5.20- "Jerry's Retirement"
Season Five means it’s time to explore the lives of supporting characters in sometimes-excruciating depth, and while “Jerry’s Retirement” kinda-sorta served actually to diminish the role of the always-fumbling Jerry Gergich, its true function was to bring him to the forefront and allow him to be more multi-dimensional. It’s a good way to generate new story lines, as even through 88 episodes, there’s plenty more exploring to be done.
Even if you haven’t seen the episode it should come as no surprise, based on the title, that the oft-maligned Jerry Gergich retired from his job with the Parks Department. This sparks two of the episode’s storylines: in one, Leslie and Ben try to help Jerry achieve something on the list goals he wrote down when he started with the Parks Department; in the other, the remaining Parks employees try to avoid becoming the target of ridicule as the new Jerry.
I love Jerry for the same reason why his storyline worked. We all know someone like him, and if you don’t, there’s a good chance you are the Jerry of your group of friends (sorry). Jokes at his expense start to seem mean-spirited after a certain point, though, which doesn’t really fit with the overall feel of Parks and Rec. First, they balanced that out by giving him an amazing home life – he has a family that loves him, unreasonably beautiful daughters, and is MARRIED TO CHRISTIE BRINKLEY. Side note: Christie Brinkley is 59 years old. How is that possible?
By showing that Leslie is willing to sacrifice her day off work, Jerry isn’t necessarily redeemed, because Leslie would do that for pretty much anyone. But the storyline takes aspects of Jerry’s life, particularly his humble dreams, like meeting the mayor, and uses them as the foundation for further exploration. Jerry is a character to be pitied until we realize that he actually has a very happy life, and that we usually focus on his deficiencies. Sure, he was a mediocre government employee, but that career path provided him with the opportunity to spend time with his family. He is humanized because his family values him even if his coworkers never did.
Ann’s quest to have a child through a sperm donor, which now involves Chris, also progressed in this episode. I’d like to explain why I’ve reacted more negatively than positively to this storyline.
I think my biggest issue is that we took a huge jump from Ann suddenly deciding she’s ready to have a child (but unwilling to wait for “the right man” to come along), a story that I was ready to put my full support behind, to her getting back together with Chris and raising a child with him. I actually have no issue with any singular element of the story arc, as I understand why she feels compelled to have a child, I’m on board with her doing it through in vitro fertilization, I get why she would ask Chris to be the donor, and I am down with her feeling that a two-parent household (or facsimile) would be best for the child.
But each week, we take another jump forward, and because every episode has two complementary primary storylines (as most episodes of Parks and Rec do), they haven’t had enough time to make these decisions naturally. Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe are both good enough actors – and they have enough chemistry together – that the weaker storytelling has been obscured by how good they are at what they do. I even buy that these characters would take these steps together because they messed up their relationship the first time, and it is very human of them to make these same mistakes by over committing. Yet I feel they would be met with more resistance from their friends – maybe Ron begrudgingly talks to Chris and says that even though he’s messed up many relationships of his own, he wants to make sure they aren’t rushing into things. Leslie initially opposed Ann’s decision to have a baby because she thought she was rushing into it, but eventually backed off because she could tell Ann is genuinely prepared to care for a child. Again, I reiterate that this storyline is not a huge red flag for me, but I think possibly it is developing too quickly to seem natural.
Ben Wachtel likes baseball, the Boston Celtics, pancakes, tacos, and swam collegiately at Purdue University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benwachtel24.