Parks and Recreation Review: “Sex Education” (Season 5, Episode 4)

Sex and robots: two things that pretty much have nothing in common, and probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think of rural Indiana. That wasn’t the case tonight on Parks and Recreation, as plenty arguing over the former, coupled with insight into everyday versions of the latter, made “Sex Education” an early contender for the season’s best episode. Were it not for Leslie’s new responsibilities as city councillor affecting her role in Pawnee’s war on contraception, you might mistake “Sex Education” as being a lost script from the golden run between mid season two and mid season four.

The big thing separating an episode that has Leslie throwing condoms at old people and Tom in twitter-withdrawal, from say, last week’s shenanigans involving wild hairdos and power struggles over toilets, is that “Sex Education” had everyone doing their best to act sane in an insane situation, rather than the opposite. Lesser episodes rely on Leslie and company acting out of character, or a goofy tack-on bit to supply the laughs, but great ones keep all the characterizations intact, while telling a story that’s both funny and heartfelt, which “Sex Education” does capably. Plus, we got to see Andy react to old people having sex, so it was pretty much automatically going to be a B at least.

Like many of the best stories that come from Pawnee, the town itself was as much a player as the Parks department. The pervading oddness of Pawnee’s residents has always made for hilarious contrast against its small town conservatism, so it makes sense that a pair like Marsha and Marshall Langman are leading the charge in keeping people ignorant to the mechanics of contraception, safe sex, and all the ways the devil tries to get in and out of your privates. Leslie’s passionate love for Pawnee is similarly at odds with how frequently she tends to make enemies there, but this time, it’s Ann who’s most offended by the Langmans shutting down a sex-ed class for the elderly.

What’s great about this switch-up is that it incorporates Leslie’s job as city councillor in a realistic manner -fighting a law against sex education that’s supported by 85% of the citizens is politically dangerous-, and also lets Ann take a more engaged role in the A-plot. True, she spends most of the episode looking like she wants to square dance with the Langmans instead of tango, but again, the difference between cowboy clothes and Leslie’s half-perm from last week is that Ann’s wardrobe was used for character development instead of just a gag. Ann inspires Leslie to break out of coasting with the system by acknowledging her own tendency to go on autopilot when dating someone new.

Leslie’s ability to recognize the evidence in front of her and let it shape her opinion, even towards something counter to her original thinking, is what makes her the kind of person we want to root for, and the Langmans a pair of uncompromising nutjobs (regardless of how good Marshall might be at keyboard. Parks still isn’t directly political in terms of a party, but it does support basic reasoning, and so Leslie chooses to fight against what the townspeople will accept when her gut (and overwhelming statistical evidence)  says abstinence prevents STDs and pregnancy as well as tweeting while driving prevents car wrecks.

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