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.
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).
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 naivetÃ©. However, his adult-ness and serious manner is often the source of his mockery, especially from Tom.
…….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.
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