TV Time: Parks and Recreation 5.04

Title Sex Education

Two-Sentence Summary Leslie’s attempts to teach Pawnee’s senior citizens about safe sex (in response to their surprisingly high rate of STDs) falter in the face of a law that prohibits anything but abstinence-only sex ed. Meanwhile, Ron tries to teach Tom to live without technology, and Ben’s congressman boss proves to be the very definition of a robotic politician.

Favorite Line “It’s not my favorite shirt, but it is my least favorite shirt.” (Donna)

Honorable Mention: “There’s a Party in Your Pants and No One Is Invited” (chapter title in the pro-abstinence pamphlet, “So You Think You Know More Than God”)

My Thoughts Now that is the Parks and Rec that I love. It wasn’t a perfect episode, but let’s face it, the bar for perfection on this show was set incredibly high with a handful of episodes in Seasons 3 and 4. However, it was an episode that used genuinely funny comedy to expose some real facts about an important issue in our country, and it had strong moments for most of my favorite characters. That’s all I really want in an episode of Parks and Rec, and I got that last night.

This episode’s A-plot was both hilarious and highly relevant (and, dare I say, educational?). I liked that the writers used real stats about sex ed and what works/doesn’t work in terms of what we teach about sex. The satire was wonderful in this episode (see the aforementioned pamphlet), and it worked because it was actually funny rather than just trying to be funny to make a point. It didn’t feel like I was being beaten over the head with a message; it felt like I was enjoying an entertaining storyline that happened to make me think about an issue.

While a couple of moments in this plot fell flat to me (I just didn’t care for the “over-the-top, closeted gay husband” part of the storyline), it provided some of the biggest laughs this show has given me so far this season: Leslie and the parks department asking Ann sex questions as if they were senior citizens; Andy’s facial expressions when the actual seniors started asking questions; the responses given by the seniors to Leslie’s question about what happens when you don’t practice safe sex (“Your partner dies on top of you!” was my personal favorite); Leslie awkwardly trying to pin her censure to her lapel…

I also loved seeing Leslie—once again—say Screw it! to antiquated rules and do what she knows is right for the town. She is a character with tremendous courage of conviction, but what I love about the way she’s written and the way Amy Poehler plays her is that we can see the struggle between that courage of conviction and the reality of the way the world works. Leslie Knope has always felt like a real person to me, with flaws and moments of self-doubt, but she also feels like a real person that I aspire to be like. Leslie’s determination to do the right thing could come off as self-righteous, but in the hands of these writers and Poehler, it comes off as earnest and admirable.

Another part of the A-plot that I genuinely enjoyed was the way Ann was used. Leslie and Ann have such a realistic friendship, and I liked seeing both the supportive side and the challenging side in this episode. Leslie calling Ann out for changing herself to fit the men she’s dating was a great moment for the show because it signaled a realization that Ann has always been a character defined by her relationships rather than by her own actions. I hope this means that we’ll get to see more of who Ann really is as a character this season.

Tom and Ron’s plot also had some genuinely great moments of comedy. Tom’s low-tech Pinterest board and iPhone were perfect little touches, and I found his daily Internet routine so relatable that I could do nothing but laugh at it. (“Every day I start by hitting up Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.”—It’s like the Parks and Rec writers know my morning routine.) I did find the idea that Tom was using the Internet to escape from his reality a little sappy, but Aziz Ansari ultimately sold it with those puppy-dog eyes of his. And I wish that Ron had more to do, but I will always love seeing him interact with people who are his polar opposites (Tom, Leslie, Andy, etc.).

While April and Ben’s plot felt a little forced in terms of comedy this week, I still loved seeing April’s reactions to Ben’s nerdy tendencies (like his question about robots eating organic matter). And “April Blart, Mall Cop,” was all kinds of fantastic. The robotic senator shtick didn’t work for me, though. I’ve said it since the season premiere, and I’ll say it again: I’m just ready for them to come back to Pawnee (but I did love Ben’s sweet reaction to Leslie’s enthusiasm at the end).

This was definitely my favorite Parks and Rec episode of this young season. Each episode has been an improvement, and this one felt the most improved of them all. I’m actually tempted to re-watch it this weekend for the details I’m sure I missed the first time around, and that is the first time I’ve felt that way this season.

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2 thoughts on “TV Time: Parks and Recreation 5.04

  1. This week felt so much more like the Parks and Rec I fell in love with. I love Leslie being on City Council, but I love her even more as Deputy Director of the Parks department. This was the first episode of the season that really made me laugh and smile the way this show normally does.

    I loved that they brought up at abstinence-only sex ed doesn’t work in a way that didn’t feel forced or like it was trying to hard to deliver a message. As a whole, this episode was so positive about safe sexuality at all ages and I really appreciated it.

    Tom really shined for me in this episode. He managed to be completely over-the-top yet remain completely relatable (at least to me!) while remaining in character. Aziz did an amazing job with this episode.

    • I’m so glad I’m not the only one who felt like this episode was a true return-to-form for the show. I’ve been waiting for an episode like this, and I’m so happy we finally got one that made me laugh like this one did.

      I’m such a huge fan of Tom, and I think that’s because Aziz really does bring a huge dose of humanity to him that keeps him grounded as a character. That was really put on display in this episode, so I’m thrilled that you loved him in it, too.

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