Going at it hard, old people style
I’m glad to be writing about Parks and Rec with you. Even though we are a little late to the game for this season, it will be fun.
Quickly recapping the ideas that happened this season so far: Ben and April are in D.C., generally being hilarious. Leslie is dealing with the difficulty of being a City Councilwoman. Ron and the rest of the crew are keeping the Parks department mostly the same except with Ron running the show instead of Leslie.
This main story this week is about sex. Specifically, “Going at it hard, old people style.” I’ve always thought that Parks and Rec has done a really good job of staying fairly non-partisan. It’s seemed to skew to the left, and “Sex Education” was one of the more partisan episodes. Even though the argument is ridiculous, there are plenty of people who believe that abstinence-only sex ed is the way to go. I almost feel like this episode could be reflected by Leslie’s reaction during the abstinence-only seminar: saying screw it and throwing condoms to everybody in the crowd. Maybe the writers and Michael Schur decided that it is just too ridiculous of a thing to not be OK taking a somewhat partisan stand.
That being said, I thought this episode was really funny. It seemed a little more contrived (especially Tom’s punishment of “no-screens” for a week) than other episodes, but once the stories were set-up, they were great. I love the show’s ability to split it’s ensemble cast into parts and explore the different relationships. With Ron and Tom being polar opposites, its fairly easy to highlight the humor of them interacting together, but I thought they did it really well. I think strong writing and moments of sincerity have given the show its ability to keep characters like Tom, April, Andy, and Ron from being too static (I think Chris might be somewhat stuck from a character development standpoint). Tom stays funny because he does things like call Ron, “LeRon James” and cry out, “I got stung by the wood!”
One of my favorite things about the season so far is the April/Ben dynamic. I think both characters had become a little stale in their relationships with Andy and Leslie respectively, but removing them and putting them together has given them a little more ability to stretch out as characters. We have seen sincerity from April before, and we’ve seen Ben be willing to let loose too. But, they each give each other the option to grow in that aspect. While their storyline this week was fairly simple and straightforward, their interactions were still really funny. Especially, April’s attempt to match the Congressman’s plastic like introduction with “I’m April Blart, Mall Cop.”
I’ll let you handle the rest of the questions, Daniel, namely, “Are you there, Perd-verts?”
I think it’s pronounced “horny,”
I’m excited to be covering the show with you as well. Parks and Recreation’s second season was one of the biggest leaps in quality I’ve seen a comedy make over a short period of time since the US version of The Office*, and what followed was even better. At its best, particularly in sustained story arcs like the Harvest Festival and last season’s City Council election, it’s a fantastic mix of imaginative, Simpsons-like satirical world-building, extremely likable, slightly larger-than-life characters, and real emotional stakes.
*It’s weird to recall now that Parks and Rec co-creators Greg Daniels and Mike Schur were originally commissioned to run an Office spin-off. While that idea thankfully fell by the wayside, I wasn’t alone in finding Leslie Knope’s Michael Scott-like qualities off-putting during Season One. The writers’ and Amy Poehler’s decision to embrace Leslie’s maniacal devotion to local government as a largely positive quality marked a turning point for the show and the character. Several years and countless amazing Leslie moments later, she’s one of my favorite characters on TV, a magnificently quirky comedic superhero that embodies Schur and Co.’s optimistic take on government institutions and how people can work towards progress through (and/or in spite of) them.
Parks and Recreation has been so consistently (and deservedly) lauded for its structural ambition and commitment to plot and major character development that it’s almost possible to lose sight of what a consistent joke machine it is. This episode was heavily skewed towards the show’s cartoonish side, blending broad, goofy satire with some playful character-based riffing. I don’t think there’s a judge in the country that would come up with a sentence like Tom’s weeklong ban on screens, but the setup is more than justified by Tom’s irrational, absolutely perfect response: “Nooo, please, send me to jail!” I had a good time watching Tom take Ron on a verbal tour of the internet (also amazing: Jerry types “Please take me to yahoo.com” into AltaVista to access his email account in a great Season 3 callback). Ron and Tom are polar opposites in a lot of ways, but one of Ron’s strengths as a character is that he’s a natural comedic foil for most of the central cast: Leslie, Andy, Chris, and Tom are all the anti-Ron in their own way, while April becomes his accomplice in misanthropy. More reasonable characters like Ben or Ann don’t typically elicit the strongest reactions from Ron, which the show joked about last season by suggesting that Ron didn’t know who Ann Perkins was.
In the main storyline, Leslie comes into conflict with both the Pawnee government and the Society for Family Stability Foundation — which may or may not consist solely of spokescouple Marcia and Marshall Langman — through her sex education initiative for elderly citizens, which violates Pawnee’s unrestricted Abstinence-Only Education laws. While Marcia has turned up before to protest things like the Twilight books and Jerry’s awesome painting of Leslie, I think this is the first time we’ve met her husband Marshall, a “vivacious” man who waited until well after marriage to have sex and is fond of rapping about abstinence. We also saw Ann continue to dress like an Annie Oakley-Pippi Longstocking love-child in “Sex Education’s” most realistic, down-to-earth subplot.
It’s interesting to hear you bring up partisanship on Parks and Recreation, because I think the show’s take on politics should theoretically appeal to a broad spectrum of Americans. The show’s full of topical content, but it tends to sidestep most partisan controversy by framing issues in an exaggerated context such as this week’s debate over whether old people should get to learn about condoms. As was the case this week, Leslie often comes off like the only sane person in the room, which allows the show to ridicule the media (which calls Leslie “Loosely Grope”) and the inefficiency of the political process itself (see: pretty much every public assembly they’ve ever done). This gives Parks and Rec a very open, inclusive sense of humor that, unlike that of Community or 30 Rock, seems on the surface like it should connect with more people than the current viewership of the show. I think there’s a lot of potential Perd-Verts out there just waiting to be exposed to something special.
Speaking of which, I just realized why there’s a pineapple on that table.
Until next time, just remember: There’s A Party In Your Pants And No One Is Invited.