Parks and Recreation is undeniably one of the most beloved comedies of the 21st century, and a lot of that can be attributed to the show’s sunny disposition. While comedies like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, South Park, and Parks’ direct inspiration The Office were often fueled by nastiness, cynicism, and boorishness, Parks and Rec used the unrelenting positivity of its main character and the warm relationships between its ensemble to create a feel-good atmosphere that naturally lead to laughs.
Parks’ cheery portrayal of competent, well-meaning civil servants running into the grossly ill-informed, misplaced anger of their constituents has earned it the reputation of being the defining comedy of the Obama era. Throughout the tumultuous and divisive Trump presidency, populated with government employees who seemed as outwardly hostile toward the departments that they represented as Ron Swanson, fans and critics wrote about finding solace in old episodes of the NBC comedy. When reality showed us a spiteful, corrupt version of civic life, Parks and Rec was like a balm of niceness.
However, within Parks’ hopeful, friendly world, one particular piece of Trumpian ugliness often goes unmentioned in the gushing tributes to the series kindness — the treatment of Gerald “Garry/Jerry/Larry” Gergich. Most commonly referred to as Jerry as a sign of disrespect or just genuine apathy toward getting his name right, Jerry is the constant butt of the Parks Department’s jokes.
Relentlessly bullied for his clumsy nature and ineptitude, Jerry is treated as one might imagine Donald Trump treats Chris Christie. Jerry is mocked moments after recovering from a heart attack, barely tolerated after a supposed mugging, and belittled after virtually every minor mistake. Parks writers try to make up for this by giving Jerry an idyllic homelife, content demeanor, and well-endowed manhood, but the mean-spiritedness of the Jerry material always has seemed at odds with the series genial vibe.