By Alex Rice
Screengrab via NBC Not pictured: The Li'l Sebastian hologram.
The offbeat workplace sitcom Parks and Recreation has always found humor in the dullness of government work, and it also celebrates the world of music. From '90s hitmakers like Ginuwine and Letters to Cleo to indie-rock heavyweights the Decemberists and Jeff Tweedy to Pawnee's own Mouse Rat and Duke Silver, musical subplots were constantly on the horizon. Just think what the show might've been ifthe RZA been chosen to play Leslie Knope.
That's enough eulogizing, though, especially since there's still two episodes to go. After making it clear that this whole thing is a massive spoiler alert, let's take a look at the ten best onscreen musical moments in Parks and Rec history.
|Screengrab via NBC|
10. Andy, Mark and April play Lit's "My Own Worst Enemy" on Rock Band 2 (Season 1, Episode 2 - "Canvassing")
Much like its mockumentary forefather The Office, Parks and Recreation's six-episode first season took on a different tone, chronicling an uncomfortable group of acquaintances-by-circumstance and the boring government jobs they hated. Among a few early goofball moments, however, was when deputy parks director Leslie Knope and her new nurse friend, Ann Perkins, walked in on Ann's boyfriend Andy Dwyer, dearly departed city planner Mark Brendanawicz and Andy's future wife April Ludgate playing Lit's "My Own Worst Enemy" on Rock Band 2 when they were supposed to be working.
At this point Dwyer was sitting on the couch all day with a broken leg, losing iPods and chopsticks in his cast, and headed for a stint of homelessness. Add in the fact that he would have been eighteen when the frat-rock favorite was released in 1999, and there's no better tune for him to sing poorly than this one.
|Screengrab via NBC|
It's revealed that Donna is related to the '90s star when coworker and lover of R&B Tom Haverford visits her house and sees a platinum Ginuwine record hanging on the wall and a picture of the cousins on the mantle. "The Ginuwine is your cousin?" Haverford exclaims, leading then-girlfriend Ann Perkins to ask who the singer is. He then tells the camera about his "Oh No No" list for dating and how "not loving '90s R&B music" is the No. 3 reason for ending a relationship. The rant is almost enough to forgive the show for pairing him up with Perkins, a rare misstep by the Parks writers.
8. Andy Dwyer Lists His Band's Former Names (Season 1, Episode 6 - "Rock Show")
It's a small miracle that Andy Dwyer's band ever got any traction in the Pawnee music scene, considering how often it changed its moniker.
"The band has had a few different names over the years," Andy tells the camera in the first season's finale, before rattling off a list of punny erstwhile identities including Department of Homeland Obscurity, God Hates Figs, Malice in Chains, 2 Doors Down and Threeskin. Chris Pratt claims he went through around 200 fake band names during filming, half of them improvised. His bandmates were known as Scarecrow Boat at this point, but of course it would become famous in the real world as Mouse Rat.
7. Andy Becomes a Children's Musician (Various)
Getting paid to play Craig Middlebrooks' nephew's birthday party unlocked yet another persona in the life of Andy Dwyer: Johnny Karate. From then on, Karate brought laughter to children with songs about boogers and other important topics, impressed Scott Tanner (Jeff Tweedy) enough to prompt a Land Ho! reunion, and eventually parlayed the character into a TV program called The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show. That show came to an end in last week's episode as Andy and wife April prepare to move to Washington, D.C., so add the musical goodbye, "The Johnny Karate Way," to the list of sweet but painful goodbyes from this final Parks and Rec season.
During a modified version of The Newlywed Game called Know Ya Boo, Andy is asked which rock star April "would bang" if she had the chance. "This is almost too easy -- me," Andy answers. Then, his boo holds up a dry-erase board with Neutral Milk Hotel leader Jeff Mangum's name on it, much to the Mouse Rat frontman's chagrin. "Their music is sad and depressing and weird," Andy says. "And art is supposed to be happy and fun, and everyone knows that."
|Screengrab via NBC|
The best quote of the episode, and a contender for top honors of the whole series, comes courtesy of audiophile Ben: "I specifically requested elliptical cartridges for the turntables. How am I supposed to keep my Hüsker Dü albums in near-mint condish?" Of course, this is not a stretch for the Minnesota-bred character, who hosted a swing-themed radio show called Zoot Suit Wyatt while attending Carleton College in Northfield.
4. Ben Is a Huge R.E.M. Fan (Various)
While we're at it, there are tons of other R.E.M. references that color Ben Wyatt's existence. Most notoriously, there was the time where he spent three weeks unemployed creating a two-second claymation video that was soundtracked by "Stand." "How can it not be longer?" an incredulous Ben asks as he comes apart at the seams in season four episode "Campaign Ad."
In the season five episode "Women in Garbage," Tom uses Ben's fandom to get his attention, bringing us this hilarious exchange:
Ben: "OK, I know this text you sent me was a lie and Michael Stipe is not actually here, correct?"
Tom: "Correct. That was a lie."
Ben: "Yeah. No, I knew it was. I just couldn't live with myself if it had been true."
There's also the season six episode "Filibuster," in which Leslie throws a '90s-themed birthday party for Ben at a roller rink. "Get this," he says. "I asked the DJ what R.E.M. albums he has. He's got Monster but not Automatic for the People. What is this, a mid-'90s party? No, it's an early '90s party!"
3. Mouse Rat debuts "5,000 Candles in the Wind" (Season 3, Episode 16 - "Li'l Sebastian")
The Harvest Festival ended up serving as Li'l Sebastian's extended funeral, featuring a overly dramatic video tribute by Tom and business partner Jean-Ralphio that was somehow outdone in theatrics by Mouse Rat's "5,000 Candles in the Wind." The band's greatest song was debuted at this tribute to the little guy, inspiring all of Pawnee to break out their electric candles.
The best moments of this performance of the song are Chris and Ron holding their candles aloft and to their chest, respectively, both looking as if they're praising the heavens from a mega-church. You know you were the real deal when you've got Ron Swanson ready to weep into his long-sleeve polo.
|Screengrab via NBC|
Mark Brendanawicz makes one of his most lasting contributions to the show by informing Tom about Ron's alter ego, who performs at a bar in Eagleton the second Thursday of every month. Tom is told to visit "an old friend of Ron's" at Cozy's Bar. One of the most hilarious non-verbal moments in the entire series is Tom's puzzled look to the camera after Duke lists the three albums he has available -- Smooth as Silver, Hi Ho Duke and Memories of Now. Mouse Rat's The Awesome Album is available for download, but we're still waiting for Memories of Now.
1. The Unity Concert Brings an All-Star Musical Cast to Pawnee (Season 6, Episode 20 - "Moving Up")
The parks department's Unity Concert brings together former rivals Pawnee and Eagleton, but it also put the Decemberists, Yo La Tengo and Jeff Tweedy on the same bill as briefly reunited '90s alt-rockers Letters to Cleo and, because Donna was able to pull a couple strings, Ginuwine.
Tweedy fronts the fictional local heroes Land Ho!, while Yo La Tengo portrays a Night Ranger cover band called Bobby Knight Ranger and rocks out on "Sister Christian." The Decemberists' "The Crane Wife 3" serves as a beautiful soundtrack to Leslie planning out her future as a regional director for the National Park Service, a true ascent-of-the-mountain in terms of the series' story arc.
The penultimate moment of this sixth season finale, though, is when all five acts are brought out by Andy and Mouse Rat to perform "5,000 Candles in the Wind." The fact that the same song had been used to close out the third season didn't cheapen the moment at all, especially since the concert committee found a Coachella-sized budget for a hilarious Li'l Sebastian hologram and Ron finally stepped out in public as Duke Silver for a touching sax solo.
The Parks and Recreation series finale airs tonight on NBC.
RFT MUSIC'S GREATEST HITS
The 15 Most Ridiculous Band Promo Photos Ever "Where Did My Dick Go?" The Gathering of the Juggalos' Best Overheard Quotations I Pissed Off Megadeth This Week, My (Former) Favorite Band The Top Ten Ways to Piss Off Your Bartender at a Music Venue
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.