The city of Pawnee in Parks and Recreation might not be real, but the citizens are very much real throughout the United States. In spirit, at least. Working in any kind of customer-facing or public position will put you into interactions with hundreds throughout the day, and that’s when you realize that a lot of people aren’t as smart as they want you to believe.
Throughout Parks and Rec, the main cast interacts with the citizens of Pawnee through various public forums and run-ins. Without fail, every single time the citizens of Pawnee speak it just makes everything in the town make more sense. They’re gullible, usually clueless, and generally some of the biggest idiots on television. So, in honor of life increasingly imitating art, here are the best moments from the people of Pawnee.
One of the earliest examples of the average Pawnee intelligence, in season one a local Pawnee woman offers her complaint about one of the parks- her dog ate another dog’s poop. Now she wants to sue Pawnee, go figure. Dogs will eat anything, even if it doesn’t look edible or appetizing. Don’t put it past them.
Who’s Gonna Stop Al-Qaeda?
When the Pawnee government shut down due to a budget issue, some of the people in town don’t understand what that means. Leading to the classic “If the government is shut down then who’s going to stop Al Queda?” from one of the attendees at the town hall. Maybe Eagleton has WMDs.
One of the best guest roles of the series sees Will Forte as a very loving, very desperate father who just wants his kid to think he’s cool. Good intent, weird way of going about it as he does his best to get the Twilight books put into the Pawnee time capsule. The entire episode leads to him cuffing himself in Leslie’s office for a few days, and eventually getting his way.
When Leslie goes on a campaign against the nutrition (or lack thereof) in Sweetum’s food and drinks, nobody in town is happy about it. During a town hall to take opinions, multiple people make their displeasure known by asking questions like “If sugar is bad then why did Jesus make it taste good?”
Bonus points go to the bit about corn syrup. Flawless delivery.
This comes from the time capsule episode with Will Forte but has one of the most well-timed jokes in the entire series. When taking recommendations for books, Leslie mentions that no religious items should make it since it’s a government project. To which the immediate suggestion from a townsperson is “I think we should put in a Bible!”. Just perfect timing and delivery.
What’s Going On?
After April goofs and puts all of Ron’s meetings on the same day, she takes a new approach to not scheduling anyone to see him. Instead offering up days she knows are fake and gives them to a man asking for Ron. As April leans harder into the bit, the man starts looking around scared as if everything is breaking down.
The cherry on top is April looking back at Ron and getting his slight nod of approval.
The Soda Tax
“If the government starts taxing soda what comes next, income tax?” is not something you should say to a government worker, out of all people. During the soda tax episode when Leslie and Ann host a town hall to take complaints, they find one person who isn’t quite sure how taxes work.
The snooty asshats in Eagleton put up a fence to separate their border from Pawnee, which leads Leslie to seek assistance from the public. When the first attendee suggests burning down the fence and gets informed that arson is illegal. His response? “Let’s let the lawyers decide that.”. Legend.
The retirement home is a recurring area in Parks and Rec, showing up on occasion when anyone needs the senior citizen vote or like this episode where Leslie tries to lead a sexual education course for them. It’s here where the entire Parks department finds out more than they want to know.
Seriously, these are like the horniest old people on television. The seniors were constantly talking about how many partners they had and their escapades inside the retirement home. The entire sequence is just comedy gold as our main characters become horrified.
Mel is a Pawnee regular, showing up across the series as one of the grumpiest guys in town. There comes a point in one episode where Mel has been visible but quiet at a town meeting, only for Leslie to prod him into responding. He’s short, he’s angry, and he’s usually got a problem with something or someone. Leslie knows, and she uses it to turn the tables on Mel for a little bit of revenge.
When Ron gets his circle desk he sees the opportunity to further ignore the general public by spinning and making them chase him around the table. The star of the complaints he receives is this woman, who says she used the water out of a sprinkler to make tea despite the sign saying not to drink the water, earning herself a staph infection for her dumb idea.
The sheer desperation of the woman chasing Ron in a circle as she explains how dangerous it is compared to Nick Offerman’s deadpan expression as he spins is laughable from start to finish.
“I found a sandwich on the ground in one of YOUR parks and I want to know why there wasn’t any mayonnaise in it!”
Everyone has had the experience of someone causing their own problems but trying to make it part of your job. This is just such a perfect summation of the customers and people that will go out of their way to make a problem- even eating a sandwich on the ground to complain about the toppings. Imagine how long that sandwich had been there…
Harris Wittels was a comedy genius gone too soon. Playing Harris the animal control worker on the show, he demanded a topless park and got the whole town on board with the idea at one town hall. His performances as Harris were always a treat when he showed up, bringing some strange humor into the mix while also being a regular writer on the show. Harris passed away in 2015, just days before the show’s finale which was posthumously dedicated to him.
The Pawnee citizens somehow managed to be both stupid and endearing, often at the same time. While some could be obnoxious and some were just plain uncomfortable (most that hit on Ann), they all came together to turn Parks and Rec into the sitcom classic it’s become known as today, eight years after airing the final episode. Hopefully, the citizens of Pawnee got smarter over time after the show ended, but it’s doubtful.