Parks and Recreation might be a sunny, silly sitcom, but it’s surprisingly good fodder for fan theories. Pawnee, Indiana’s small town quirks, from the Zorp-worshipping cult to the horrifying art in city hall, lend themselves perfectly to crackpot ideas. Is Jerry a sleeper agent? Did Ron leave behind a treasure map? Anything’s fair game, but we know at least one thing to be true: Jean-Ralphio is definitely the son of Stranger Things's Steve Harrington. Here are 10 other wild ideas.
1. LESLIE KNOPE IS FILTHY RICH.
Working in the public sector of Pawnee, Indiana, doesn’t seem like a lucrative gig, yet Leslie (Amy Poehler) always seems to have money for extravagant gifts. She gives Ben (Adam Scott) a painstakingly replicated Iron Throne, all her girlfriends get custom art for Galentine’s Day, and she gives Ann (Rashida Jones) presents on each of her made-up holidays—including, but not limited to, “Breakfast Day.” Reddit speculates that Leslie inherited a large sum of money when her father died or is living off a trust fund. Because how else could she pay for Ron’s (Nick Offerman) fantasy trip to Scotland?
2. MARK BRENDANAWICZ IS DEAD.
Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider) was a key player in the first two seasons of Parks and Recreation, serving as a love interest for Leslie and then Ann. But at the end of season two, he quits his job as city planner and is never seen or heard from again. No one even mentions him. This is pretty strange, considering how frequently the show revisits side characters like Tammy II (Megan Mullally) or Greg Pikitis (Cody Klop). Tumblr has a simple, bleak explanation: he died. This theory suggests Mark ended his life, which is why no one talks about it, or that “it was the Illuminati.”
3. JERRY GERGICH WAS A CULT LEADER.
Remember the Reasonablists? They’re Pawnee’s resident doomsday cult. The Reasonablists believe Zorp is coming to destroy the world, although they’ve been wrong about that many, many times. It’s safe to say this cult is error-prone. You know who else is error-prone? Jerry Gergich (Jim O'Heir). One wild fan theory claims that Jerry was the original leader of the Reasonablists, back when they materialized in the 1970s. He’s the right age for it and, more importantly, he’s very good at winning people over. Despite all their insults, Leslie and her team still love and support Jerry. He also managed to get Christie Brinkley ("Gayle") to marry him! Jerry eventually becomes an incredibly popular mayor, as we see in the flash-forwards. Did his old cult turn out the vote in his favor? We may never know.
4. RON SWANSON'S WILL IS ACTUALLY A TREASURE MAP.
In his original “will,” Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) left all his possessions to “the man or animal who has killed me.” It was handwritten on a scrap of paper, with a bunch of random symbols above the signature. (Here’s a close-up.) Reddit thinks those symbols aren’t so random; they’re clues pointing to Ron’s buried gold. The whole thing is pretty complicated, but basically, the loot is in an old pioneer grave and Ron expected his killer to bury him on Deadman’s Island.
5. PAWNEE IS CURSED.
As we’ve learned from the gruesome paintings hanging in Pawnee City Hall, the area has a dark history. The Wamapoke Tribe members were slaughtered indiscriminately by the first Pawnee settlers, leaving behind just a few descendants, like Chief Ken Hotate (Jonathan Joss). But Ken is doing pretty well—and so are the rest of the Wamapoke. They have a prosperous casino and great government connections. Meanwhile, the rest of Pawnee is struggling, as the frequent budget cuts and flailing city officials make clear. Some fans believe the Wamapoke cursed Pawnee, ensuring wealth for their people and doom for their oppressors.
6. ANDY DWYER IS ANDY FROM TOY STORY.
The evidence here is pretty damning: Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) and Andy from Toy Story share the same first name. They have a mutual enthusiasm for guitars. They’re both playful and childish (in Toy Story Andy’s case, because he’s literally a child). Could Andy Dwyer be the grown-up version of Buzz and Woody’s best friend? It sure sounds like it, especially when you consider his dream of becoming a cop. Maybe because his favorite toys growing up were a space ranger and sheriff?!
7. ANN PERKINS IS IN THE WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAM.
This theory has to do with Rashida Jones’s pre-Parks gig as Karen Filippelli on The Office. The story goes that Karen ended up being a star witness in the Scranton Strangler trial. Due to the case’s high profile, she entered the witness protection program. They sent her to the tiny town of Pawnee, Indiana, with a new alias: Ann Perkins.
8. BEN WYATT BUILT ICE TOWN BECAUSE OF A KINK.
Ice Town is a pretty dumb idea, even for a teen mayor. But teens do dumb things when their hormones kick in, and we know from his roller rink birthday party that Ben has a thing for women on skates. Did he bankrupt his hometown just to see a bunch of ladies on skates? It’s not not possible.
9. JERRY IS A SLEEPER AGENT.
If Jerry isn’t a cult leader, he’s definitely a sleeper agent. Think about it: He’s got tons of skills, from piano playing to painting. He has a beautiful, unbelievably perfect family. He managed to snag a government job, where he has access to all sorts of sensitive information, even though he’s supposedly incompetent. And he gets very anxious when his coworkers decide to dig up dirt on each other. Fans think the entire Gergich family is in on the act, making their Christmas parties all the more sinister.
10. JEAN-RALPHIO’S REAL DAD IS STEVE FROM STRANGER THINGS.
Just look at them! The family resemblance is uncanny, but people have put serious thought into this hilarious theory. Stranger Things, like Parks and Rec, takes place in Indiana. If Steve and Nancy got unexpectedly pregnant soon after the events of the show, their kid would be Jean-Ralphio’s age. They probably wouldn’t be equipped to parent, considering all the trauma they’ve been through. So what if Steve’s older brother came back from medical school and took the baby in? Enter Dr. Saperstein, who’s suddenly a tragic figure. No wonder he spoils Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz) rotten: He knows his real dad is in the psych ward.