Pop Culture

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up: The Real Reason Why Everyone Hates Jerry

Everyone knows why Jerry from Parks and Recreation is terrorized by the rest of the staff. He’s clumsy, overweight, and is inevitably in the wrong place at the wrong time, allowing his coworkers to ceaselessly come up with new ways to torment him. But, frankly, other characters are equally clumsy (Andy), overweight (Donna), and fit the role of comic paradigms (Andy, for example, embodies slapstick, complimenting Jerry’s representation of crude humor)… So, what’s the real reason why the staff aligns behind the phrase, “Screw you, Jerry!”? I think the answer may be the juxtaposition the entire show rides on….

The “classic Jerry” is really a moment of being a total buzzkill. He ruins the fun! He steps on DJ Roomba (the vacuum on which Tom has set his iPod speakers on), for example. He ruins the party. The party, btw, that 5 grown-ass adults are having instead of unloading the moving truck. Grown-ass adults? Right, there it is. Jerry’s coworkers are supposed to be grown-ups, but hardly any of them act like it.

Jerry receiving a tortuously slow-mo pie in the face from Andy, a reenactment of an earlier pie throwing to help Andy solve the mystery of who threw said pie.

But, let me be clear, what Jerry isn’t is the reprimanding father-figure to counter balance and control all the crazy kids. No, he’s the non-play, very serious adult. Jerry just wants to put his head down and put in his last few years until retiring with a full pension. He’s the only one on the way out of the job. He exemplifies adulthood, while every other character has very strong inclinations toward characteristics of children.

Leslie’s ever-optimistic, candy-loving self is the very definition of playfulness and childlike ambition.

Ron never does his job (admittedly, this is a political statement).

Andy and April, who eat off of frisbees, have the most vivid imaginations, creating schemes and scenarios that combine Andy’s immaturity and lack of common-sense and April’s dead-pan wit and dislike for human beings. (She’s Wednesday Adams Goes to College, amirite?) They even have a wonderful scene when they discuss what they want to be when they grow up….

Oh, Tom. Tom, Tom, Tom… I’m not sure where to start with Tom. I mean, his main characteristic is immaturity (oh and being devilishly handsome…)

Ann is a little less obvious. She’s smart, observant, and seems to know when the group’s antics are not the best laid plans. Nonetheless, her poor (though wildly entertaining) choice in men (for example, Andy eats out of frisbees; Tom’s incessant womanizer-ish behavior; even Chris, who is made to be the total package, is poorly matched for Ann, who adopts and blends into his habits and characteristics during their time dating) reminds me of my own dating past (the idiot, the cool guy, and the “nothing’s wrong here, but something’s not right” guy).

Tom, April, and Donna having an office dance party.

Actually, what I love about this show is how much it glorifies playfulness. Playfulness, in the form of ambition, inventiveness, and genuineness, is what makes each above character so damn successful (and unabashedly charming and addictive). And it’s a hard thing to pull off on TV! Credit where credit is due! Take Scrubs, for example. The main character, Dr. John Dorian, embodies childishness, day-dreamy imagination, and immaturity (indeed his name is rumored to be a play off of Dorian Gray). His inability to grow up happens to be the source of much of the tension in the latter seasons. It’s why some people hate J.D. (on the show and as viewers of the show). It’s what annoys them in the sort of teeth-grinding, nails-on-a-chalkboard way.

I will note, there are a few characters that are more complicated within this model, but they still fit on the spectrum of child to adult. Mark, featured mostly in the first season, would fall into the category of an “adult” in many cases. He normally ends the scene, walking out on the absurdity that’s happening, like in the DJ Roomba scene, to get back to work. He’s hardly part of the show anymore. Ben, too, is very adult-like: an accountant-ish looking to redeem his childhood, which was as an 18 year old mayor, aka a kid who took on an adult job and ran the city into the ground with his naiveté. However, his adult-ness and serious manner is often the source of his mockery, especially from Tom.

Jerry loves comic sans, which he sees as the definition of “fun” in a font.

…….And then there’s Jerry. Jerry is the epitome of adult. He splits his pants and farts as he bends over mid-presentation, hilarious bathroom humor generally applied to the old and senile. He has “old person illnesses,” like corns and diabetes. Where everyone else is rising and climbing the career ladder (or at least being given the opportunity to do so… I’m looking at you, Ron Swanson),  He totally digs the “boring” aspects of the job, opting for long nights stuffing envelopes instead of campaigning, and has been assigned the nickname “cube butt” to designate (his weight, but also) the nature of his job. BUT IT’S ESSENTIALLY THE SAME JOB AS EVERYONE ELSE! But, when the group teases Jerry, it’s all about being an office job, a cubicle desk job (just without the cubicle), whereas for everyone else, it’s a job where they can get out there and help the public; it’s an active job. Interestingly, Jerry’s relationship with his wife of 30 years is the only healthy, long-lasting relationship featured on the show. (Ben and Leslie definitely offer another healthy, complimentary couple…)

Oh, and he isn’t down with “rappists” like Jay-Z (“THEY’RE RAPPERS, JERRY!”). It’s the oldest “YOU’RE OLD!” joke in the book! All this loud, bumpin’ and grindin’ music the kids listen to these days! Turn that music down!!!

Hell you guise, April informs us that he was even in the play Peter Pan! And guess who his he was? Tinker Bell! It’s hilarious because he’s a fat guy playing a fairy! But let me also remind you that Tinker Bell was the care-giving mother figure to the Lost Boys, forever caught within their childlike bodies and sensibilities.

Indeed, age and growing up is at the heart of each of the characters in Parks and Recreation. Some are young and playful, others immature and naive, but they all feature key combinations of the spectrum from youth to adulthood. Their shenanigans and imaginative schemes drive the show. It’s the playfulness and sincerity of Leslie Knope that draws us in (that and her being a total badass). Jerry is the old-man buzz-kill who wrecks all their fun, and boy do they love torturing him for it.

Jerry walks into a cob web decoration because he’s looking down, reading a book, trying to do his job and, once again, ruins everyone’s fun.

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By philososaurus

Raised on the farmlands of the Midwest, this gluten-free, feminist bunny took New York City by storm earning an MA in Philosophy. She’s currently encroaching on the normative territories in Chicago, spending time jamming the Discursive machines of ‘health’ and ‘illness,' and relaxing with her animal companions: Pfeffer, Yoshi, and Mr(ish) 'Saurus, her human-animal partner.

13 replies on “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up: The Real Reason Why Everyone Hates Jerry”

I hate how they treat Jerry. He seems like such a decent guy, always showing up to help out and working hard, and always at the butt of jokes. Like everyone else has mentioned, it makes me uncomfortable when they’re mean to him. Especially Leslie, who can be so supportive and kind to pretty much everyone else on the show.

I always thought it was weird that Leslie participated, too! It’s definitely not my favorite joke in the book, either, for all the reasons already mentioned.

What I *do* love is how Jerry’s sort of misadventures are now being highlighted — like forgetting to vote, or stuffing envelopes all night only to realize he’s been putting the wrong things in the wrong envelopes. It’s making me think, “Dammit, Jerry!” I think it’s providing an actual amount of depth to the jokes that are more than making fun of Jerry for being old and doing stupid shit…

Well this is really interesting. One of two things that stops me from loving Parks & Rec wholeheartedly and without reservation is how every other character treats Jerry. It’s a streak of pure meanness in a show that otherwise epitomizes friendship, caring, and niceness. And while you’re right, Jerry does represent adulthood on several levels, the way the other characters relentlessly mock him for things he does accidentally or with good intention – things which are not hurtful to anyone else – really rubs me the wrong way. Jerry is clumsy, yes, and out-of-touch, but he’s essentially harmless, and surely doesn’t deserve the constant insults and bullying he recieves from everyone else.

The other thing about Parks and Rec that frustrates me is the way the show deals with weight. Now, Donna is probably the most well-rounded plus-sized character on TV these days, but still, the show jokes about and mocks fatness in way that, if it was any other show, I wouldn’t watch it. But that’s a different post for a different day!

Yes. I CAN’T STAND how mean people are to Jerry! Mr. Donovan and I yell at the TV every time! (The “smash” vote I cast is directed at the other characters on the show for being mean!)

The only thing I can figure is that the joke is really supposed to be on the other people for being shallow idiots. For instance, Jerry does an amazing photomosaic for some civic art project; everyone makes fun of him for saying “mural” wrong and discounts his artwork out of hand…they are the morons there, not him.

But I don’t know. It still drives me crazy. There’s a big difference between not wanting to be too serious, and making ageist jokes and just being cruel. Even Ben does it! Agh.

I hate the “Nobody wants to hear about your love life, Jerry!” Really? If two people have been married for over thirty years and they are still nuts about each other, I kind of want to hear how they’re doing that, personally. But no, to the other characters, thinking about someone fat and old being romantic is just so disgusting.

I believe Mark was the one character who pointed out how fucked up it was that they all bully Jerry.

I like Jerry! He’s sweet! So what if he’s clumsy, FFS? My anti-anxiety med makes me clumsy, too. Let’s all make fun of me!

Good article and thought-provoking…I just have strong Jerry feelings!


Yea like I said above (sorry for repeating myself!), I’m totally with the hating the hating on Jerry. It’s only becoming moderately tolerable to me now as they show things like, in the last episode, that Jerry forgot to vote. That to me was HILARIOUS and in the same vein-ish as the ‘Jerry sucks’ jokes, except that it was tasteful and character building. No one HAD to say ‘ughhh you idiot’ because we were already thinking like, ‘omfg Jerry you’ve been working on this campaign for a year and you forgot to vote?!?!!’

Also, I totally didn’t mean to reduce their teasing to being only about being too serious. The jokes are totally ageist and mean. And I agree! I want to meet Jerry’s wife!!!!!

Nonetheless, her poor (though wildly entertaining) choice in men (for example, Andy eats out of frisbees; Tom’s incessant womanizer-ish behavior; even Chris, who is made to be the total package, is poorly matched for Ann, who adopts and blends into his habits and characteristics during their time dating)

Does NO ONE have love for Mark Brendanawicz? Of course, Ann dumps him because he’s too much of a grown up, too, so you have a point. I was very sad to see him go. It’s interesting, though, that the staff treated him as a wet blanket but tried to engage him, as opposed to Jerry who they just mock and treat badly.

LOL! I totallyyyyy loved Mark’s character. In rewatching a few of the scenes, I think he functioned a lot like Jim from The Office did. (I actually have a sneaking suspicion that that may be why he faded into the background…. half his role was looking at the camera and walking out of the room…)

Also, TOTALLY forgot that that’s why she dumped him… Yes! That helps prove my theory about Ann, because she’s a tough character given that she’s a nurse (care giving position is already an adult-like position), owns a house, was proactive in government, etc…. The Mark thing super helps. As does the entire reason she’s attracted to Leslie, which is that sort of  silliness that comes with the earnestness of Leslie Knope.

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