Any expectations that Parks and Recreation would undergo massive changes in its fifth season because of Leslie and Ben’s new positions have been largely dashed. This isn’t too much of a surprise, considering what happened to Tom’s venture at Entertainment 720. Part of what we saw there is that the show isn’t too concerned with that sort of change. Parks and Recreation is about the characters, and as a result large plot changes such as Tom founding his own company or Leslie is running a campaign for city council haven’t actually had that much effect on the show’s tone or even its characters. They just kind of bounce with it.
Because of this, what’s really determined the quality of this season’s episodes have been its minor stories and their jokes. It’s barely mattered that Ben’s been off in Washington, but what has made it a letdown is a lack of good, original stories for him. As much as I loved Benji’s Cool Times Summer Jamz Mix, we haven’t actually seen him doing anything interesting in Washington until now. Even with the addition of his candidate, we’re not hitting groundbreaking political satire, but it’s still taking things in an interesting direction the show hasn’t covered before. It seemed to inspire Adam and Aubrey’s performances, not to mention the candidate himself, who somehow made staring at a wall intriguing.
This was true with the episode’s other stories, too. Leslie’s thus far this season had been frustrating because they’d been about her learning lessons and that sort of thing, which feels like perhaps something the Leslie of four seasons ago could use but not the woman on the show now. Here we had something that seemed more suitable to her, campaigning for a cause she believes in regardless of Pawnee’s ridiculous opposition. Old people sex jokes may be easy, but they were still funny, largely due to Andy’s consistently great performance and complete bafflement at his own involvement. Like his wife in Washington, Andy’s just kind of there for some reason, making things funnier even if there’s little logic as to why.
But the best third of the episode, somehow edging out two other great stories, was Tom and Ron’s attempt to help Tom stay off computers. This felt like it was a long way in coming, but also it was great seeing Tom get some screentime and a plot that doesn’t rely on people making fun of him. As the show’s continued, he’s remained largely the same while the rest of the cast have grown more complex. It’s pat for him to say that he’s not happy with himself, but this doesn’t feel like it’s coming from nowhere. This storyline was funny and poignant and also felt like it relied on the Ron and Tom it’s taken us so long to really understand. In a way, since Leslie left Ron has been just as lost as Tom, and with any luck we’ll see more of them together as the season continues.
“Sex Education” was the first great episode of Parks and Recreation this season. The differences between it and the last three were minor, but significant, the most important of these being retaining the show’s memory of who these people are. Ben at one time seemed like a robot himself, and here he is making fun of a candidate for the same problem. That’s the type of thing the show can do at its best, not to mention supporting a good cause against ridiculous fanatics. Even the extremely minor storyline with Ann built on observations about her character and, in a way, was more important than the sex ed campaign. So welcome back, Parks and Recreation, it’s glad to see your fifth season finally hit its stride.
•The judge basically gave Tom the punishment you give a 15-year-old, grounding them for a week.
•”It’s amazing what a few old guys can do with a little bit of charm… and a lot of crabs.”
•”I am April Blart, mall cop.”
•Unprotected sex leads to “Falling in love” according to the old people.
•”It’s not my favorite shirt, but it is my least favorite shirt.”
•”There are some statistics I’d like to share with you now, and they are numbers.” – I didn’t talk about how amazing Perd is, but I think it’s because that doesn’t need mentioning. The Pier 1 joke would’ve been the episode’s best, had April Blart not made an appearance.
•”Chapter 3: There’s a Party in Your Pants and Nobody’s Invited.”
•”Are we walking to Best Buy to get a better phone?”
•”The devil likes to hide in all your nooks and crannies.”
•”I’m very confident and I make a lot of eye-contact.” – They addressed Chris’ new relationship with Leslie in like three lines, but I still felt completely satisfied.
•”Strong words from someone who is trying to pin a piece of paper to her blazer.”