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

Tom’s B-plot dealt more with the machine end of things -though you can imagine that they also cover his sex life too these days- as his social media dependency is put to the test after being ordered by a judge to swear off screens for a week. Is it cartoonish for a judge to create such a punishment for distracted driving? Yes. Is it too cartoonish for a judge in Pawnee? Not in the slightest. Besides, it gave Ron an excuse to bring Tom to his cabin for detox, and everyone deserves a soul searching retreat to Ron’s cabin at some point.

They run with just how much Tom relies on electronics to well beyond its comedic extent (the Parks and Rec subreddit must be over the moon right now), even going so far as to crash Ron’s car after a relapse at Best Buy. But like Ann, what starts as a seemingly silly side plot builds toward a strong emotional payoff based around the history of the character. Claiming that the internet stunts personal growth might be an easy lesson, but Tom, perhaps maybe even more so than hyper-optimist Chris, seems to be living in a delusion, so the real reflection is on what he’s avoiding, not what’s been distracting him.

Ron’s solution for Tom, reading a car fix-it manual from cover to cover, makes the real moral of the episode pretty clear: it’s better to understand and interact with a machine or a system than to become absorbed by it. In order to grow as a person, Tom has to confront the reasons why he feels that his life isn’t going anywhere, just as Leslie is compelled to fight the institutions that have frozen Pawnee’s attitude towards sex. And if you don’t ever change, it can be hard to distinguish yourself from a robot following a set programming.

Ben and April have to deal with the closest thing to a literal human robot, in the form of a congressman who sits inanimately at his desk when alone, and parrots ingratiating platitudes when filming campaign ads. The worst part is that he seems to be really well-liked as a politician, which is why Ben’s phone call with Leslie at the episode’s close is so charged. The Leslie machine he refers to is one that works its hardest for the electorate, even if it means going against their immediate wishes. That’s clearly not the brand that gets to D.C., but if there’s one thing Leslie has over all the Langman’s of the world, it’s the ability to change and adapt. If she were a machine, she’d be an adorable, waffle-loving, T-1000. Who wouldn’t want that as a congresswoman?

  • Stray Thoughts

-“There’s Barrack Obama” was a nice meta nod at the political folks the show has attracted since going to D.C. They got McCain, if we have four more seasons, will we actually see Barrack Obama, or perhaps Mitt Romney popping in?

-So You Think You Know More Than God: Look for it in the pamphlet section of your local pew.

-LeRon James is the new go-to nickname for Ron.

-Comedies that neglect to establish interesting side characters need only look at Perd’s extended appearance this week to see what they’re missing.

-Gotta love a primetime star willing to wrap a banana in a condom like it was nothing. Just approaching sex from an angle more mature than “it’s icky and weird” shows that Parks can still operate on a whole other level.