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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Parks And Recreation: “Sweet Sixteen”

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“Sweet Sixteen” ties its stories together so neatly and so sweetly that it makes me forget how misguided an idea it is to get Ann and Tom together. The episode tests the likability of both characters by putting them in a situation where we all know what they should do (break up), yet they simply refuse. Throughout “Sweet Sixteen,” Tom learns little things about Ann that he finds repulsive to the degree of discovering she had a Hitler youth uncle or something: She doesn’t know who Ginuwine is, she reads books, and she’s not tolerant of Tom’s interest in talking through really terrible movies. These are his “Oh no no”s. Meanwhile, Ann’s eyes don’t stop rolling in their sockets as she has to endure Tom’s inane “Tommy’s Girl” Kangol gift and his insistence on quizzing her about her thread count preference. And to all this I say, “I know! This was never going to work out in the first place! Now we can give Ann something to do other than seek out a relationship or tend to a broken one!” Yet they stay together because April decides to stick her neck out and do something nice for them. Sure, she has to be completely obliterated off of champagne to do it, but after listening to both parties bitch about the other, she lets loose that they’re arguing over stupid shit. I guess that’s enough, because there are Tom and Ann, arms around each other, looming over April as she wakes up from her drunken slumber.

I’m choosing not to focus much on the ramifications of this storyline, because even though Tom and Ann certainly were arguing over trivial things, the show hasn’t shown us any moments where they really get each other as far as the big things go. Their relationship started on a superficial level, and thus, superficial arguments carry much more weight than they might in, say, Ben and Leslie’s relationship. Both Tom and Ann are operating themselves based on the idea of their romance, not the reality. Tom claims Ann is his dream girl; Ann thinks Tom’s a nice enough guy that he should be cut a little slack. Back in reality, we all know it’s not going to last, and probably so do the writers. So it’s going to go away. But “Sweet Sixteen” is about what it means to have a really great friend—the kind that knows you better than yourself and will force you to do something they know is right (though they’ll never rub it in when you inevitably come around). April is that friend to Ann and Tom, albeit unwillingly, and that friend appears to help both Leslie and Chris, who learn they’re not as alone as they originally think.

Though Leslie has an entire campaign team at her disposal, she chooses to take a lot on herself, to the detriment of everything. A lot has been slipping through the cracks, and Ron is growing concerned. He insists that Leslie take a sabbatical from the parks department so she can run her campaign, thus ending her 100-plus-hour work weeks, which include volunteering with Wheels For Meals On Wheels. She doesn’t want to do this, of course, and when she accidentally forgets Jerry’s birthday (which, of course, is on the lamest of days, February 29), she makes it her mission to throw him a kickass surprise party while still handling all her duties with the campaign. Everything comes together: Donna agrees to lend out her lake house; other stuff happens. I’m not really sure—a bunch of decorations and booze make their way to the house, too. Problem is, she forgot to invite Jerry, and on the way to picking him up, she notices that her campaign sign is just the text of a really long URL because the sign guy is incompetent (though what kind of sign shop doesn’t accept digital files?). Ron sits back with a concerned look on his face, waiting for things to fall apart.

In the end, Leslie gets her signs, though she probably had to pay double, and they are late in going up. She also gets Jerry his party, though everyone is asleep and very unenthusiastic at this point. Leslie reached her limit a long time ago and went even beyond that. Ron has to say something for the good of the parks department and for the good of his friend, and his speech—about how it’s better to full-ass one thing than half-ass two—is one of his sweeter moments. Remember when he despised Leslie? It definitely wasn’t as much fun, and I wouldn’t have thought he deserved his more-than-two-dozen-egg omelette as much as he does. I feel like every season deepens the emotional well of Ron Swanson, turning him from one of the more entertaining characters on TV to one of the more entertaining, fascinating, and surprisingly likable ones.

Equally impressive is Chris’s transformation from microchip to microchip that’s experiencing the wide range of human emotions. Not that Chris ever came off as robotic, but he certainly had a way of controlling his chipper attitude even in tough times. He’s been dealt a crummy hand of cards over the last few weeks. He got dumped by Millicent, had to watch as Ann went off with another man, and had to give Leslie a trial for questionable conduct at work, resulting in the firing of his best friend. He’s really down, to the point where simply caring for another life form fills him with joy. He spends all of “Sweet Sixteen” recounting the wonderful evening he shared with Champion while Andy and April were busy, and each new story breaks Andy’s heart. This is not just because Chris obviously knows more about raising a dog than Andy does, but also because Andy is slowly realizing that Chris needs Champion far more than Andy does. As fascinated as Andy can get about toys and guitars (and Champion is like the best toy/guitar Andy could have ever received), he’s growing up a bit, too. He’s got April, and is willing to part with Champion if it means providing his friend with the very thing April provides him.

Once again, April is the cause of positive social change, which is a shame because she claims to not care about anybody. Parks & Recreation is changing her, too.


Stray observations:

  • Andy is still innocent and dumb in "Sweet Sixteen," too. When Leslie asks what 64 divided by four is, he's the only one who replies, "64."
  • Plus: "Did his leg grow back?!"
  • Another "Oh no no": "I own more Uggs than she does."
  • The name of the sign store was Signtologist, further cementing Pawnee vs. Springfield connections in my mind.