It might be hard to remember now, but the fifth season of Parks and Recreation ended with a cliffhanger. Andy (Chris Pratt) found a pregnancy test, and viewers didn’t know who was going to have a baby.
The sixth season started, and the woman in question turned out to be Diane Lewis (Lucy Lawless)—yes, Ron Swanson was going to be a dad.
On a sitcom like Parks and Recreation, there tends to be a clear line between the especially over-the-top minor characters (from Jean-Ralphio to councilman Jamm) and the more stable leads (Leslie Knope, Ben Wyatt). For most of the show’s history, Ron Swanson has been moving from the first category into the second. This season, he fully arrived—kid in tow, miraculously not leaving his quirks behind.
Ron’s a perennially good character on the show, whether he’s pondering a meat tornado or doing some typing, but it took us a while to decide whether he’d be the Parks and Rec character we wanted to submit for this year’s 25 best on television. Donna, for instance, grew a lot this season. We met her “terrible” ex-boyfriend and saw a little more of her connection with Leslie. Tom matured as a businessman and even managed to have a semi-successful opening night at his restaurant. Heck, when we had to say goodbye to Ann Perkins—beautiful, wonderful Ann—and Chris Traeger, it was painful enough to make us literally want to vote them in, too.
But it was with the loss of Ann—Leslie’s closest friend—that we realized how much the park supervisor needed someone to balance her mania. Ron, radical as he is, ended up bringing that balance. He’s became a surprisingly trustworthy source of advice and a good old-fashioned shoulder to lean on.
There are other forces causing Ron to expand his worldview as well—most notably, his new baby (also, the iron will of a warrior princess wife). Parks and Recreation has often dealt with the idea of responsibility, civic or otherwise, and Ron’s attempts to deal with that mark a new way to explore the concept. In “Pawnee-Eagleton Tip Off Classic,” for example, he realized he couldn’t just disappear off the grid now that he has kids.
The challenge wasn’t just learning how to take care of someone else (see: season 6’s “Galentine’s Day” episode), but doing so while retaining a sense of fun. Ron didn’t become a total fuddy-duddy. He still got to keep his letters to Canada, his trips to Scottish distilleries, and his smoother-than-smooth saxophone solos (even if they were, for the most part, incognito).
To that end, Ron’s arc encapsulated the show in a character—and if that isn’t the makings of a great TV character, then we don’t know what is. Head over to our list of the 25 best characters and then go vote for Ron. If you’ve got some impassioned defense of anyone from Tom to Larry/Garry/Jerry/Terry, sound off in the comments!