Parks and Recreation review – 5×04: ‘Sex Education’

Courtesy of NBC

Another solid outing from our fellow Pawneeans, or as Perd Hapley would prefer we call them, ‘Perdverts’. However, there are signs that the series may have hit a rough patch creatively now that we’ve seen the same conflict for the past three episodes.

Let’s break it down…

Just thinking about the A-story for this week’s episode is enough to get me laughing: Leslie (Amy Poehler) is forced to talk to the senior citizens of Pawnee about safe sex because of a rampant outbreak of STDs. And the writers and cast certainly take advantage of the opportunity to go all out, from Andy’s (Chris Pratt) almost passing out after hearing about an old man’s penis dog-legging left to Leslie’s rebellion via a shower of condoms on the city’s over-60 crowd.

The problem is that the story takes almost the exact same trajectory that it’s taken the past two episodes this season: Leslie has principles; even if popular opinion or political advantage runs counter to her principles; Leslie follows her principles anyway. This arc worked well in the past couple episodes with the soda tax and pool hours debate, helping to reestablish her idealism in the face of the greater political foes she faces as a councilwoman. But making the same basic point three episodes in a row is a bit much, and it doesn’t show us anything new about Leslie’s character. Episodes in the past that focused instead on her quirks like her hoarding habits and her tragic history with horrifying first dates have been just as sweet and funny. It’s time for the writers to shake up how they use Leslie’s new job.

Courtesy of NBC

But we do get to see a new side of Tom (Aziz Ansari) in this episode. After a judge punishes Tom for his car accident by stripping him of his electronics for a week, Ron (Nick Offerman) helps him detox and refocus by bringing him out to his cabin for a week. It isn’t often that we get to see Tom introspect, so it is nice to see that he’s actually aware of how empty his life is. Hopefully it’s a signal that Tom might actually grow a little over the next few episodes like Chris (Rob Lowe) has since he started therapy. My one quibble with this storyline is that I find it hard to believe that Ron would invite Tom to start talking about his daily technology routine, no matter how much he wants to help him detox, which, knowing Ron, isn’t all that much.

April (Aubrey Plaza) and Ben (Adam Scott) once again serve as the episode’s C-plot, and I wish that we could spend more time with them. Their candidate is finally introduced, a Congressman David Murray, who is the perfect candidate – he has no thoughts or personality outside of those given to him by his staff. I could watch them bond over making fun of Murray for a full episode, and I feel like the writers missed a golden opportunity to really run with this candidate who’s more robot than human. I mean, the guy says “Cool beans!” unironically, and this is all we get to see of him? For shame!

Other considerations:

  • It’s both sad and funny that Chris thinks of himself as Leslie’s best friend, and her reaction to his belief is priceless: “Whaaa…”
  • Can someone please direct me to where I can listen to Tom and Jean Ralphio’s “Nacho Average Podcast?”
  • Even if the plotline is pretty tired, Marcia Langman’s (Darlene Hunt) is as deliciously odious as usual, and her sexually repressed husband Marshall (Todd Sherry) is a welcome addition.

And now it’s your turn. Do you hope for a new challenge for Councilwoman Knope? Are you ready for more Congressman Murray shenanigans? And was Anne’s cowboy shirt your least favorite shirt? Sound off below!

Parks and Recreation airs Thursdays at 9:30 EST on NBC.

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