Parks and Rec Recap: ‘Sweet Sixteen’

With news of Parks and Rec’s sabbatical this week, it seemed kind of eerie that the newest episode of the show would follow Ron forcing Leslie into a sabbatical of her own. The show will be taking five weeks off to make space for Community starting next month, but don’t fret: Parks and Rec doesn’t seem to be in any real danger of cancelation.

It’s a rare Jerry-centric episode this week on Parks and Recreation, with the most despised man in the office figuring into the plot in a larger way than usual. I’m beginning to wonder how much longer this running joke about Jerry being hated/unlucky can stay funny and fresh. Don’t get me wrong; the jokes at Jerry’s expense have provided for some of the show’s funniest moments and have been an important part of the show since first being establish in the Season 2 episode, “Practice Date,” which I’d argue was the first great episode of Parks and Recreation (thanks to the staff’s competition to dig up dirt on each other and the first appearance of Duke Silver). I don’t think the gag has gotten stale yet. There were some enoyable Jerry moments here (particularly that his birthday is on February 29 of a Leap Year and his bathing ritual), but there are only so many variations on the ‘picking on Jerry thing’ and I just feel like the shelf life might run up eventually.

“Sweet Sixteen” takes place on one of Jerry’s rare birthdays (he’s just turned 64*, but, because of the Leap Year, it’s only his 16th actual birthday), and Leslie plans to make up for forgetting about his special day by throwing him a party at Donna’s family’s secret lake house. A batch of mixed-up campaign signs from the Dumbest Sign Maker in the World throws everything off track and makes Leslie, Ron, and Jerry late to Jerry’s own party. It’s an entertaining A-story with a strong focus on Leslie and Ron’s relationship, arguably the show’s most effective pairing in terms of both humor and emotional depth.

Meanwhile, Ann and Tom’s relationship is still plodding along, despite being at the brink of destruction at every turn. Ann and Tom have vastly different personalities, so it only makes sense that they’d still be getting used to all of the things they don’t have in common. Ann’s lack of familiarity with the 90s R&B superstar Ginuwine pushes Tom’s buttons and cause him to spout off a series of funny pet peeves he has about Ann, which prompts her to blow up and express her frustrations with him. Ann and Tom’s relationship doesn’t make much sense on paper, but I’m glad the writers and performers have found a funny and realistic way to play it.

Tom’s such an absurd character that he’s at his best when he has a good straight man to ground him.** Ann is, by far, the straightest character on the show, and it’s nice to see Tom have someone so normal he can consistently spar with because it allows for him to get even weirder. I’m not sure how long Ann and Tom will be able to stay together, but the constant friction between the two of them has been amusing and well-played so far.

Not to be forgotten are Chris and Andy, who spend the episode comparing their dog-rearing techniques. Chris and Andy are both pretty positive people, but they’re coming from totally different places and it’s fun to see the contrast. The dog plotline fit nicely into the ongoing story of Chris’s post-breakup mental breakdown, and I can’t wait to see if he’ll bottom out or not.

“Sweet Sixteen” is another episode that does what Parks and Rec does best – pairing up its characters and exploring their relationships with one another. We got a plotline featuring a tried-and-true pair (Leslie and Ron), two characters who are exploring a new relationship together (Ann and Tom), and a duo we don’t get to see very often (Andy and Chris). With only two more episodes to go before Parks and Rec’s forced hiatus, let’s savor this show’s outstanding character comedy while it lasts.

*I had trouble believing that Jerry’s character was 64. Actor Jim O’Heir, who plays Jerry, was only 49 when the episode was filmed and is 50 now. Though, it was necessary for the Sweet Sixteen theme, and Jerry being significantly older than he looks goes well with the Charlie Brown-ness of his character.

**Tom’s best moments, in my eyes, have been when he’s playing off of Ben or Ron. Although Ron’s capable of being as ridiculous as Tom, his calm and straight-forward nature (and Nick Offerman’s acting chops) also make him a gifted straight man.

Miscellanea:

  • This episode was written by Norm Hiscock and directed by series co-creator Michael “Mose” Schur. Hiscock is the former head writer of The Kids in The Hall and he also served stints on the writing staffs of King of the Hill and on the Will Ferrell era of SNL. He’s been with Parks and Rec as a writer and producer since the beginning and is one of the most accomplished writers on the show’s staff. Schur typically directs one episode of Parks and Rec a season, and as usual, this was a good one.
  • I’m glad they’re continuing to use Champion the three-legged dog a lot because it gives me an excuse to use the phrase “Champion the three-legged dog.” Fun stuff.
  • What did everyone else think of the episode? Will you ever get tired of Jerry being the butt of everyone’s jokes?

    Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

    Parks and Rec Recap: ‘Sweet Sixteen’