Every television show has its own version of reality that develops over weeks and weeks of episodes. Viewer expectations are tempered by these, and things that will fly in, say, Two and a Half Men won’t fly equally well in Newsradio, even if the jokes are largely the same. Parks and Recreation started off with a very The Office-style world that it quickly outgrew. One of those things that I’ve always loved about the show is how much time it spends showing the process of work. In Parks and Recreation you don’t just plan a fair one week and show it the next, rather you plan it and continue planning it and then start building it and then have problems along the way, and some time later you actually get to see it on-screen. Its reality is about process, the laborious way that things are actually achieved rather than the television shortcuts we’re so used to seeing.
The second half of this season has been devoted to the Leslie Knope city council campaign, which seems likely to continue at least until the end of the season, if not through the first half of next season. It’s a big story, and Parks and Recreation is interested in showing every step of how she succeeds or fails. This has begged the question, though, of when Leslie has had the time to do all this campaigning. The show’s rather inflexible reality, which is one of the strictest ones we’ve ever had in an American sitcom, simply says that she hasn’t. She’s been working 50 hours a week on her job and 50 a week on the campaign, and as a result neither has been going smoothly. However, she’s unwilling to go on a hiatus, convinced that she’s still doing fine despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
“Sweet Sixteen” is really about Leslie choosing to make her campaign her full-time commitment (despite 10 hours a week at the parks department, which I assume is so that the show has motivation for her to continue stopping by the office). However, the title comes from Jerry’s birthday, which comes on Feb. 29, thus making this in fact his sixteenth birthday despite him being 64 years old. Leslie believes she can plan a surprise party for him while fixing problems with her campaign at the same time. Both fail, while an amused Ron watches from the sidelines waiting for her to realize that she needs to agree to his hiatus offer.
The episode’s b-plots are smaller than they’ve been for the show in a long time, but sometimes that’s what works best for Parks and Recreation, allowing the show to jump out when it needs to for a bit of more random levity courtesy of Tom or Andy. Tom and Ann are fighting because they don’t like the same things, while April is watching drunkenly from the sidelines. That’s kind of it on that front. Meanwhile, Andy lets Chris borrow Champion and it’s immediately obvious he’s better with Champion than Andy. Unfortunately, Andy lets Champion off his leash and they spend the rest of the day searching for him and bonding. As we’ve seen from the past few episodes, it’s clear that Chris is pretty lonely after being dumped by Jerry’s daughter and he hasn’t really recovered.
No surprise, it’s a very good episode, especially since it’s so character-based. While Tom and Ann remain in the same place by the end of the episode, it was a story that had to be done at some point (the “how could these two people stay together” story) and I appreciate that it wasn’t given an entire episode to itself. These were all stories that moved the show forward, and while it wasn’t flashy, there were still some amazing jokes.
The only parts that seemed weird were the episode’s timing, considering that it was pretty clearly written for next week, which made both the references to the upcoming Feb. 29 seem odd, and the length of Tom and Ann’s relationship. Thus far it’s been just two weeks while the episode implies that there’s been at least three. However, I assume that’s just NBC doing its wacky scheduling thing, and while a bit distracting, this doesn’t affect the quality of the episode itself.
•”So now I’m fluent in German … words relating to dogs.” – Alec Baldwin himself couldn’t have done that delayed punchline line-reading better.
•I really liked the detail of Tom wearing the Tommy’s Girl hat.
•Jerry looks really good for 64. Have they mentioned his age before?
•Not loving 90s R&B music is #3 on Tom’s “oh no no” list.
•It’s always the most beautiful women who are divorced.
•I really loved April’s “Thank you alcohol” pro-drinking PSA moment.
•Champion is ridiculously fast for a three-legged dog.
•There may have been more of Ron’s gloat face here than in any other episode of the show.
•Why was Champion wearing a vest when he returned?
•Ron considers cow-skin to be “Leather on the cow.”