Parks and Recreation Recap: I Wanna (Safe) Sex You Up

Parks and Recreation

Sex Education
Season 5 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

Parks and Recreation

Sex Education
Season 5 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: Danny Feld/NBC

Hello, sex avengers. Much like Tom’s ill-fated drive, “Sex Education” began beautifully. Tom’s trek kicked off with one green light after another, as immortalized by his tweet — “Four green lights in a row. #blessed” — and last night’s episode was on fire at the start. I’m all about Tom’s tweet-by-tweet play-by-play of his car accident and the stellar lead-in to the safe sex for seniors story line, a plot which is introduced by Leslie saying, “Great news, everyone! Lots of old people have chlamydia.”

Yet, just as Tom’s voyage took a turn toward a fire hydrant, so this episode veered off into Predictable Plotland. Let’s get it on:

On the road and into the woods
Tom, like one of those burglars who posts pictures of their stolen swag on Facebook, outs himself by live-tweeting his car accident. His sign-off, “Just hit a fire hydrant, but I survived. #Unbreakable #WhatsMrGlassuptothesedays? #whynosequel?” does not amuse the judge, who decides to give Tom a punishment that fits the crime. In other words, he hits Tom with a fire hydrant while tweeting orders Tom to give up all screens for a week.

I guess Tom doesn’t actually have a job at the Parks Department because he proceeds to make paper versions of all his beloved electronics and is heartbroken when they fail to function, à la that baby who thought a magazine was a broken iPad. Seeing Tom’s pathetic dismay, Ron invites him to the Swanson off-the-grid cabin in the woods for a detox session. I’m concerned for a second that this is going down a Pretty Little Liars path toward attempted murder, but REST ASSURED, everyone makes it out alive, most likely because A is on hiatus.

Tragically, though both men survive the trip, the story is dead on arrival. All the jokes about Tom’s techno-dependency and Ron’s ability to live deliberately don’t cover any new territory, nor do they revisit old territory in an innovative way. Tom’s daylong tour down the rabbit hole of the Internet, from LinkedIn to Reddit to Wikipedia to Gchat, is a whole lot of talk for very little payoff — the payoff being his brilliant idea of using emoji to text “Whattup boo?” as “Whattup [picture of a tiny ghost]?”

Tom pretends to realize the error of his screen-addicted ways, borrows Ron’s car, and busts it up because — surprise! — he was tweeting while driving. Back at the office, he confesses to Ron: “I spend a lot of time looking at screens because recently a lot of things in my life aren’t going that great.” It would be sweet if this sudden self-awareness didn’t feel completely out of character. I always thought Tom needed to be plugged in 24-7 because of extreme, possibly crippling FOMO. That, and to manage his 26 online dating profiles. What say you, commenters?

Now, back to the vulgar sex show
Turns out the AARP crowd in Pawnee has been going at it hard, old-people-style. I want to high-five every single golden-ager in Pawnee right now. You get yours, Pawnee elderly! Geriatric? More like geriaction. These blue-haired biddies and salt-and-pepper-shakers who’ve got ED pills in their pockets and are happy to see you are ready to RUMBLEEE. Just one problem: They never had proper sex education, so STDs are spreading through Pawnee’s senior community like mono in a middle school.

Amy Poehler’s comedic timing is freaking perfect. Just go back and rewatch her say this: “It’s amazing what a few old guys can do with a little bit of charm and a lot of crabs.”

The roundtable scene that follows is fantastic. Ann gets to use her nursing skills, Andy is the just-right amount of stupid — the key here is to not go full-Lochte — and Donna, my hero, gets in the first of several all-star one-liners: “Where can I get lube that is healthy to eat?”

Leslie leads a safe-sex info panel for the old folks. Donna gets in her second notable quotable of the night — “If you encounter this scenario, simply execute the following maneuver” — but she never gets to teach us how to handle what appears to be a three-banana, one-cucumber situation (that also involves a pineapple for some reason) because Sodapop bursts in, followed by the town’s morality watchdogs, Marcia and her, ahem, “vivacious” husband, Marshall. They come bearing bad news: Pawnee law forbids all sex education, save for abstinence-only. Because if you start teaching grandpa how to put on a condom, the next thing you know, you will have babies in thong underwear.

“Is that what you want?” asks Marcia.

“Yes, that’s what I want,” deadpans Leslie, because have I mentioned Amy Poehler’s delivery is on fire tonight?

Unfortunately, the rest of this plot is also cliché central, complete with obvious mockery of Marshall’s “crazy urges” that need to be repressed. Even the usually reliable Perd falls flat; the joke that his fans are called “Perdverts” sounds like a bad copy of the 30 Rock bit about Liz Lemon’s invented religion, Lizbianism.

By the time Ann and Leslie have a fight, causing Leslie to reorient her moral compass and Ann to dump yet another boyfriend the show isn’t invested in enough to bring onscreen, the story ends where you think it will. Leslie decides to fight against the antiquated laws of her town, striving to provide sex education and, at the very least, free condoms for all of Pawnee. “States that teach abstinence-only have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs. To continue this policy is insane,” she declares as she Hester “Pins” her censure to her blazer with pride.

Meanwhile, in Washington …
All I will say about April, Ben, and Congressman Robot is that it’s great to see Ben and April’s camaraderie, and I like April’s robot voice, and also this exchange happened:

April: [The Congressman] is a robot.

Ben: He’s not a robot. He’s just thinking. He’s got a lot on his mind.

April: Yeah, like “1-1-0-1-must-eat-babies-for-fuel.”

Ben: Why would a robot need to consume organic matter?

Kids, grown-ups, sexually overactive old people, I wanted to love this episode. But I got the annoying feeling that the writers started from their messages — we’re addicted to technology; abstinence-only education is anachronistic and ineffective; politicians are robots — and worked backward to make a story, instead of making the story be the engine and letting the messages emerge organically. Still, the weaker scenes are saved by the unassailable charm of Amy Poehler. Or should I say, Loose-ly Grope.

BEST DONNA MOMENT: Regarding Ann, who is wearing a cowgirl-style button-down like it’s not her first time at the rodeo: “It’s not my favorite shirt, but it is my least favorite shirt.” [Drops mic.]

Parks and Rec Recap: I Wanna (Safe) Sex You Up