At at certain point, once I’ve watched a series for long enough, I become familiar enough with it that I can enjoy just spending time with its characters for half an hour every week. I reached that point with Parks and Recreation a long time ago, some time in the middle of season 2. As down as I’ve been on the show this season, hanging out with Leslie and the gang usually brings me some measure of joy. “Sweet Sixteen” was about as “hangout-y” as P & R can get, so even though I don’t think any of its plot lines worked particularly well, it was still an enjoyable episode.
Jerry-bashing is one of those things that you’re either on board with or not. I tend not to find it very funny, so I was a little apprehensive about an episode that was ostensibly going to feature Jerry heavily. Fortunately, the bulk of the episode was devoted to the idea that Leslie was having trouble juggling both her campaign and her job, with Ron encouraging her to take a sabbatical so that she could concentrate her energies on the campaign. This was a great episode for Nick Offerman, who did a wonderful job of playing Ron as a wise figure without making him seem overbearing. Amy Poehler was also fantastic at playing Leslie’s decreasingly successful attempts to juggle her various commitments, culminating in a funny “morning surprise birthday” gag.
As well-executed as this story was, some Jerry-bashing notwithstanding, I found its placement in the season awkward. Leslie has been balancing both the campaign and her job since the start of the season. Why has doing so become a problem now? Even if the resignation of her original campaign managers had caused an increase in her workload, this could have been addressed three or four episodes ago. One might argue that the amount of work goes up as the election draws closer, but none of the characters have indicated that that’s the case. (This goes back to something I say often, which is that “show don’t tell” is not necessarily a good model to follow. P & R tried to show us that the campaign was heating up with this story, but it didn’t succeed. It would have done better to have one the characters tell us that the campaign was heating up and then support that assertion with the story.) So even though the story of Leslie’s decision to cut back on her hours at the parks department was well-executed, I don’t think it was well-placed as a part of the larger election arc. Then again, I’ve pretty much written off the election arc as utter nonsense at this stage, so I’m more or less fine with how this was handled.
I’m less fine, however, with the Ann/Tom relationship, which is bringing out the most irritating aspects of both characters involved. I know that some people enjoy Frustrated Ann and Whiny Tom, but I find them irritating. Sorry. It isn’t funny how bad of a fit they are for each other; it’s just sad to watch. Nonetheless, their story in this episode was far less grating than last week, and it involved April in a fun way; her increasing drunkenness provided plenty of laughs.
As for the storyline about Andy, Chris, and Champion, I appreciated what it was trying to do, but it made no sense. It’s great that the show is taking the time to show how lonely Chris truly is and get to the core of the sadness beneath his veneer of positivity. However, at the same time, I was more than a little put off by how Chis got Champion back. Sure, it was kind of funny that he used a dog whistle. But why didn’t he do that hours earlier, when Champion first ran away? This might seem like a silly gripe, but having Chris wait until dark to use his dog whistle just made it seem as if he was manipulating Andy all along, which made me less able to empathize with Chris’s loneliness.
Overall, though, despite the weak execution of its storylines, “Sweet Sixteen” managed to coast on the charm and chemistry of its cast, as well as a few good jokes, with Donna’s house rules and Ron’s story about the tannery and the sheet metal factory being highlights. “Sweet Sixteen” was far from the best of what Parks and Recreation is capable of, but it was pleasant enough, which seems to be the new norm for this show. While that’s disappointing on some level, I’m not going to stop watching a show that’s “pleasant enough.” Frankly, I could do a lot worse than hanging out with Leslie and her friends on a Thursday night.