to financial problems in the wake of opening a second Spielberg-themed restaurant, Schindler’s Lunch.
Rutgers football this year is certainly looking up. Like Leslie’s plan to cheer up Tom, the decision to hire Greg Schiano seems promising, and while there have been pitfalls, a win over Maryland last week must have the Scarlet Knights liking their chances on Friday night against Nebraska for a fourth win of the season. However, in the episode, Tom doesn’t truly chase his blues away until they go to his favorite strip club, the Glitter Factory. Will Rutgers ever find its Glitter Factory that will bring about sustained success for the Scarlet Knights?
Purdue (#10) - “Get On Your Feet!”
H: 9 L: 13 LW: 13
After Leslie and Ben’s “sex scandal,” leaves her political career DOA, she launches a campaign for city council with the crew from the Parks Department. It’s a hodge-podge affair, best represented when she attempts to make her first public appearance and campaign speech. Tom has spent way too much money on the nice red carpet, instead of getting enough carpet to reach the stage. This is critical, because the speech is in an ice rink. Gloria Estefan’s “Get On Your Feet” plays over and over again as the crew painfully shuffles and slips toward the platform.
Purdue has traveled a similar journey this year. After enduring the shame of underperforming for years, they threw all their money at what they thought was the answer - Jeff Brohm, the Fancy Red Carpet of Indiana. But this season, that solution hasn’t seemed quite as promising as it once did, and watching Purdue’s gifted skill players unable to stop the team’s slide this season has been painful.
Michigan State (#11) - Ron and Tammy Two
H: 10 L: 13 LW: 11
Ron Swanson is typically a solid, decidedly undramatic presence in the office, eschewing demonstrations of feelings and his co-workers’ messy personal lives. But Ron’s kryptonite is his second ex-wife, Tammy Two, a “manipulative, psychotic, library book-peddling, sex-crazed she-demon.” When the two unite, literally anything can and does happen - from sex in highly inappropriate places to Ron losing part of his mustache to “friction.”
Michigan State has been similarly mercurial and unpredictable this season. The losses have been massive and dramatic, and the wins have been surprising (lol Northwestern). Tammy II is undeniably Parks & Recreation’s biggest agent of chaos, and this season, MSU is probably the Big Ten’s.
Illinois (#12) - Jerry Falls into a Creek Reaching for a Burrito
Last Place Votes: 3 H: 3 (what) L: 14 LW: 10
While refilling the hummingbird feeders in the park, office punching bag Jerry Gergich is mugged—or at least that’s what he tells everyone at the office in order to hide the embarrassing truth. What really happened is that Jerry dropped his breakfast burrito onto a rock in the creek - and while bending over to retrieve it, fell in and dislocated his shoulder.
Illinois is definitely the conference’s Jerry Gergich - bumbling, ridiculed, but not entirely hateable. Unfortunately, unlike Jerry, they don’t have whatever the football equivalent is of Jerry’s hot wife, Gayle. They no longer have a coach either, as the Lovie Smith Era officially ended this week, thus depriving the conference of its most excellent beard. What will Illinois’ next incarnation be? Garry Gergich, of course.
Nebraska (#13) - April and Andy Buy a Creepy House
LPV: 2 H: 10 L: 14 LW: 9
April and Andy, long an off-beat duo in the show, have found themselves adulting to an unwanted degree by the seventh season. Desperate to spice up their lives and recapture the magic of their weird and spontaneous early relationship, they stop by a creepy abandoned house owned by Werner Herzog (as the improbably named “Ken Jeggings”) who warns the couple that there have been no offers on the house because it is haunted, disgusting, and was once a holding cell for people who went insane while working at the Pawnee Doll Head Factory. He is only leaving because he’s moving to Orlando to be closer to Disney World. Obvi.
Nebraska has been chasing the magical high of the past for some decades now, occasionally casting off 9-win stability for whims and fancies and Mike Riley. Scott Frost’s hiring brought some zest back to the relationship temporarily, but this season has made many Huskers wonder if the place might be permanently cursed.
Michigan (#14) - “Requiem for a Tuesday”
LPV: 5 H: 10 L: 14 LW: 14
In Season 4, Ben and Leslie’s secret relationship comes to light, leading to Ben, in his own words, “resigning in disgrace,” to save Leslie’s job and hopefully her political aspirations. Though his actions were romantic, it still left him in a pit of despair from which even newfound hobbies could not extract him. One of these attempts was “getting deep into claymation:”
Ben: [to Chris] I’ll show you my claymation project. Okay, now I have been working pretty hard on this and I think it’s really good. So just hang onto your hat, okay? Here it goes. [he presses play, the title shows “Ben Wyatt Presents ‘Requiem for a Tuesday’”, and the video begins with the clay man standing up in bed to the opening of R.E.M.’s “Stand”... and the video abruptly ends; Ben and Chris are stumped]
Chris: Did you pause it?
Ben: No. I- Hang on. [he plays the video again and it ends as soon as it begins; Ben sighs disappointingly] Oh, my God. That’s the whole thing. [he buries his face in his hands]
Ben: You see, in my head, I thought that was really, really cool. I-I-I emailed Leslie two days ago and I compared it to “AVATAR”, Chris! And how could it not be longer??!
This is very much akin to where Michigan is at. They’ve invested deeply in Jim Harbaugh for six seasons, and now they’re at the bottom of the OTE Power Poll, the only ranking that matters. They’re also at the bottom of the Big Ten (granted, they have a lot of company this year), but this is not someplace Michigan ever thought they’d be.
Which Parks character are you? I’m definitely a Ben, and I suspect we have a lot of Bens running around our comments section. And probably some Jerrys in denial.
The Parks & Rec Character I most strongly identify with is:
This poll is closed
Someone else, perhaps Joan Callamezzo